Jury awards dairy $750,000 in toxic feed case
By Eric Mortenson
A Tillamook County, Ore., dairy family whose cows were slowly poisoned by bad feed has been awarded $750,000 in damages after a five-week trial.
A jury decided that a salesman for Land O’Lakes Purina Feed, a leading national supplier of cattle feed, provided feed that contained six times the standard level of copper and at one point removed phosphorous from the mix. Dairy farmers Neal and Nancy Kaste began buying feed from the company in 2005 and soon noticed milk production dropped. By November 2007, many of their cows were ill or dying, according to court records.
The dairy stopped buying feed from the company in 2008, but by then the damage was apparently done. Between 2009 and 2013, 62 cows died and 78 more had to be put down or killed for beef because they were in poor health or no longer produced enough milk.
Portland attorney Anne Foster, who represented the Kastes, said copper is a standard ingredient in cattle feed, but is toxic at the levels and duration provided by Land O’Lakes. The salesman compounded the problem by removing phosphorous from the mixture, causing the cows to essentially draw the mineral from their bones as they struggled to produce milk, Foster said.
“The cows started demineralizing their own bodies,” she said. Phosphorous was returned to the mix, but the cows could not recover.
The salesman did not intend to harm the herd but was not trained as an animal nutritionist and the company did not oversee the mixing process, Foster said.
“Land O’Lakes was letting the salesman mess with the formulas, the ration recipes, without having a nutrition background,” she said.
Land O’ Lakes refused to disclose the feed ingredients even though state law requires it, Foster said. The Kastes ultimately paid to have the feed tested and learned it contained toxic levels of copper.
The company was ordered to pay attorney fees in addition to the damages. A company spokeswoman, Becky Lentz, said Land O’ Lakes will prepare a response. The company had not responded as of Monday.
Foster, a partner in the Portland law firm Dunn Carney Allen Higgins & Tongue, was assisted by Blair McCrory. Foster is part of the firm’s agriculture and natural resources practice group.
In 2005, an Idaho jury awarded damages to ranchers after 130 calves died from drinking tainted powdered milk replacement produced by Land O’Lakes.