AR-News: Who's killing dairyman's cows?
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Tue Jun 22 12:48:26 EDT 2004
Who's killing dairyman's cows?
Authorities investigating how strange substance got on cattle
By PAUL SHUKOVSKY
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
ENUMCLAW -- Dairy farmer John Koopman was up early on June 6 to milk his
cows when he noticed one was sick. Then another and another. All had a
strange, reddish-black substance on their backs and their skin bubbled with
Before the day was done, 10 cows were gravely ill. Three ultimately died.
Karen Ducey / P-I
A Holstein dairy cow with blistered sores on its skin is one of 10 that
got sick on John Koopman's farm in Enumclaw. Three of the sickened cows
Koopman would like to know who killed his cows. So would the federal Food
and Drug Administration, the King County Sheriff's Office and the FBI's
Joint Terrorism Task Force.
No milk from the sick animals entered the food supply, according to FDA
spokesman Larry Bachorik.
Koopman said he immediately segregated the sick cows from the rest of the
330 animals in his herd. "I dumped a lot of milk. We go out of our way to
make sure that milk is safe."
About 27,000 pounds of milk -- a day's production worth almost $5,000 to the
farmer -- went down the drain.
Investigators have yet to determine what the substance on the cows was, much
less who put it on the animals. Koopman sits on the board of WestFarm Foods,
which recently resolved a long and bitter dispute with the Teamsters union.
The labor dispute was over before Koopman's cows got sick.
The tanned dairyman sat on the front stoop of his farmhouse yesterday and
shook his head in disbelief as he recounted the day his cows started
"We started milking at seven in the morning, and there was this real sick
one in the first string," said Koopman. "I didn't think much of it at first.
We always deal with sick animals. It's just the natural course of things.
"Then, I was getting ready for church, and we found another one. This one
wouldn't even get up off the concrete. I pulled it out of the string and
started treating it. Then we started getting more.
"I started noticing stuff on their backs -- kind of like a heavy iodine. And
their skin was weltering up. I don't use anything that potent around here.
That's when I called the vet.
Karen Ducey / P-I
Dairy farmer John Koopman said he first noticed spots on his cows on the
morning of June 6. "I'm grasping at straws who would do this," Koopman said.
"When the vet came, he said, 'I don't know of any substance that can do this
to a cow.' "
Koopman called the Sheriff's Office and WestFarm Foods, which buys his milk.
"That's when we started worrying about substances in the milk and decided we
better dump all of it.
"We were frantically trying to save those cows. They were deathly ill."
Yesterday, investigators from the state Department of Agriculture and the
Food and Drug Administration were at the farm. They referred questions to
Koopman said FBI agents also visited and asked about who might have done
The easygoing dairyman with a quick smile said he couldn't imagine who
killed his cows.
"I'm known as a pretty likable guy around here," he said. "I'm grasping at
straws who would do this."
In a statement, the FDA said its Office of Criminal Investigations is
working closely with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S.
Department of Agriculture and the King County Sheriff's Office, as well as
with authorities from the state Department of Agriculture and Seattle-King
County Public Health.
"At this point the incident appears to be isolated, involving fewer than 20
dairy cattle, although not all of the exposed cattle became ill," the FDA
Tissue samples from a cow that died Saturday are being analyzed at the FDA's
Forensic Chemical Center, a specialized laboratory in Cincinnati.
Koopman said that the seven surviving cows are slowly recovering and that he
continues to keep their milk out of the human supply chain.
Post-mortem examinations were done on two of the cows, and the vet found
that the substance penetrated the skin to the tissues below and damaged
internal organs, he said.
"This whole thing makes you feel real vulnerable," said the 47-year-old
farmer who has been milking cows under the looming, white presence of Mount
Rainier for almost 20 years.
All the cows were in their pens and not in open fields. Someone must have
snuck into the barns to deliver the poison, he said.
"I don't want to point the finger at anybody," Koopman said.
This is the second time in recent weeks that there has been a serious
security incident related to WestFarm Foods, the marketing arm of the
Northwest Dairy Association farmer cooperative.
William Anderson, WestFarm's vice president for legal and public affairs,
said yesterday that on May 4, vandals struck two trucking companies that
haul raw milk for the company. Valves on two tankers were opened, and
119,000 pounds of milk poured onto the ground.
And anti-tampering plastic covers on several other truck tanks were breached
as well, he said. Before the tampering was discovered, the milk had already
been poured into a silo at WestFarm's Lynden plant.
Anderson said that even though there was no evidence that the milk itself
had been adulterated, "600,000 pounds of raw milk was in the silo, and we
had to dispose of that."
The vandals also used something like an ice pick to puncture 268 tires on
tanker trucks. The tires didn't go flat until the rigs were already on the
road, Anderson said. The company lost a total $290,000 worth of milk in the
incidents. A reward of up to $51,000 is being offered for information
leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators.
WestFarm and the Teamsters union on May 26 resolved one of the longest
lockouts in the recent history of Seattle labor relations.
Union officials said yesterday that they didn't know about the attack on
Koopman's cows and that investigators had not contacted them about the
instances of vandalism against the tanker trucks.
Karen Ducey / P-I
Several agencies, including the FBI and the FDA, are investigating how
cows got sickened at John Koopman's farm.
"No one has contacted me at all or anyone in my employ that I know," said Al
Hobart, international trustee at Local 66, which represents the workers. "We
certainly wouldn't condone anything like this."
WestFarm locked out nearly 200 local workers Aug. 31, arguing that Local 66
officials were not bargaining in good faith and that the company could not
operate under a threat of a walkout. The union said it was ready to keep
talking, accusing the company of trying to break up its membership.
On May 26, workers ended the bitter dispute by accepting a contract by a
vote of 101-43, after some union members concluded they would not get a
WestFarm Foods processed 6.8 billion pounds of raw milk from April 2002 to
April 2003. In that same time, the company produced 65 million gallons of
WestFarm contracts with 723 family dairies in the Pacific Northwest,
including 515 farms in Washington.
Its milk goes into the Darigold brand as well as the brands of several
supermarkets and other companies.
More headlines and info from Enumclaw.
P-I reporters Paul Nyhan and Candace Heckman contributed to this report. P-I
reporter Paul Shukovsky can be reached at 206-448-8072 or
paulshukovsky at seattlepi.com
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