Among the array of tactics the federal-state regulatory authorities have trotted out in their war on raw milk—sting operations, harassment, questionable pathogen findings, legal initiatives—one potentially devastating tactic has remained on the sidelines: getting the dairy processors involved. The reason processors hold so much leverage is that nearly all raw dairies sell at least some of their milk to dairy co-ops and private companies that pasteurize and Trautdistribute the milk products to dairies. Now, in Wisconsin, Scott Trautman, owner of the Trautman Family Farm, has been cut off by both state authorities (by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection from selling raw milk) and his processor (from selling milk for pasteurization), leaving him to dump up to 40 gallons of milk each day.
The reason the processor cut-off is such a problem is that in the dairy industry, unlike most other industries, there is little competition among processors. This helps explain why conventional milk prices are so low, and dairy processor profits so high. If you part company with your processor, you’ll be lucky if you find one other processor in your region, and very often, like in the case of Scott Trautman, you won’t find any.
What makes this situation especially ironic is that the whole melee seems to have resulted over safety…and it continues over safety. Trautman says he complained in August that the processing organization handling his milk–Foremost Farms USA, which is under the umbrella of the National Farmers Organization—weren’t using effective safety. For example, he complainted that he was left with an unclean bulk tank because of the processor’s extraction problems.
According to an article in The Country Today, Foremost and NFO officials attribute their cutoff of Trautman to his sale of raw milk. Selling raw milk is illegal in Wisconsin, but has been tolerated over the years, and hundreds of dairies in the state are understood to sell it.
This is the first case I’ve heard of where processors have used the excuse that they don’t want to be tainted by a dairy’s raw milk sales to jettison the dairy. Everywhere else, even in places where the raw milk issue has been fought very hard, like New York and Pennsylvania, processors have continued to deal with raw dairy producers.
Trautman isn’t bending under the twin assaults on his livelihood. “They’re not getting the best of me,” he told me yesterday. “I’m trying to rally our raw milk producers in this state to form a raw milk producers group.”
High on the group’s agenda: raw milk safety. “I’m looking especially closely at the Vermont law” just put into effect this year, which spells out specific safety specifications, yet offers dairies flexibility in how they achieve the specifications. “I want us (in Wisconsin) to say we consider ourselves under Vermont law.”
He encourages other Wisconsin dairy farmers to go public with their raw milk sales. “They (DATCP) say they investigate every case of selling raw milk. Let them investigate us all. They can come and lock me up. Put me away.”
He adds that in his view this isn’t a health issue. “This is less about raw milk and more about family farms and freedom to choose.”
Scott Trautman and his family has been in the dairy business for only two years. “We started with two cows, then four cows, and so forth,” he says. Now he has 25 cows on seventy acres.
He notes that while he sells other products besides raw milk, it’s the raw milk that brings customers back to his farm repeatedly to buy things like beef, pork, and eggs.
He also notes that it’s curious that DATCP and the processor both came after him at about the same time in September.
So what’s the problem with processors cutting off raw dairy producers? For starters, there are laws on the books that prohibit this kind of behavior—they have names like “restraint of trade” and “racketeering.” These are practices that were supposedly stopped in the early 1900s to protect smaller businesses from being bullied by monopolies or near-monopolies. Who’s protecting whom, now?