Theft of rBST highlights dairy crime spree
Three suspects were recorded on a Kings County dairyman's surveillance video allegedly stealing $30,000 worth of recombinant bovine somatotropin or rBST, a pharmaceutical used by dairy producers to enhance milk production.
Two suspects are caught on surveillance video prying open the locked office door of a Kings County dairy. A third suspect is recorded inside the office allegedly searching for the dairy producer's supply of rBST.
Rural crime detectives from Kings and Tulare County Sheriff's Offices are working to solve the case and are asking for the public's help to catch the suspects.
"This recent theft in our county is considerable," said Jeff Tyner, rural crime unit investigator with the Kings County Sheriff's Office. "It is an incredible amount of money lost to the producer. One syringe of rBST is valued at anywhere from $5.75 to $6.50."
In the early morning hours of Dec. 17, three suspects allegedly broke into the dairy producer's locked office and stole his supply of rBST. Detectives from Kings and Tulare counties reported that one suspect arrived at the dairy seeking employment, while three others walked away with the stored pharmaceutical. It is believed that all four men fled the scene in a white Ford Taurus.
Tyner confirms that the theft of rBST is a significant problem for today's California dairy producers and is a common occurrence.
"Between September of 2005 and October of 2006, at least seven of these kinds of thefts were reported in the county," Tyner said. "We have seen thefts of other kinds of dairy pharmaceuticals in the past, but now we are mostly seeing rBST which is used by many of the larger dairies in the county."
Tulare County Sheriff's Lt. David Galloway said it is "feast or famine" when it comes to the number of thieves trespassing on dairies to steal rBST.
"When we get somebody in the area that starts working rBST, we will have a lot of cases and then we will either catch them or scare them away. Then we won't have any for awhile," he said.
Galloway noted that in 2006, only two rBST thefts were reported in Tulare County with a value of about $2,700. In 2005, the county was made aware of seven cases with a total loss of $19,000. In 2004, 10 cases were reported with a loss of about $60,000.
"We know that these cases sometimes go unreported and that farmers just don't want to mess with it," Galloway said.
Sheriff's rural crime detectives believe that a large amount of the dairy pharmaceutical is likely resold on the black market in California or outside of the state and possibly even in Mexico.
Criminals often stake out a dairy by applying for employment and even working at the dairy for a period of time.
"We arrested an individual last year for stealing rBST and his way of doing business was to get a job at the dairy or go in and apply for work so he could get a lay of the land," Galloway said. "He then would go back and steal from the dairy and would never return to work."
The pharmaceutical rBST, made by Monsanto, has been on the market since 1994. It is packed in syringes and comes in boxes of 100. Monsanto spokesman Andrew Burchett said on average, rBST will increase milk production by 10 pounds of milk per cow per day.
Fresno County dairyman Brian Pacheco, a member of both the California Farm Bureau Federation rural health and safety committee and the CFBF dairy advisory committee, said he believes this type of theft has to be the work of someone on the inside.
"Someone at the dairy has to know you are using it. It is refrigerated so that usually means it is in a building or room on the dairy premises and the average person wouldn't know you are using it," Pacheco said. "It is known that only 30 to 40 percent of dairies use rBST, so the crooks would only have a one-in-three chance of finding it per dairy."
Pacheco emphasized that dairy producers must remain vigilant.
"You have to take the necessary steps to protect not only your business, but the food supply. It is a lot of extra time and effort, but it is necessary in today's environment," he said. "We keep all of our pharmaceuticals under lock and key and we have a 24-hour video security system. The camera records the make, model and license number of every vehicle that enters the premises. We've had this system ever since 9-11 and we are very happy with it."
Rural crime prevention on dairies is something that Michael Marsh of Western United Dairymen is working on very closely with the organization's members.
"It is not just pharmaceuticals. We've had a lot of thefts of dairy calves. One of my members in the Turlock area, over a period of time, lost about 150 heifer calves. At $2,000 a head, that is a lot of money," Marsh said. "It seems like an epidemic. We commend law enforcement for their efforts and work with the dairy industry to try and combat this rural crime."
Dairy producers are routinely hit by criminals who steal calves and then resell them. A Tulare dairy producer who noticed that he had fewer cattle than his inventory had indicated contacted the sheriff's rural crime unit, which led to the recovery of 20 heifer calves with an estimated value of $9,000.
"This particular producer kept really good records, so he was checking his inventory and was coming up short, " Galloway said. "He contacted us and said, ?I've got a problem.' We started looking into it and that led us to one of his employees."
Detectives say the employee, who was picking up calves that belonged to his employer, sold them to another person, who was also arrested. If the employee picked up 20 calves to be delivered to the dairy producer, he would sell five of those and the producer would not realize there was a shortage until later.
"What struck us with this case was how well this particular calf operation kept good records. This gentleman did a really good job keeping records, so he was able to show that he was short," Galloway said. "The employee was arrested for stealing the calves and the other man was arrested for buying them."
The victim said he was gratified with the quick arrest.
"It is sad that people you trust rip you off. We are just glad we were able to catch what was going on as soon as we did," said Johnny Gailey, general manager at Milky Way Dairy. "Basically we caught it within a week. Otherwise the guy could have been doing it for who knows how long before we'd catch them."
Rural crime detectives in Tulare and Kings counties are seeking help in identifying the suspects in the rBST case. Those with information related to the thefts and who can identify the featured suspects are asked to contact Tulare County Sheriff's Office Ag Crimes Unit Detective Dale Cullum at (559) 740-4300 or Kings County Sheriff's Office Ag Crimes Unit Detectives Ty Milton at (559) 582-3211at ext. 4842, Jeff Tyner at ext. 4844 or Clay Crippen at ext. 4843.
(Christine Souza is a reporter for Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.