Lessons from Organic Valley’s exclusion of raw milk sellers from the O.V. co-op

A sampling of the latest from David E. Gumpert at The Complete Patient blog:

“The discussions stemmed from an important action last May, when the board of Organic Valley voted to drop as members of its cooperative dairy those selling raw milk privately, beginning in 2011. One question that came up at the time was this: how was the huge cooperative going to enforce its new edict?

The enforcement effort is apparently well under way. The result is that some farmers are leaving the Organic Valley stable, while others are staying with the huge cooperative, and foregoing their raw milk sales in favor of the more predictable bulk sales of milk for processing.

At a conference of the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s New York chapter in Saratoga Springs, NY, where Organic Valley was a major sponsor and donator of food, and I was a speaker, I met two employees of the cooperative who said they have been part of the enforcement effort.

David Hardy, an Organic Valley pooling coordinator, told me that in his territory of New York state, four or five dairies have “taken their signs down” advertising raw milk. Their decisions came after “discussions” he and the dairy owners had about Organic Valley’s new policy.

He explained the reasoning behind the policy as two-fold–that farmers have been using Organic Valley as a fallback while building their raw milk businesses and, as a result, have had ever less milk available to Organic Valley.

He said Organic Valley was willing to overlook sales to immediate neighbors, but won’t forgive dairies with farm stores selling raw milk to anyone who comes calling.

Peter Miller, Eastern regional manager, said he’s been focusing heavily on Pennsylvania, and there, the movement has been the opposite. At least five dairies have bid Organic Valley adios and either moved to exclusive sales of raw milk, or else taken up with another processor, which isn’t enforcing an exclusive arrangement.

He said Organic Valley has confronted a growing problem of milk “diversion”–raw milk that doesn’t make it onto Organic Valley trucks for processing because it’s being sold unpasteurized, or else used for making  cheese, butter, and other products. “We may have a commitment to a processor for 50,000 pounds of milk, and when we show up with 35,000 pounds, that’s a problem.”

Both men indicated that the raw milk issue was the most divisive in the cooperative’s 23-year history. But they also made clear that the decision was a business decision, having little or nothing to do with raw milk’s perceived risks or the wishes of regulatory authorities. They noted that probably all Organic Valley’s directors and executive board members are raw milk drinkers. Indeed, they expressed amazement when I told them about the recent declarations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that raw milk can’t be produced safely. “Well, I’ve been drinking raw milk a long time and I’m still here,” said Hardy….”

Read it all on The Complete Patient blog.

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