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Last week we reported the story about an FDA sting operation against raw milk producer Dan Allgyer, an Amish Farmer from Pennsylvania, as reported by David Gumpert. This story has been picked up by not only raw milk supporters, but by media outlets all across the country, including the Washington Times. The Washington Times story is very fair in reporting just the facts, and the reader comments are quite telling about what the public in general feels about the amount of effort and tax dollars that were spent on this operation, even among those who do not drink raw milk. Unwittingly, the government may have crossed the line in this incident, by bringing the issue of the freedom to choose to drink raw milk (and food freedom in general) into the national spotlight in ways it may never have been previously.

For those who value healthy food and the right to choose food that one desires, this should be a rallying cry all across the USA. It is time to finally take some action and be part of a grass-roots movement necessary to stop the government from taking away our freedoms and effectively eliminating small-scale family producers. These committed producers who choose not to be part of the global food system are our last hope to purchase healthy unadulterated food produced by traditional and sustainable methods. The global food system that currently feeds the world with cheap junk food, is controlled by a small handful of companies that pretty much get their way with influencing the government to protect their interests.

As John O’Donnell, a farmer from Maine, recently wrote in the Kennebeck Journal analyzing the CDC’s own “foodborne outbreak and mortality online databases,” the statistics that raw milk is a dangerous food just don’t exist. As O’Donnell reported:

I used the nine-year period from 1999 to 2007, since it made analyzing the two sets of data comparable. My analysis shows that deaths from foodborne illnesses are a very small percentage of overall mortality in the United States. During this period, of the 21.8 million deaths in the U.S., only 165 deaths were attributed to foodborne illnesses, 0.00076 percent.  What is even more astonishing is that of those 165 deaths attributed to foodborne illnesses, only three deaths were attributable to milk, and those deaths all came from pasteurized skim milk, not raw milk. (Read the Full article here.)

The war against raw milk is most certainly an economical one, and not a food safety issue. Farmer’s selling a high-quality nutrient-dense healthy food directly to consumers threatens the multi-billion dollar dairy industry. As O’Donnell reports and as Gumpert has also reported on his blog, “A 2008 survey of 17,372 people conducted for the Centers for Disease Control found that 3 percent of the U.S. population drinks raw milk.” That could work out to anywhere from nine to twelve million people in the U.S. currently drinking raw milk. That is milk that is normally bought up by dairy suppliers and used by powerful corporate multinationals to produce today’s dairy products, such as all that processed cheese that Americans love to eat on their pizzas.

When you break down this issue to pure economics, it is quite easy to understand. If a dairy farmer puts the extra effort into making his operation a truly healthy and sustainable operation, producing a much higher quality milk from grass-fed cows as opposed to CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations that utilize techniques to increase milk production which may include extensive grain feeding, growth hormones, antibiotic treatment, etc.), then the organic farmer only has two choices to get a better price for their higher quality milk. One is to sell it to a large co-op such as Organic Valley, which has the largest market for organic milk, or to sell it directly to the consumer, adjusting the price to earn a fair profit commensurate with the extra effort that went into producing such a high quality product. One of the issues even with organic co-ops and distributors, is that usually no distinction is made between milk from dairies that still contain their animals in feedlots and simply replace the feed with organic feed, and those who choose to pasture their animals and produce milk mostly from grass-fed animals. It is all mixed together, and the price per gallon the organic coop or processor pays is probably around $1.50 or so per gallon. And that is pasteurized milk, where the pasteurization method will degrade the original quality of the milk, even if it is organic. A farmer selling raw milk directly to the consumer can fetch anywhere from $5.00 to $15.00 per gallon.

David Gumpert reported on the conflict between producers of high quality milk and Organic Valley earlier this year, in explaining why Organic Valley started prohibiting its co-op members from selling raw milk directly to consumers. It is NOT a concern over the safety of drinking raw milk, but a concern that they are not able to meet their quotas for supplying dairy manufacturers with their raw product:

He said Organic Valley has confronted a growing problem of milk “diversion”–raw milk that doesn’t make it onto Organic Valley trucks for processing because it’s being sold unpasteurized, or else used for making  cheese, butter, and other products. “We may have a commitment to a processor for 50,000 pounds of milk, and when we show up with 35,000 pounds, that’s a problem.” Both men indicated that the raw milk issue was the most divisive in the cooperative’s 23-year history. But they also made clear that the decision was a business decision, having little or nothing to do with raw milk’s perceived risks or the wishes of regulatory authorities. They noted that probably all Organic Valley’s directors and executive board members are raw milk drinkers. (Full article here.)

So that’s the issue. It is a “business issue,” not a food safety issue. It’s just that the folks at Organic Valley are honest enough to admit it as such. The same cannot be said for the rest of the dairy industry, or the government that protects their economic interest.

But now the raw milk issue is in the national spotlight, and it is also a heated issue in many states where raw milk sales legislation is pending. There just are not enough Mark McAfee-type farmers to stand up to the authorities trying to squelch the public demand for healthy raw milk, especially among the Amish community, which might be one reason the FDA picked on Dan Allgyer in Pennsylvania. It’s time for all who value food freedom in the USA to take notice, whether you believe in drinking raw milk or not, and take action in this matter. Raw Milk author and advocate David Gumpert gives some practical advice below.

It’s Time to Give the FDA a Dose of Its Own Medicine: Five Suggestions for How the Maryland Food Club Can Fight Back (and How the Rest of Us Can Help)

by David E. Gumpert
The Complete Patient

Following my previous post, Fish in the Water expresses the emotional extremes many of us feel about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s latest assault on our food freedoms. “As a member of the aforementioned club, I have just been absolutely devastated this week, and am on pins and needles to see what happens next.”

Yes, what does happen next? Well, the members of the Maryland food club that was targeted by the FDA for an undercover operation to apparently make a case for unlawful interstate sales of raw milk by Pennsylvania farm owner Dan Allgyer, need to make a decision. They have two basic choices:

1. They can cower in fear, maybe abandon the farmer who is risking his farm and his freedom to supply them with fresh nutrient-dense food…

2. Or they can stand up, tall and proud, against the crude effort to instill fear, and fight back.

I very much hope they choose the second option…not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because the FDA needs to be taught that there’s a price to be paid for using police-state enforcement tactics to interfere with private farmer-consumer food agreements…so it will think twice before embarking on this kind of adventurism anytime soon. I also think the FDA outrage offers Maryland food club members a huge opportunity to educate legislators, judges, and the public at large about the seriousness of the FDA’s actions and the terrible precedent that could be established trashing private contractual food rights.

In this sense, I diverge from the earlier advice of Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy Co., telling Dan Allgyer to settle with the FDA and avoid a lengthy court battle. McAfee’s advice was based on his own experience being indicted for interstate sales of raw milk, but in his case, he actually was selling raw milk. The Allgyer case is much different, involving consumers in a direct contractual relationship with their farmer. Thus, it would be a huge concession of fundamental rights for Allgyer to capitulate to the FDA.

One reason this situation offers such an opportunity is that there isn’t even a hint of a food safety problem. This food club has been in operation for nearly five years, without any kind of illness, from raw milk or any of the eggs, beef, and chicken the members buy. The club’s experience gives lie to the FDA’s statement in its court filing seeking a permanent injunction against Allgyer: “Unpasteurized mik and milk products contain a wide variety of harmful bacteria…all of which may cause illness and possibly death.”

Aajonus Vonderplanitz, the California nutritionist, whose organization, Right to Choose Healthy Food, oversees the contractual arrangements of the Maryland food club targeted by the FDA, seems to be of the same mindset. He tells me the FDA’s move in federal district court in Pennsylvania, is intended “to scare more farmers and consumers,” and he’s not buying in.

“I look forward to court events. I will write the briefs that Dan and I will file claiming non-jurisdiction, fraud and harassment.”

But public involvement is a critical component for eventual legal success, he says. “I would love to have more people aware and watching. More people watching is likely to make the judge more honest and law-abiding.”

In that spirit of creating more public awareness, here are five of my own unsolicited suggestions for how the Maryland food club can fight back:

* Recruit some serious legal talent. Vonderplanitz will need legal help to joust with the Harvard-Yale-Princeton Law School types at the U.S. Department of Justice who will be handling this case. That will cost money. If each of the hundreds of Maryland food club members puts up just a few hundred dollars, they can buy some pretty impressive legal help. There have to be experienced lawyers out there who would love the public exposure that will result from defending an Amish farmer set upon by obsessive and arrogant government regulators and prosecutors.

* Let your U.S. House and Senate representatives know about the FDA’s outrage, and urge them to express disapproval. They control the FDA’s purse strings, and can make a difference. They likely don’t know what’s been going on here. Now is the time to inform them.

* Let the White House know about your outrage. The FDA and the Department of Justice are both directed by President Barack Obama. He likely didn’t know about the case specifically, but there are some highly placed administration officials who must be aware. This kind of intensive year-plus undercover investigative operation against the reclusive Amish community has to be approved at high levels before it goes forward. One relatively low-level bureaucrat like John Sheehan, the FDA’s dairy director, can’t by himself make something like this happen; many others have to sign off. Obama’s handlers need to know that many people are outraged.

* Improve vetting procedures. Yes, I know the horse is out of the barn at the Maryland food club, but you never know if the feds will make additional efforts to plant spies. Plus, they may well have other food clubs under surveillance. Unfortunately, food clubs need to tighten their processes, which should include requiring member prospects to show drivers licenses and even credit cards to confirm their identitities, thus making it it tougher for people with aliases to get in. Moreover, it’s helpful to do Google searches on everyone. One buying club I know spotted an FDA operative this way, before she could sign her membership papers.

* Pack the courthouse when Dan Allgyer’s case comes up for hearings in Pennsylvania. As Wayne Craig says in his comment following my previous post, “We need to shine a very bright light on the resources and time FDA is using against raw milk vs other priorities.” Lots of people showing up with high-priced legal representation helps focus the judge’s attention.

The FDA was obviously trying to send a strong message of intimidation and fear. It’s time for those of us who value food rights to send an even stronger message that its strong-arm tactics won’t be tolerated. Farmers can’t do it alone.

Read the full article here: