GRANGER A local certified organic dairy is back in operation after voluntarily recalling raw milk products two months ago.
The state Department of Agriculture on Tuesday announced that Pride and Joy Creamery could produce and sell raw milk products two months after a voluntary recall.
Pride and Joy voluntarily recalled its products after state inspectors said they found E. Coli in its raw milk products.
Dairy owners Allen and Cheryl Voortman could not be reached for comment yesterday on getting the go-ahead to return to business as usual.
But the Voortmans have been speaking regularly with the Western Ag Reporter newspaper about their ordeal in dealing with the state.
The authorization to return to production and sales comes after two months of battles with state agencies, they said, noting they were directed to develop their own remediation plan — based on the state Agriculture’s suggestions — to the initial E.Coli contamination.
The Voortmans retained their long-time veterinarian, Ernie Munck, and completed the plan more than a month a go.
But, according to Western Ag Reporter, the state agency rejected the plan.
Instead of approving the plan, the state recommended steps that would cost the Voortmans to lose their certified organic dairy status.
The Voortmans’ dairy operation is 100 percent grass fed, making it a rare dairy enterprise in the Pacific Northwest.
“WSDA has a cookie-cutter plan,” Allen Voortman told the agricultural newspaper last week. “Most of what the agency wants implemented we already have in place, and Dr. Munck told them so in his response.
“The redundancy of WSDA’s remediation plan is frustrating to say the least.”
Voortman said he tried to point out the issues to the state, but the “we can’t seem to get that point across to the bureaucrats.”
Voortman said Agriculture’s bureaucrats had little or no knowledge or experience at a dairy, and hadn’t even visited Pride and Joy.
“They’ve never been on our farm,” he said.
Three weeks ago, the Voortmans responded to the state’s recommendations.
One of their main concerns was the state’s insistence that they hire a grass-fed operational nutritionist, even though their cows are 100 percent grass-fed.
“The only source of feed is organic hay during the winter and organic pastures during the spring, summer and fall,” the Voortmans wrote in their response. “They are currently on only hay. There is no need for a nutritionist if they are only being fed hay.”
The state also recommended the Voortmans maintain only a closed herd, something the dairy couple has been doing for more than 35 years.
“We already employ a closed herd and have since the early 1980s,” the response said.
The Voortmans also took issue with the state on the alleged contamination.
“It’s interesting to note that the organism allegedly identified by WSDA in the single milk sample has never been identified on our farms,” Allen Voortman said. “The most recent samples tested by independent labs, which were negative for pathogens, were taken by a WSDA inspector from the same batch of milk tested in the WSDA laboratory.
“The only place this pathogen has been identified is by the WSDA lab.”
The Voortmans also produced documentation showing they clean water tanks daily, cover haystacks properly, control rodents, have washing procedures in place for bottling and have manure testing to ensure product safety.
The couple also rejected the agency’s recommendation to use vaccinations not approved for use in the U.S. at organic dairies.
While the couple was trying to resolve Agriculture’s concerns and maintain their certified organic status, they also began working with Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund attorney Pete Kennedy.
Kennedy said is investigation showed the state didn’t have any grounds to claim E.Coli was being spread at the dairy.
“After consulting with experts familiar with the Pride & Joy Dairy situation, I believe there are no grounds to conclude that the finding ... is adequate to predict that there is a virulent pathogen present that would pose a threat to consumers,” Kennedy said.
The state acknowledge receipt of the information March 17, and until this past Monday, the Voortmans only hoped they’d be returning to raw milk production and sales soon.
In the meantime, the bills have been racking up, thanks to the slow wheels of the state bureaucracy, the couple said.
“Most of WSDA’s one-size-fits-all policies simply don’t apply to our organic farm,” Allen Voortman said. “We’ve always done, and will always do, everything possible to ensure the impeccable quality and safety of our milk and meat.
“It’s clear to us that WSDA’s testing processes and protocols need to be reviewed and updated so this doesn’t happen to other milking operations. If anything positive can emerge from this debacle, perhaps it’s that.”
Milk samples tested March 29 came back E.Coli-free, state Agriculture spokesman Hector Castro said.
Still, the state continues to pressure the dairy by warning its customers.
In the reintroduction letter announcing Pride and Joy products could return to the marketplace, officials wrote:
“Retail raw milk continues to be legal to sell and buy in Washington State, but the potential health risks are serious.”
— Leesa Zalesky of Western Ag Reporter was the lead journalist on this report.