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New Jersey Residents Threatened with Arrest and Fines for Possession of Raw Milk

Pouring milk in the glass on the background of nature.

raw-milk-deaths1

by Brian Shilhavy
Editor, Health Impact News

The raw milk wars are heating up again.

Raw milk is illegal in New Jersey, so many people who wish to drink pure, unadulterated raw milk direct from the farm, need to cross state lines into neighboring states in order to obtain it.

Not satisfied apparently with restricting the production, sale, and distribution of raw milk in New Jersey, state regulators, allegedly backed by the powerful FDA, are going after citizens in New Jersey for mere possession of the banned substance. Furthermore, they are apparently targeting immigrants in the state, mainly from India, where raw milk is a big part of their culture and cuisine.

Terrified citizens of New Jersey today fear fines and possible civil action simply for possessing raw milk.

Food activist David Gumpert [1] blogged about the recent action in New Jersey, as he has been in contact with some of the citizens who are being threatened.

In a December 9, 2017 post [2] he wrote:

It’s highly unusual for food regulators in a raw milk enforcement crackdown to visit private homes and threaten consumers.

Within the last two weeks, at least one investigator from a New Jersey health authority has visited private homes in at least four towns that serve as drop sites for private food clubs, taking photos of food coolers and warning consumers they could face fines or other legal penalties, presumably for using their homes as pickup points for raw dairy and other food for their local neighborhoods.

Perhaps New Jersey regulators feel emboldened in targeting consumers because of the agency’s special enforcement wrinkle: All the communities targeted by the investigation thus far appear to be in neighborhoods heavily populated by immigrants from India.

Gumpert contacted local officials about the harassing visits to people in their homes, but did not get a response as to why they were targeting raw milk consumers, most of whom were from India:

“as of now, it’s impossible to know exactly what prompted the NJ investigation or where it will go from here.” (Full article here [2].)

However, it was not much longer before Gumpert found out just what they were up to: terrorizing local citizens for transporting raw milk into New Jersey from a neighboring state.

Cease Desist Raw Milk 12-15-17 New Jersey [3]

Copy of threatening letter sent to residents of New Jersey who were allegedly carrying raw milk into the state from Pennsylvania. Image courtesy of David Gumpert [4].

In a December 17th blog post [4] Gumpert wrote:

New Jersey is seeking to preserve its image as one of the least tolerant states in the country for raw milk by serving at least eight of its residents with “cease and desist” letters claiming they are “selling and distributing unpasteurized (raw) milk in this state.”

The letters, which arrived late last week via certified mail, demand that the recipients, within five days, “provide written confirmation that these practices have ceased…Failure to cease and desist in the sale and distribution of raw milk in this state will result in the Department’s pursuit of appropriate civil sanctions against you.”

The letters are signed by Loel Muetter, program manager of the Public Health and Food Protection Program.

As the NJ Department of Health no doubt intended, the letters have created a panic among the recipients and other members of the community who consume raw milk. “I am fearful of possible fines,” one recipient of the cease-and-desist order told me. “We’re frightened. It could be in the thousands.”

But this resident, who didn’t want to be identified, also expressed anger. “They want to cut off this great food. The gall of them!”

The targeted residents say the letter’s accusations are untrue, that they aren’t either selling or distributing raw milk in New Jersey. The milk is purchased at a farm in Pennsylvania, they say, and residents have it brought to the homes of volunteers in NJ who hold the milk until neighbors can pick it up. These volunteers don’t handle money and aren’t paid. (Full article here [4]. – Emphasis added.)

Carrying raw milk from one state to another for personal consumption is not illegal, according to the FDA. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2011 issued a statement [5] sanctioning the transport of raw milk across state lines by consumers “for his or her own personal consumption.”

So why is New Jersey targeting its residents and spending tax payer resources to go after a few people bringing raw milk into their state?

Direct to Consumer Milk Sales Threaten Big Dairy

While food regulatory agencies, such as the FDA, would like to convince the public that raw milk is dangerous and is a public hazard, nothing could be further from the truth.

As our info-graph at the top of this article illustrates, food-borne illnesses that end up killing people are most common in raw produce, and raw chicken – raw foods that are perfectly legal and found in your local supermarket.

There are no records of anyone dying from drinking raw milk in the U.S. for the past 50 years [6] or so. Sales of raw milk are generally legal in other parts of the world, and in places in Europe you can even purchase raw milk in vending machines [7].

The real reason government agents are sent to try and intimidate raw milk producers and consumers is that direct to consumer milk sales from dairy farmers threatens Big Dairy, and their massive subsidies that keep milk prices low.

In 2011 the fight against raw milk drew national attention with the FDA sting operation against Pennsylvania Amish raw milk supplier Dan Allgyer [8].

Allgyer was working with buyer clubs in Maryland and Washington D.C. to allow them to receive deliveries of raw milk and other farm products.

Food activist and journalist David Gumpert covered the story back then as well, writing in April of 2011 [8]:

The FDA sent a number of its agents into undercover mode to gather the goods on Dan Allgyer, the Pennsylvania Amish farmer named in a complaint filed on behalf of the FDA by the U.S. Department of Justice seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting the farmer from distributing milk outside of Pennsylvania.

According to the complaint filed in U.S. District court a couple weeks back, the FDA undercover effort has been going on for more than a year. “In late 2009, an investigator in FDA’s Baltimore District Office used aliases to join” the cooperative that Allgyer’s farm was supplying in Maryland and Washington, DC. The complaint noted that the group “warns group members to ‘not share information about our group and certainly not about our farmer’ with government agencies or doctors…”

Over the 15 months between December 2009 and March 2011, additional FDA investigators used the cooperative’s “online ordering website and placed orders for unpasteurized cow milk on 23 occasions…Payment for each purchase was made in the form of a money order payable to Dan Allgyer.” Payment was either mailed to Allgyer “or left inside a zip closure bag that was located at the pick up site in Maryland. FDA investigators picked up each unpasteurized milk order at various private residences in Maryland.”

I’m sure it will reassure the owners of these homes to know that FDA investigators were roaming their garages, decks, and back yards, snooping around, doing everything necessary to protect the owners and other food club members from not only the milk, but the eggs, beef, chicken, and other foods they sign on for from the Allgyer farm.

The battle lines were being drawn between consumer rights and government regulatory officials over the purchase of direct-from-the-farm pure raw milk.

The nation’s largest seller of organic milk, Organic Valley, soon weighed in on the issue, and issued a statement preventing their co-op members from selling raw milk direct to consumers. The reason was NOT because the leaders of Organic Valley viewed raw milk as dangerous, many of them were dairy farmers and drank raw milk themselves, it was purely for economic reasons. When organic milk producers commit to so much volume of milk, and then fail to meet their contractual obligations to supply that much milk, it hurts businesses who rely on producers to supply enough milk into their “milk pools” that go into producing dairy products.

David Gumpert covered this issue as well in 2011, and wrote [9]:

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.

Hence, small-scale dairies who provide a superior milk product that is both healthy and safe face a dilemma: if they sell directly to the consumer at prices much higher than what Big Dairy will pay for their milk to be added to their milk pools, they risk losing their business to large milk wholesalers. So unless they can direct-market their entire milk supply to consumers, something very few dairy farmers can do, they are forced to sell their entire milk supply into the commercial milk pools.

Which is exactly what Big Dairy wants. This has nothing to do with raw milk hazards or public health.

Consumers Fight Back: Real Food Consumer Coalition

There are well-documented studies showing that raw milk produced safely from animals that are primarily grazers, and not confined to feed lots, is healthy and can even prevent allergies in children. See:

N.Y. Times Admits Raw Milk is Cure For Allergies [10]

Children Raised on Small Dairy Farms Develop 90% Fewer Allergies [11]

When such a healthy product is cut off from consumers, there will naturally be push-back from consumers. Imagine a hard-working mother trying to raise her children in healthy ways who discovers that a local dairy farm supplying pure, unadulterated milk directly from the cow before being processed, results in better health for her children, including eliminating allergies, and then finds out she can no longer purchase that milk because bureaucrats tell the public such a product is dangerous.

Such consumers are rapidly increasing in the U.S. today, and they have done their homework, realizing that raw milk from small-scale producers is a product that has been in the food chain for thousands of years, and is largely available in many countries outside the U.S.

It is even reported that in the early 1900s President Taft kept a cow on the grounds of the White House supplying raw milk to everyone living in the White House. (See: President Taft Kept a Cow on the White House Lawn and Drank Raw Milk [12])

Today, one of the leading advocacy groups fighting for consumer rights to choose their own food including raw milk, is the Real Food Consumer Coalition (RFCC).

RFCC [13] was conceived through conversations with a new real food (raw milk) consumer after he learned about Amos Miller’s troubles with the USDA. Said consumer, a past Tribal Leader who specializes in Native American Tribal and water issues on the west coast, suggested to Liz Reitzig that a labeling scenario could be the ideal ice-breaker in opening up interstate raw milk sales. Not perfect, but progress.

Ms. Reitzig, an accomplished and outspoken raw milk activist , quickly approached other leading raw milk advocates and core organizers to establish a coalition based on the fact that consumers need to be represented and protected as well. Also, many Amish and small family farmers are not allowed to have legal representation, or can not afford it.

RFCC was born. (Source [14].)

RFCC already has a petition [14] in place that would solve the problem these residents in New Jersey are facing here at the end of 2017.

Petition Explained: Citizen’s Petition For Exemption of Raw Milk Interstate Transportation Ban When the Milk is Labeled as Indicated

Advocates for direct farm-to- consumer food rights, the Real Food Consumer Coalition (RFCC), have filed a petition with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This petition, when accepted by the FDA, would eliminate an important layer of FDA regulatory enforcement against raw milk farmers—the agency’s ban on interstate transportation or sale of raw milk. Farmers would be exempt from enforcement of this regulation if they provide warning labels and a recipe for pasteurization on raw milk products.

The warning labels are similar to labels currently required in many states. The recipe for pasteurization is included so that individual consumers can make their own choices about how to best handle the milk.
This petition asks the FDA to accept such labeling for raw milk products, as an alternative to its draconian prosecution of Amish farmers and others who for centuries have produced and consumed raw milk products.

Emord and Associates, a Washington DC law firm with extensive experience in food regulation, filed the citizen’s petition with the FDA on April 26, 2017. The FDA legally has 180 days to respond.

While we await the answer to the petition, attorneys for any farmers cited (now or during this waiting time) for non-compliance with CFR1240.61 can file a motion of stay for their clients pending the response to this petition.

During the 180-day period, advocates for consumer choice will work with Congressional representatives to push for a legislative and more permanent repeal of the regulation in conjunction with the request in the petition. (Source [14].)

Liz Reitzig, one of the founders of RFCC, commented on the current situation in New Jersey on David Gumpert’s website [4]:

It is deeply disturbing what is happening in New Jersey–and, as you mention, most likely in collusion with the FDA.

The fact that state or county bureaucrats are working hard to intimidate peaceful residents simply because they are allowing community members to gather at their homes–this has much broader implications on many levels.

While on the surface this appears to be about raw milk, we need to look seriously at what is happening here and how the current laws and regulations encourage this kind of enforcement.

Regarding: “U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2011 issued a statement sanctioning the transport of raw milk across state lines ‘for his or her own personal consumption.’”

Is there another Freedom Ride brewing?

In 2011, I spearheaded the Raw Milk Freedom Riders (RMFR) because consumers and raw milk advocates were frustrated with the FDA’s draconian enforcement measures and policy to investigate, spy and raid the milk producers who were delivering fresh nutrient dense raw milk across state lines.

A close circle of raw milk advocate/activist friends and I organized the first Freedom Riders event (as you were first to report David) on November 1, 2011. The RMFR (a caravan of raw milk procuring moms) transported fresh milk from Pennsylvania into Maryland and then proceeded to join the RMFR rally in front of the FDA headquarters in Silver Spring Maryland where we distributed and enjoyed delicious raw milk and cookies.

That very same day, the FDA released a statement saying, “The FDA has never taken, nor does it intend to take, enforcement action against an individual who purchased and transported raw milk across state lines solely for his or her own personal consumption.”

The Farm Food Freedom Coalition (F3C), which I co-founded, continued to ask the FDA for dialog on the above matter in order to meet the needs of the thousands of consumers fighting the government for their right to choose and procure this healthy food against the FDA’s ongoing policy, and government overreach.

F3C boldly stated, “We are in the minority and our rights are not being considered, we deserve to be heard.” For years F3C has “tried to work with the FDA to meet their needs to protect consumers from unsafe food while keeping the freedom for those who seek unprocessed, fresh raw milk to continue to have access to this healthy, healing product.”

From conception, F3C has suggested that, “raw milk crossing state lines for human consumption could be labeled with the same warnings as other foods receive that are potentially dangerous when consumed raw (like poultry, pork, beef, oysters).”

We state,“ All we ask is raw milk be treated fairly, instead of outlawing it. The FDAs policy appears to be arbitrary and in the best interest of food processors to restrict access to raw milk. Prove us wrong by opening the discussion and protecting the rights of those in the minority who seek raw milk meant for human consumption.”

Further, I helped create RFCC when the USDA was pursuing charges against Amos Miller’s buying club (Miller’s Organic). RFCC, in conjunction with PA attorney Joseph Macaluso, worked to keep all consumer information away from the courts and the agencies and was instrumental in finding a peaceful resolution to Amos’ contempt of court charges.

Thus, protecting both consumers and farmers from overzealous regulations and the regulators tasked with enforcing those regulations even when it means targeting their own community members.

RFCC was victorious in representing Amos and negotiating the contempt conditions, has delivered probably the most realistic plan for reducing abusive enforcement through our Citizen’s Petition with the law firm Emord & Assoc., and we are now fighting to help the consumers in NJ.

The FDA is using a bottom-to-top strategy to isolate individual consumers and to circumvent the RFCC Citizen Petition and go after another farmer in their aggressive overreach to protect big corporations and destroy small farmers. Currently, no raw milk farmer is safe.

Yes, it is time to again challenge these laws and regs. The petition remains the best means to do so, along with a concerted political campaign to change the law and repeal the interstate ban entirely.

Along with that, we must insist on public scrutiny of the FDA’s role in enforcement and collaboration in destroying the lives of peaceful Americans and America’s guests.

The FDA is relentlessly pursuing their agenda to shut down raw milk production and consumption. Ultimately, they will not do that. But it is up to us to act proactively prevent the further loss of life and liberty for our community members–whether they are Americans or our honored guests.

Support the RFCC petition here [14].

David Gumpert gives this advice to those of you living in New Jersey:

I would encourage all NJ raw milk drinkers, along with everyone in the state who supports food rights, to contact their state reps, and protest this aggressive enforcement behavior. The state legislators control the budget of the NJ Department of Health, and thus have more influence than anyone else on its behavior.

Subscribe to David Gumpert’s blog here [15].