Organic Valley Raw Milk Policy Endangers Pro-Family Farm Image

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Marcus Povey

Move to Quash Raw Dairy Increases Public Scrutiny

by Kimberly Hartke, Weston A. Price Foundation

On Monday, September 27th, the 13,000+ members of the Weston A. Price Foundation received an Action Alert about a major dairy brand taking aim at the raw milk market.

Organic Valley controls the market for organic milk, and their recent move against raw dairymen in their organization is sure to have major repercussions, for their image, for consumer choice and for the survival of many of these farms.

Organic Valley, is familiar to all Americans because of its family farm logo. People have bought into the brand because it has positioned itself as a friend to small farms. Health conscious people who gravitate toward organic purchases have eagerly plucked their milk cartoon off of store shelves, thinking they were doing something good for their families and America’s small dairy farms.

Organic Valley Throws Some Farmers Under the Tanker Truck

By a narrow margin, the Organic Valley board and executive committee recently voted to sanction farms that have other customers for their fresh milk, other than the coop.

And, they have made this decision in the midst of the worst dairy economy, ever. Many farms are deep in debt, because the cost of production is greater than the wholesale price they are paid for their milk.

Here is one of our WAPF  facebook fans description of the problem:

“…I would be VERY frustrated as an OV farmer because this is not the contract they agreed to… many of these farmers have relied on that additional raw milk income for a long time and to suddenly up and change the contracts could be detrimental to many small farmers.”

Scott Trautman is a Wisconsin farmer who was unceremoniously dropped by a large dairy concern  for suspected fresh milk sales. Now, many other farms in the Organic Valley cooperative may face a similar fate.

Farm-Friendly Consumers Don’t Approve of Organic Valley

Consumers don’t appreciate their farmers being bullied. Here is a typical response to the WAPF Action Alert posted on our facebook page:

“I’m glad to know about this issue. I had been buying OV milk for a family member that refuses to drink raw. As well as cheese, butter, sour cream, cream cheese, etc. I have been spending a lot more dollars per month for OV products than the dollars they must feel that they are losing when I get raw milk. Well, I don’t appreciate any company trying to come between me and my raw milk, so I will no longer be purchasing any of their products.”

Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute, which publishes an Organic dairy scorecard, told me this morning that his organization has many members who are Organic Valley coop farmers.

Mark said, “We really hope that the farmer leadership of Organic Valley will reconsider this decision. We sincerely believe the downside risk to the Coop have been overblown.”

What You Can Do

Here is a link to the Weston A. Price Foundation Action Alert:

http://www.westonaprice.org/action-alerts/2010-alerts/2029–information-update-organic-valleys-anti-raw-milk-policy.html

Here is a link to My Letter of Protest to Organic Valley.

To contact Organic Valley to register your concern about their anti-competitive practices, here is their email:   organic at organicvalley.coop

Or, visit the Organic Valley contact page for their phone number or snail mail address.

Here is the link to more Weston A. Price Foundation Facebook comments on this issue.

Kimberly Hartke is the publicist for The Campaign for Real Milk, a project of the nutrition education non-profit, Weston A. Price Foundation. She drinks raw milk as part of a dietary protocol to overcome severe knee pain. Her great-grandmother was also healed of tuberculosis by a regime of raw milk and raw eggs in the 1920′s.

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Comments

  1. This is indeed an unfortunate situation, Kim. As a cheesemaker, I wish I was in more of a position to do something about it. It seems that the dairy bussiness is one of the most corrupt sectors in agriculture (quite possibly the most corrupt).

  2. I’m curious to know the reasoning for this decision. Where can I find it?

  3. I am already boycotting Organic Valley. They are acting like just another huge soulless Big Ag corporation. Not only have they banned raw milk, but their organic milk is ultra – pasteurized

  4. Kimberly Hartke says:

    Autumn, the best information is found in the action alert on the Weston Price website (see link in the article, above).

    A press relations guy from Organic Valley wrote me and gave me this link about their official statement on the matter:

    http://ov.coop/rawmilk

  5. Being an Organic Valley 3rd generation dairy farmer its time to enlighten you.Without Organic Valley my fram and many others would not be in business.Belonging to a coop is being part of a wold class team, we all work together for our brand Organic Valley. The raw milk decision was discussed in many open discussions, while we may not agree on the decision, the best for our team was to ban sales of raw milk.Reasons include:
    Its not legal in all our farmers states.
    Is the bacterial load in raw milk safe for ALL consumers?
    We cannot drive miles down a county road to pickup a fellow farmers milk who has all but emptied his tank for his raw customers.
    We are not saying that raw milk sales are bad or unnecessay

  6. Kimberly Hartke says:

    Maynard,

    Thanks for your comment. I want to address two issues, maybe three that you raise.

    1) Raw milk is legal in over half the states. Why make a national policy that impedes sales where they are legal?

    2) Consumer groups presented other options to OV, which they proposed to mitigate the issues, short of a total ban. The farmers were given none of these issues to vote on, just the ban.

    3) If certain farms have emptied their bulk tank, why not deal with those farms as individual members? Certainly there are less punitive measures.

    I am thankful for organic producers like yourself. Organic Valley has done some great things in organizing all the farmers like you.

    This decision threatens to undo all the goodwill your coop has created over the years. As a farmer member, you ought to be supporting your fellow farmers in this instance not this fatal decision basically forced through by upper management over the will of half of their exec board.

    Remember, the customer is always right. And, we know our Constitutional and consumer rights. We will seek justice for all the farmers in the OV coop. Not just the ones who are unaffected by this decision.

  7. After finding out the OV cheese marketed as “raw” “organic” is actually heated to 160 degrees I no longer purchased the product. It is lying, disingenuous and immoral to market the product as organic, let alone raw and healthy. Most of the milk purchased is feed lot style and pastured anyway. They’re lying, no way they can produce that much milk on all pasture farms, there aren’t enough. Might as well just get regular brands I see no difference in quality, pasteurized is pasteurized , dead is dead. Why pay more.

    Personally I drink raw grass fed and only buy cheese using raw grass fed milk and not heated above 100-102 degrees. Many organic suppliers are outright liars to make a quick buck. It’s no big surprise to find OV is just admitting to being mainstream junk food all along, they are living way down to their claim.

    Organic is a truly perverted term anymore, back in the 70′s it meant something, now it’s pure marketing and greed.

  8. Mariann Holm says:

    The organic world is too small to be dividing itself over this issue. I am a member owner of the Organic Valley co-operative. This boycott launched by the Cornucopia Institute and the Weston Price organization (I happen to belong to both of these groups) is extremely disheartening. Also the remarks about Organic Valley somehow being corrupt. We are a democratic organization of 1600 families. Nothing happens within Organic Valley that the members are not aware and a part of. It is ironic that of all the groups out there – the one you choose to boycott is a group of small organic farmers like myself.

  9. Kimberly Hartke says:

    Mariann, The Weston A. Price Foundation did not launched a boycott. I just personally suggested to my blog readers that they do so.

    And, to my knowledge, Cornucopia Institute has not declared an official boycott. Both organizations are trying to bring public awareness to the politics that are being played by your coop management.

    If a vast majority of your members had approved of this policy it would be one thing, but the fact that it was so narrowly decided is troubling. And, as a raw dairy proponent, I am mad and disheartened that such tactics are being used to thwart consumer access and force farmer members into financial hardship or out of your coop.

    It is all about marketshare. Don’t expect us to just roll over. We are trying to protect our share of the market, too!

    Kimberly

  10. Mariann Holm says:

    Whether or not, the milk diversion policy the coop has decided upon is the policy I personally would have crafted, I stand behind the farmer elected farmer board of Organic Valley. Management does not run this co-op. Organic Valley family farmers have the voice here and they have spoken.

    I will say that I as well as many staff and farmers at Organic Valley have campaigned within the co-op and in the public square for the freedom for the public to have access to raw milk. I think encouragement and involvement by farmers and consumers go a long way within any organization out there if we want to affect change.

    Just as today’s conventional farmer may be tomorrow’s organic farmer – let’s not burn bridges and be confrontational but reach out and have a civil discourse.

    Thank you.

  11. Seeking Truth says:

    How many farmers spoke for this ban, Mariane?

    Most had no idea this was coming. The board is up to 1% of milk production, because of public outcry! What about liability? It never was an issue, just a ruse to create fear for an agenda.
    If there was one farm that emptied their tank couldn’t that farm have been dealt with? That is the most pathetic argument of all.

    I know folks that drink raw milk and used to buy OV products until this mindless decision. All have moved on as they feel betrayed. Some might come back IF it is reversed before they become loyal to other products. This should really fuel the local food movement.

    What are consumers supposed to do, Mariane? Are they just supposed to keep supporting OV at any cost and HOPE they change? Don’t hold your breath. Remember the TX dairy fiasco. How long did they secretly buy milk from that monster dairy? FAMILY farms….really. Just so they could fill a contract with Publix. Does OV buy milk from other NON member farms? Like Humbolt, all through the quota period. Farmer control?

    Is a previous post correct that OV cooks their raw milk cheese but doesn’t say it on their label? How about truth in labeling?

    Why does the president of the board resist pasturing his cows? Isn’t grass fed healthier? Doesn’t OV brag about pasture all the time?

    I try to support OV, but it’s hard with so many shady areas. I’ve talked to many OV farmers that are upset with these things. Most had no voice in the raw milk decision. Why wasn’t this sent out to the WHOLE membership if you are such a farmer friendly decision entity?

    It sounds like there was one bad apple and they were used as a scapegoat for a bigger policy of eliminating competition. Raw milk is NOT competition.

    Why did the OV lady that sent the letter to WI DATCP last year about raw milk go work for Foremost Farms shortly after the ban? Where did she come from? Was that her job? (to get the raw milk ban)

  12. As far as I’m concerned the OV issue is about basically one thing, truth. As everyone knows repeat something endlessly and the public starts to believe it. Organic is a much perverted term and I see no validity in the certification anymore. We can argue and split hairs but bottom line is many food processors want that certification no matter what or how they obtain it.

    OV is just the latest in series of organic perversion. First it is simply not possible in the states except for California and any other mild temperate zones to produce pastured cattle year round. That said a large amount of grain fed and supplemented cattle has to be getting into the mix. According to the OV rules, only 120 days are required on pasture per year (4 months) and only 30% of their feed must be pasture based. Now whether that’s(30% pasture feed) only those 4 months or not I’m unsure. Which essentially means the cows are being raised on a substantial amount of grain and other supplements. Ignoring the quality of the pasture also. I’ve been to east coast farms that pasture cattle but the grass is not what I would deem lush.

    Then the next question is how the other parts of the diet are obtained, who guarantees no GMO’s, pesticides, etc. Does anyone really believe this much cattle feed exists that’s so pure and unadulterated? Let alone the whole grain fed question, such as corn (think GMO).

    OV has ultra-pasteruized milk, essentially a dead substance. Who’s kidding whom? In case you did not know ultra-pasteurized products do NOT have to be in cold storage since they last for months with no cold storage because it’s a dead product. Just another disception foisted on you buy the dairy industry.

    Moving onto the labeling, labeling pasteurized cheese as “raw milk cheese” is plain deception. On the OV website is this comment regarding their raw cheddar “Referred to as “sub-pasteurization,” our organic milk is “heat treated” to the threshold of pasteurization without actually being pasteurized.”. Pasteurized is about 160 degrees, above 104 degrees it doesn’t matter, you’ve not only just killed many valuable bacteria and vitamins but in the process have altered chemical substances which makes it that much harder to assimilate.

    I suppose I could spend hundreds of hours compiling this type of inconsistency in advertising and ultimately reach the same conclusions, that is there are too many inadvertent manufacturer omissions and/or guidelines that are either written from the start to allow a lot of interpretation as to what really are the rules and/or what is organic.

    In brief, I believe that most of the milk obtained is from feed lot grain fed cattle and will not support any entity that makes so many outrageous claims about product quality and purity and yet chooses to ultra-pasteurize and mislabel products.

    The whole point of small farms is to produce quality. All that has happened is organic has now become mainstream allowing large corporate farms to lie with impunity and make you pay a very high price for it in the pocketbook and health.

    Another thing OV makes noise about is “natural” vs “organic”. I’d be on board except for one thing, the US is NOT the leader in quality dairy production.
    And what I have never seen is a milk study on 100% pasture fed cattle vs any other type of cattle that compares both as pasteurized products. Does it really matter after it’s cooked above 160 degrees in terms of the quality. Many people assume it does, but studies have already shown the body readily assimilates calcium, etc from raw milk but does not do so with pasteurized. Anyway, it’s a little off subject but something else to consider. After all you can get extremely high quality dairy products from other countries that are 100% pasture (high quality) based that are pasteurized too. Something to consider. Another thing about manufacturers claims in terms of timing and degrees regarding pasteruization, the milk must get to the high temperature and stay there in process and cool down. So the time at temp above 104 (where degradation sets in ) is quite a lot more than is being stated at 15 seconds. You can bet it’s more like 30-60 seconds.

    I think like everyone else I was initially glad OV produced what I thought was a higher quality product. Today I’m very skeptical about many of their claims and will not waste money nor support the operation as it stands today.

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