This is Part 2 in a 3 part series on raw milk, looking at the claims and controversy around it, the dedication and loyalty of its advocates, and whether the growing movement in Hawai’i can help lead a turnaround out of the ashes of a once-thriving state-wide dairy industry.
In the state of Hawai’i and across North America, a growing number of people are seeking access to raw milk, exercising their right to choose and consume it, and standing up for their right to buy it (or more technically, for the right of their farmers to sell it). Because of its legal status, raw milk is quickly becoming the flashpoint for the food sovereignty and food freedom movements, the former advocating the “primacy of people’s and community’s rights to food and food production over trade concerns”, and the latter the concepts of self-ownership and voluntary exchange. It would seem like a basic human right – the fundamental liberty to buy, sell and consume food as we see fit. However, in 2010, the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund sued the FDA over the issue of interstate commerce, and in response, the FDA said there is “no absolute right to consume or feed children any particular food”, that people “do not have a fundamental right to obtain any food they wish”, and that there is “no fundamental right to one’s own bodily and physical health”. Say what?
While it is not illegal to buy, possess or consume raw milk, U.S. federal law prohibits raw milk meant for human consumption from crossing state lines, with state laws varying widely on the status of retail, farm and herd sales. Raw milk sales have been illegal in Canada since 1991. Our governments have criminalized raw milk, stifling consumer freedom, and waging war on farmers and distributors with armed raids, excessive enforcement, intimidation and harassment. And they have been astonishingly proactive, targeting farmers even in the absence of complaints or illness. High-profile cases in North America include Michael Schmidt, a Canadian dairy farmer whose trial is covered in the James Beard Foundation Award-winning documentary Milk War. He is six years into his battle. While he was found not guilty of the original charges, the ruling was later overturned and is now on appeal to one of Canada’s highest courts in what could be a precedent-setting decision. Daniel Allgyer is an Amish farmer in Pennsylvania who shuttered his farm recently, after two years of harassment by the FDA and the Justice Department. And Mark Nolt, a Mennonite farmer, also in Pennsylvania, has been raided three times by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the FDA, and state police. These are a few of the martyrs of the raw milk movement – the lone rangers on the front lines of food freedom. But the cavalry is growing and on the way.
The role and influence of agribusiness is integral to understanding why raw milk is being criminalized. It is well-known that the FDA is sympathetic to big ag – the revolving door between them making their interests effectively one. With safety regulations at the FDA and the Department of Agriculture developed with and for industrial dairy interests, and according to their needs, the concerns of small farmers have never been considered. Labyrinthine paperwork, licensing and certification requirements, easily handled by a large operation, create a disproportionate burden on small farms, which struggle to comply. This one-size-fits-all approach clearly doesn’t work, but the money and influence of the big players, and their cozy relationship with the regulators, make for situations where the agencies refuse to compel GMO labeling, but think nothing of destroying the livelihoods of raw milk farmers, or of turning a blind eye to the industrial food chain that is the source of most food safety problems. Their safety threshold lacks consistency, and the agenda becomes clear: to do the bidding of industry interests in denying informed choice and product from people who want healthier options, in order to preserve their financial interests.
Part 3 will look at the raw milk underground, how it ties into Hawai’i’s past, and if it could help lead a turnaround out of the ashes of a once-thriving state-wide dairy industry.
For a more in-depth look at the higher profile cases, check out the documentary Farmageddon, which tells the individual stories behind the FDA raids, and this Harper’s article, which is a few years old, but still excellent. Click here for The Bovine blog, which has been tracking the case of Michael Schmidt in Canada.
You can find a map of raw milk laws by state here.
The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund has up to date news on court challenges, legal status, and farmer harassment.
A word of caution: Our advice if you’re interested in raw milk? Do your research so you can make an informed choice about acceptable risk for you and your family. Make sure you are procuring from a trusted, reputable farmer and educate yourself about their practices, and finally, tour the farm and facilities.
This is one of the inaugural posts for The Saloniere. Thanks for stopping by. We hope you will find what we have to say interesting enough to return regularly. (And we’ll post more about who we are and what we hope to accomplish soon.) Happy reading and welcome to The Saloniere!