November 23, 2014

MDARD forces disposal of local dairy products

Says co-op did not have necessary license to sell food

Posted

STANDISH — More than $3,000 of raw milk, butter and cream produced at High Hill Dairy in Standish was disposed of July 21 at the order of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Jennifer Holton, MDARD communications director, said the food was disposed of due to My Family Co-Op, which contracts with High Hill for the use of 20 cows in the herd, not having a food establishment license.

“With the exception of the meat products, the food products on the My Family Co-Op delivery truck were obtained from unlicensed processors, were not properly labeled, were stored at improper temperatures, were from an out-of-business processor and offered for sale in a manner that violated the state’s food law,” she said. “As a result, MDARD did not permit those food products to be offered for food consumption.”

Jenny Samuelson, owner of My Family Co-Op, said a co-op employee and one of the owners of High Hill Dairy, Joe Golimbiewski, disposed of the products while the MDARD officers watched. She said more than $3,000 worth of milk, butter and cream, cheese and eggs were thrown out.

“They basically wasted $3,600 worth of food,” she said. “It’s not really even my food. I just take orders.”

Samuelson said there was about $3,100 worth of dairy products and $500 worth of eggs on the truck at the time of the incident. Around $1,000 worth of meat was also on the truck at the time, but Samuelson said she was able to keep that.

Golimbiewski said he feels that if a licensing issue was the problem, the state should have approached Samuelson and told her, rather than show up at the farm and force the disposal of the food.

“Basically, the state seized some product that was perfectly good, for a licensing issue on Jenny’s part,” he said. “And instead of just going and knocking on her door and asking her to get her license, or talking to her about getting the license, they seized about $5,000 worth of food.”

State Rep. Joel Johnson, R-Clare, said that he did not have a lot of information on the issue, but was told MDARD had concerns regarding the labeling. Johnson said in the case of eggs being delivered by the co-op or another third party, the product needs to be cleaned and graded, which was not the case in this incident.

“If you go to the farm and buy eggs, they don’t have to processed, or graded and cleaned, but if there’s a middle person involved, then they need to do that,” he said.

According to Holton, MDARD had been in discussion with Samuelson about her operation for close to a week before the locally produced food was dumped out. She said July 15, all of the products on the co-op delivery truck were placed under seizure, and MDARD and Samuelson’s attorney were working on an agreement to lift the seizure.

However, Holton said an agreement tentatively made July 18 was not finalized until the weekend, despite many calls made from MDARD to Samuelson and her attorney. Holton said disposing of the food in the truck was part of the tentative agreement between MDARD and Samuelson.

My Family Co-Op is still operating, but currently Samuelson is delivering raw milk and eggs, only. She said if the issue was solely about her not having the correct license, she does not understand why she is able to deliver the products that had to be disposed of Monday.

“If it’s a licensing issue, then it should’ve just been the meats and honey and syrup,” she said.

Since the incident, Samuelson said she has had to change her operation slightly, and consumers, many of whom she said live in and around Metro Detroit and Ann Arbor, now have to contract directly with the producers instead of My Family Co-Op. Samuelson continues to deliver the products she can, which she said is important, because some of the people want the raw milk for baby formula.

Holton said after the July 15 seizure, Samuelson was still able to deliver raw milk.

Samuelson said she believes the cream and butter, which consumers gave High Hill the OK to make in their contracts, was likely one of the main issues in MDARD seizing the product.

Golimbiewski said around six months ago, MDARD told High Hill to stop using its milk to make butter and cream, but the people wanted the products, so the farm continued to make it.

“People wanted it. Why is the government telling us what we can and cannot put in their bodies?” he said. “If the people want it, they know what’s good for them.”

Golimbiewski said raw milk is healthier than pasteurized milk, which is commonly sold in grocery stores, and that he believes that there is more to the incident than just a licensing issue.

“MDA is, if you want to call it, the enforcers of big business,” he said. “They were made to enforce the big businesses’ rules.”

Golimbiewski said the farm continues to operate as it did before the run-in with the MDARD.

“We just had to change those contracts to be in direct contact with the consumer,” he said.

Johnson said because of concerns about raw milk consumption, the milk cannot be made into butter or cream unless there is a personal relationship between the consumer and producer.

“The other thing that I’ve been told is that raw milk users have to have that personal relationship to be able to use that raw milk, because there’s big concerns with food safety on that product,” he said.

Johnson said raw milk is not supposed to be processed into butter or cheese by anyone other than the person who will consume it, but during his office hours in Standish July 25, Golimbiewski disagreed. He told Johnson after 60 days the milk can be made into cheese. Johnson said he would research the matter further.

After his discussion with Golimbiewski, Johnson told the Independent that he does feel some of the farm and co-op’s issues with how the incident went down are legitimate.

“I think they have some realistic expectations, and it’s something that I’m going to work on between them and the department, and look at what we need to do to make sure people have some choices,” he said.

Samuelson started My Family Co-Op around six years ago. She has been working with High Hill Dairy for about two years. All of the products she delivers to consumers are organic, non-GMO products.

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