By Reid Mukai, CAGJ Co-Chair
After a two year undercover surveillance operation and an armed pre-dawn raid by U.S. Marshals one year ago, the feds finally got their man and shut down his operations. Their target was not an alleged terrorist mastermind nor drug warlord but Amish dairy farmer Dan Allgyer. His crime? Distributing harmless and healthy raw milk across state lines. For an agency with a track record of ignoring real dangers in the food system such as genetically modified foods, aspartame and other dangerous chemical additives, and milk containing rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), the FDA’s recent war on raw milk is remarkably absurd. It would almost be a joke were it not such an extreme abuse of power and waste of taxpayer dollars, all to protect corporate interests by destroying the livelihoods of people providing a valuable service to their communities. Because of the Food Safety Modernization Act signed by Obama in January, the FDA now has even more power to seize food without evidence of contamination. “This authority strengthens significantly the FDA’s ability to keep potentially harmful food from reaching U.S. consumers,” said Mike Taylor, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Monsanto’s former Vice President for Public Policy.
Allgyer’s case is just the latest in an ongoing trend of FDA raids on small farms, including Organic Pastures and Rawesome Foods in California, Hartmann Farm in Minnesota, Morningland Cheese in Missouri, and Estrella Family Creamery in Washington. People have been sickened by E. coli outbreaks in spinach, cucumbers, alfalfa sprouts, lettuce, chicken and beef, yet the FDA has never attempted to ban the distribution of those raw foods. Even alcohol and cigarettes are easier to acquire than raw milk, which has been a healthy and medicinal food in cultures around the world for thousands of years. These reasons alone are reason enough to suspect the FDA’s recent actions have less to do with public safety than lobbying efforts of groups such as the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation, both of which have pressured Congress to crack down on raw milk producers. It’s no surprise such groups feel threatened by the raw milk industry which has grown in popularity in recent years as more people learn of its health benefits. Raw milk is a product that cannot be safely produced using large-scale industrial methods and could raise awareness of dangers of industrial milk. Apparently there’s also anti-raw milk extremists in power such as Dara A. Corrigan, FDA Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs, who stated in a recent press release “Drinking raw milk is dangerous and shouldn’t be consumed under any circumstances”. This opinion is echoed by Federal Judge Norma Holloway in her rling ordering the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to ban interstate shipment of raw milk (a decision which prompted the FDA to mandate a similar ban in 1987). She stated, “It is undisputed that all types of raw milk are unsafe for human consumption and pose a significant health risk.” For anyone who has spent even minimal time researching the subject, such claims could only come from grossly uninformed people unless it’s intentional disinformation.
According to the Center for Disease Control, between 1993 and 2006 unpasteurized milk caused 1,505 reported illnesses and 185 hospitalizations, an average of 116 illnesses a year. That’s less than .000002 percent of the reported 76 million people who contract food-borne illnesses in the U.S. annually. Morningland and Estrella farms were forced to recall thousands of pounds of cheese because samples tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes (L-mono), a potentially dangerous pathogen with a number of less dangerous subtypes. However, the FDA is not required to determine whether the amount found is sufficient to cause illess. A 2003 USDA/FDA report found 515 times more illnesses from L-mono due to deli meats and 29 times more illness from L-mono due to pasteurized milk compared to raw milk. Deli meats were 10 times more likely than raw milk to cause illness on a per serving basis. (Interpretive Summary – Listeria Monocytogenes Risk Assment, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Sept. 2003, page 17).
Supporters of raw milk cite early human studies indicating raw grass-fed milk was superior to pasteurized milk in protecting against infection, diarrhea, rickets, tooth decay, TB, arthritis, diabetes and gout. A 2006 European study by the University of Basel in Switzerland, one of the only major modern studies done on the health benefits of raw milk, showed an inverse relationship with asthma in raw milk drinkers. First-hand testimonies from raw milk advocates have attributed to raw milk such health benefits as reversal of allergies, increased immune system functioning, heart health, healing of digestive system disorders, weight loss, reduced skin diseases, and reversal of autism symptoms. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates traditional diets, milk pasteurization destroys enzymes, diminishes nutrient content, denatures proteins, and kills probiotic bacteria. This has linked industrial milk to various ailments such as allergies, tooth decay, colic, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and cancer.
In respose to the Allgyer case, on May 16, a peaceful demonstration was held in Washington D.C. organized by Liz Reitzig, a nutritionist and mother of four. Among the speakers in attendance were food and drug attorney Jonathan Emord, Weston A. Price Foundation president Sally Fallon Morell, Mark McAfee, founder and owner of Organic Pastures Dairy, and David Gumpert, journalist and author of “The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights”. On the same day, Congressman Ron Paul introduced Bill HR 1830 which would legalize the distribution of unpasteurized milk and milk products for human consumption across state lines.
Regardless of one’s beliefs, assessment of whether benefits of raw milk outweigh potential risks should be left up to informed citizens and not corporations acting through government. There is a need for oversight to monitor safety of food, especially regarding potentially radioactive foods from Japan, Corexit-contaminated seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, and GMOs (problems which the FDA has ignored or for which they had safety tests performed by the very corporations that caused the problems). The current corrupt regulatory system (ie. a revolving door system of corporate foxes guarding the henhouse) creating an illusion of food safety is arguably worse than none at all. Either way, the public can no longer trust in the safety of products of the industrial food system. Who we can trust are local farmers from small, sustainable organic farms. Please do them (and yourself) a favor by buying natural foods through CSAs, farmer’s markets, co-ops and local grocery stores if possible. Unlike processed products of the dominant corporate agribusinesses, it’s beneficial for the health of your body, your community, and the natural systems our long-term survival is dependent on.