The Freedom to Buy and Sell Raw Milk
The August 3, 2011, shakedown of the Rawesome food cooperative in Venice, California, in spite of the tragic outcome, has produced one positive result. The ruthless raid on the part of miscellaneous government agencies has sparked a wave of unprecedented discord over the question, How can government dictate what we choose to eat when we each have unique standards for good nutrition?
This federalista blitzkrieg came at a time when raw milk alarmism had reached an all-time high. The folks who wish to banish raw milk can't leave the issue alone, and instead they have ramped up a cacophonous crusade against one of nature's glories. Day after day, articles and news bits appear in the mainstream media, full of fear mongering and panic-producing propaganda in regard to the safety of raw milk.
A July 2011 article on Dairyherd.com has some interesting survey results on comparative raw-milk regulations on a state-by-state basis. To summarize, 30 states allow consumers to transact with raw-milk producers while 20 states prohibit that act of freedom. And don't forget that federal laws prevent the sale of any raw milk over state lines. The federal government's response to the good white stuff moving over state lines is to send in armed soldiers in full battle gear to seize and destroy.
Thirteen mini-regimes across the United States allow the sale of raw milk on the farm where it was produced, while four of those thirteen allow only "incidental occurrences," with that being defined as "occasional sales, not as a regular course of business; no advertising."
Surely, the feds can interpret "occasional" and "regular" and "advertising" in a whole host of capricious ways. After all, it is the use of arbitrary laws with a host of potential interpretations that enables the feds to conduct their criminal operations that consist of seizing product and regulating small producers out of business.
Four of those 13 states only allow raw goat milk while Kentucky and Rhode Island — now get this — require a prescription from a physician! Of course, you can interpret that to mean raw milk must be medicinal (ask moms who remedy their child's allergies with raw milk), but then again, there's no such thing as a Big Milk Pharma that exists as a corporate arm of the state to keep its products available for the masses. Lastly, 11 states allow raw milk to be sold in retail stores outside of the farm.
Several of the states that allow the sale of raw milk for human consumption have various twists and turns in their laws that make it very difficult to get the milk from the farm to the consumer. This essentially limits, or in some cases prevents, the sale of the product. However, imaginative entrepreneurs whose businesses are stifled by the government's despotic decrees have conceived the idea of herd shares, and this allows folks to jump through aboveboard hoops to buy a "piece" of a herd and get their raw milk. Though this is a costly administrative burden for both buyer and seller, any time that people can conjure up visionary ways to skirt the laws of the regime, freedom has taken a small step forward.
It is important to note that Rawesome was a private, voluntary cooperative of consenting members who took responsibility for any potential risks. Rawesome members even signed waivers before becoming a food-club member. With all of the agencies involved (USDA, FDA, LA County Sheriff, CDC) over a period of a year, this jihad came at great expense to taxpayers. The LA Weekly described it this way:
The official word from the DA's office is that Stewart, Palmer & Bloch were arrested on criminal conspiracy charges stemming from the alleged illegal production and sale of unpasteurized goat milk, goat cheese, yogurt and kefir. The arrests are the result of a yearlong sting. The 13-count complaint alleges that an undercover agent received goat milk, stored in a cooler in the back of Healthy Family Farms van, in the parking lot of a grocery store. While it's legal to manufacture and sell unpasteurized dairy products in California, licenses and permits are required. Rawesome may have violated regulations by selling raw dairy products to non-members.
Here is a link to the 21-page complaint. Among the many charges against owner James Stewart is one that immediately stood out: entering into private leasing arrangements with consumers. This charge is still fuzzy, and I am sure the feds can produce a whole book of crimes.
In a recent edition of the Atlantic, an article was published that does a solid job of covering the Rawesome food-club raid and its aftermath. The Atlantic writer, Ari LeVaux, compares the Rawesome raid by federal and local agencies to the contamination of 36 million pounds of Cargill ground turkey (one tally is 77 known ill people, 1 dead). Rawesome was raided, trashed, and shut down, and meanwhile, Cargill executives were analyzing the costs of a recall vs. the potential for negative publicity from the tainted meat so they could voluntarily decide whether or not to recall the product.
LeVaux went on to say that food freedom in America is vanishing. A quote from the end of the article states the following: "This is the state of food freedom in America today: It's being sacrificed in the name of food safety." But this is not about safety. These raids that are hostile to food choice are about
- seizing power, which benefits federal and local governments and provides justification for their continued growth through the looting of taxpayers;
- eliminating the competition for the rent-seeking corporate state, meaning the big business–big government alliance;
- displaying the omnipotent power of the enforcement state (militarized police and federal/state agencies); and
- affirming rejection of any individual's right to self-ownership, and thus making the case that we are subjects to be ruled, including our behaviors and personal lifestyle choices.
The apostles of safety — assorted lawyers, corporate interests, meddlesome consumers, and other misguided safety advocates — have joined the government's campaign against raw milk to promote their own special interests and opinions. There is no tyranny of good intentions here.
Another analysis I have not heard mentioned is that this raid was, in fact, a test case for the new powers granted to the FDA under the Food Safety Modernization Act. Yet when I wrote about this totalitarian decree just one year ago (see #1 here and #2 here), I received emails from many folks stating that my concern was embellished and misplaced. Yet this regulatory food bill has opened the doors for federal intrusion at the most basic level of choosing one's food. Food-freedomist author and blogger Dave Gumpert had this interesting comment on his blog:
I'm beginning to wonder: Is the cruelty of depriving your population of essential foods a war crime? If there were a real war going on, with guns firing, it could be. A United Nations panel has accused the Sri Lanka military of war crimes for denying food to civilians in a war zone.
We're certainly edging closer to war here, as guns have been drawn in the war on Rawesome…. For now, the answer to government attacks on food distribution is to go underground, avoid fixed locations like the Rawesome outlet in Venice, CA. In the meantime, perhaps we should be gathering names for possible war crimes actions against those guilty of this basest of crimes — stealing the people's food.
Rawesome had been raided previously, in 2010, and here is a very telling — and almost pathetically comical — video of cops barging into the organic-natural food store with guns drawn during the 2010 raid.
Meanwhile, the FDA recently went after Tucker Adkins Dairy of South Carolina like gangbusters. A handful of people allegedly got sick from the dairy's raw milk. So three people were confirmed sick — with diarrhea — and the FDA threw a ton of resources at the issue to propagandize against raw milk and promote the "safety" of the industrial milk product. The FDA even put out a newswire that was nothing more than an expensive propaganda piece. And to think that this massive spin campaign was waged over a few cases of loose stool?
In spite of the fact that Tucker Adkins Dairy was publicly hung out to dry, the FDA failed in its attempt to cripple the dairy's reputation. The FDA admitted that the raw milk it suspected of harboring campylobacter tested negative. Still, the FDA's reaction was to continue the investigation to determine why a few folks got the runs, and they claimed the number of people who got sick was "probably higher" due to the fact that cases often go unreported. In spite of the lack of findings, one FDA spin doctor stated, "we don't doubt that Campylobacter caused this outbreak."
One of the most glaring pieces of evidence that this war on raw milk is not about "safety" is this: the laws, for the most part, do not prohibit you from buying this allegedly hazardous product — they only force sellers and buyers to go around the regulations and conduct the transaction by way of a herd-share agreement. A similar thing occurs with cottage-food laws, where sellers of artisanal goods must comply with zillion-page documents that spell out what kind of products they can sell to others, where and how they can prepare them, what they must wear during food preparation, and how they must package and label the products. These cumbersome edicts regulate and restrict market access for small producers, putting them at a major competitive disadvantage.
The FDA is, in desperation, trying to influence consumers against raw milk. Even so, sales of raw milk keep increasing and new consumers come into the market. Since the FDA does not have the power to regulate intrastate commerce, it is up to the states to regulate raw milk. The FDA's job, then, is to apply pressure on states to restrict or ban the sale of raw milk.
The fear mongering over the dangers of raw milk is rooted in government–special interest propaganda with no basis in facts or science. In the interest of alarming the populace, the prohibition campaign has portrayed the decision to drink raw milk as a public danger rather than a personal choice. In response, Ted Beals, MD, delivered a presentation at the Third International Raw Milk Symposium in Bloomington, Minnesota, in May 2011, where he delivered these remarks:
From the perspective of a national public health professional looking at an estimated total of 48 million foodborne illnesses each year; or from the perspective of a healthcare professional looking at a total of 90,771 (data from Healthy People 20204) confirmed bacterial foodborne infections each year (about 0.2 percent), there is no rational justification to focus national attention on raw milk, which may be associated with an average of 42 illnesses maximum among the more than nine million people (about 0.0005 percent) who have chosen to drink milk in its fresh unprocessed form.
Using this average of 42 illnesses per year, we can show, using government figures, that you are about 35,000 times more likely to become ill from other foods than you are from raw milk.
In spite of the fed's efforts to contain the states, the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund reports that
in the 2011 legislative session, bills to legalize or expand the sale of raw milk have been introduced in at least ten different states. FDA has already intervened in several of them attempting to persuade legislators not to support the bills.
At my grocery store, Detroit Eastern Market, a farmers' market where 40 thousand people gather each week to buy, sell, and inform, I have noted that the folks who desire food freedom are in high visibility this year, and sales of herd shares are being advertised all over the market. It seems that the more government carries on its safety parade through its futile campaign of disinformation, the more people seem to brush off the spin as nothing more than second-rate hype and ignorable noise.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.