Saturday, August 6, 2011

food rights

milk | photo: wax115
In case you missed it on the news, there was a raid of a store in California that was selling raw milk.  The owner and two suppliers were arrested and an unknown amount of raw milk was dumped.

As I understand it this was a store that essentially functioned as a buying club.  Consumers were required to be members before they could buy.  I will grant that the government claims the raid was in part because the store owner did not have the proper permits.  The owner apparently thought that because his operation was a private buying club not a public place of sale he did not need one.

However leaving aside that permitting misunderstanding, this is not the first time that there have been raids against raw milk sellers; last May there was a raid in Pennsylvania and there have been many others.  For some reason it appears that raw milk and it's advocates have been targeted and are being dealt with by force.

I find this sort of thing disturbing for a number of reasons:

1.  According to the Weston A. Price Foundation's Real Milk Campaign there are lots of health benefits from drinking raw milk.  If the government feels that raw milk is so much of a problem then create legislation for it.  But honestly Diet Coke is horrific to our health and there is no legislation there.  This over-reaching attack on one product seems excessive and misplaced;

2.  Those who want to drink raw milk should have access to it, they are aware of the risks and most of them are dealing with farmers that they trust to run a clean operation; those who don't want to drink raw milk don't have to.  I'm not sure how this is considered a problem, raw milk is always clearly labeled and is only sold to those who specifically search it out;

3.  The raids frequently go after raw milk producers or stores where they sell raw milk yet I am easily able to buy raw milk cheese and butter at my local big-chain grocery store.  In order to make these products the producer has to start with a raw milk product.  If the raw milk cheese producers can get approval to make and sell their product why not the base product?

I find all of this attention toward raw milk producers confusing in part because in other areas the governmental agencies in charge are clearly not doing their job.  In the recent ground turkey recall it has come to light that the USDA suspected a problem two weeks before it actually forced the recall.  The egg recall from last summer revealed that the owner had years of health and environmental violations.  And the peanut butter recall from two years ago showed that the company had serious health violations but was never shut down.  So major manufacturers appear to get a nod-and-a-wink while farmers and consumers are arrested and subjected to armed arrest?

I feel that those who want to eat a certain way are being denied their rights.  Going back to point number one above, smoking kills yet we still sell cigarettes, alcoholism and drunk driving are a big problem yet we still sell alcohol.  I don't see raw milk as being harmful or costly to society yet it's being portrayed as this over-reaching evil product that kills.  I'm truly puzzled by this attitude.  Is it because cigarettes and alcohol and junk food generate big profits and those industries can afford to fund political legislators while small farmers and small groups of consumers can't?  And why does it seem that the efforts of those agencies which are supposed to be protecting our food supply are being unevenly thrown against a minority population that wants nothing more than what they consider to be a healthy, nutritious food?  I know many people have started to buy cow shares in order to preserve their right to have access to raw milk but even that appears to be under assault.

I have come to believe that raw milk is the next dairy battle.  Although I remember drinking it when I was a kid I don't recall it being popular or easily accessible and I certainly don't remember news headlines about it.  Now that it is more available and more in demand it has suddenly become a problem?

When organic milk became more publicized for it's lack of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides the dairy industry pushed back hard and tried to block labeling that stated milk was "rBGH free" because this would cut into their profits (note: rBHG is sometimes referred to as rBST).  They did win a legislative ruling that milk which was labeled rBGH free also had to carry a statement that there was no difference between milk with and without the hormone.  This was later shown to be not true with one study reporting rBGH milk had "Fat levels, particularly long chain saturated fatty acids incriminated in heart disease, are increased, while levels of a thyroid hormone enzyme are increased."  For many people the only way to ensure added-hormone free milk was to purchase organic which is legislated not to contain it.

I will make a side note here - just because a cow is organically raised does not mean that it is not still in some sort of a feedlot operation.  The organic label does not automatically ensure fat, happy, grass-fed cows regardless of the cute pictures (which is sad because milk from grass fed cows is better for you).  Organic simply means that cow is not fed GMO feed, not shot up with artificial hormones and not pumped up with antibiotics.  If you want grass-fed, free-ranging cows you need to either raise them yourself or get to know a farmer who raises their animals that way.

Now that manufacturers have lost the organic dairy war and more organic dairy products are arriving on the shelf regularly, the big producers are getting into the business themselves.  I'm sure much of this is profit driven.  If people are willing to pay more for organic dairy and you can't legislate it away then you might as well join in.  But raw dairy is different.  It doesn't travel well unless it's been turned into something like cheese or butter.  That means a shift back to local smaller scale farming.  I guess that's somehow seen as a problem.  


Maia Lagerstedt said...

Mira, thanks so much for posting this. I grew up on raw milk and this whole controversy seems surreal to me. You're absolutely right in your observation that our rights to choose what we eat are being impeded--a kind of twisted flipside to not requiring the labeling of GMO foods.

This is such an important issue--thanks so much for bringing some attention to it.

dlmosher said...

This is an outstanding post, Mira. I called attention to it in a Yahoo group I'm in: HoustonOrganic. They are all abuzz about the raid.