Recently one of my friends asked me for a favor. He runs the quality assurance division for a milk plant and needed some help for an hour. He wanted me to test the plant’s food defense program. I’d never heard of such a thing before, so he first had to explain to me what a food defense plan is.

Cooley walt polo
Editor and Podcast Host / Progressive Dairy

Having one, he told me, means the plant provides its employees with training and protocols to reduce the risk that someone with malicious, criminal or terrorist intent could gain access to the plant and its milk products to tamper with them.

Basically, he was asking me to be a villain for an hour. To help out my friend, and to a certain extent to squelch my journalistic curiosity, I agreed to do it.

First, he dressed me to look the part. I would wear booties, a hair net and ear plugs. I wouldn’t get to wear a white overcoat or company-issued uniform with embroidered name badge like everyone else in the plant.Of course, I looked silly, but my friend said I would also look suspicious to all of the plant’s employees, at least those who remembered their food defense training.

The employees would pass or fail the test if they noticed I looked out of place due to my attire and lack of identification and stopped to ask, “Excuse me, can I help you?” I was supposed to say, “No, I’m fine. Thanks.” To which, they were supposed to ask, “Who are you here with?”


My friend led me to different parts of the plant. He would tell me to walk into or through a certain room and just linger, waiting for someone to question my presence. Meanwhile, he would duck around a corner and observe how employees reacted.

Most of the employees in the exercise did their job and called me out. Some were more bulldog-ish in their confrontations than others.

I was the most nervous during the entire exercise when I was confronted by the manager of the milk receiving area. Her inquiry was akin to being stopped by a police officer after speeding.

When I told her I was with her quality assurance manager and my presence was merely a test, she didn’t believe me. Only when my friend emerged from his hiding spot did she relent her suspicions about me. I’m confident no one will be messing with the raw milk arriving at that plant.

In the end, my friend said he noticed a few things they could improve upon. But that was the point of the test – to discover ways to refine their training and protocols.

The experience made me think about all of the times I’ve visited dairies over the past nine years with the magazine.Most of the time when I’m looking for the owner or manager to interview and I’m wandering through a parlor or driving around the yard, the employees are giving me the same quizzical looks I got inside the milk plant where my friend works.

However, only a few times have the employees ever stopped me and questioned me like those in the milk plant were trained to do.

My friend said there are farm defense programs available for dairies that are similar to the food defense programs aimed at securing where milk is processed. Now whether you choose to participate officially in these programs or not, I believe it’s a good idea for dairies to at least train employees to be suspicious and confront those who they’ve never seen before or who look out of place.

Although your nutritionist or veterinarian may at first be taken aback if confronted by a new employee who doesn’t know who they are, I think they would appreciate your dairy’s efforts to improve biosecurity and business security.

In addition to articles on transition cow care and breeding, this issue contains content about animal welfare issues, including a “What Should I Do” scenario about how to react when you think someone is trying to get hired on your farm with the intent to film malicious undercover video. Click here to read this article.

Just when I think the undercover video tactics animal agriculture enemies have used over the last few years have finally run their course, another one pops up in mainstream media. I don’t think they’re going away. It’s time to get a bit more watchful. Training your employees to look for suspicious enemies, like I was for an hour, may improve your self-defense. PD

walt cooley

Walt Cooley
Progressive Dairyman