Got raw milk? Increasingly that question appears difficult to answer in the affirmative.
For fans of raw milk and those who, like me—a non-consumer of either raw or pasteurized dairy milk—fight for food freedom in all its forms, the past year or two have been notable for several setbacks on the unpasteurized dairy front.
The FDA has increased pressure on states to crack down on raw milk within their own borders. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently stepped up its efforts against raw milk after the agency claimed its recent analysis "found that the incidence of dairy-associated disease outbreaks caused by nonpasteurized dairy products was 150 times greater per unit consumed than that from pasteurized products."
Farmers and others across the country who provide raw milk to consumers—from the Mid-Atlantic to the Midwest, the Northeast to the West Coast—have been hauled into federal and state courts and charged with illegally selling raw milk.
In one instance last year, Pennsylvania Amish farmer Dan Allgyer, whose farm was raided by armed sheriffs, U.S. Marshals, and FDA agents—something I wrote about last year—was forced by court order to stop providing raw milk to consumers in Maryland and the District of Columbia.
In another well-known instance, federal and state agents carried out two raids on the Rawesome cooperative in Venice, California. After the latter raid, the owner of Rawesome, James Stewart, was jailed and his bail set at more than $100,000.
(Article continues below video "Raw Foods Raid: The Fight for the Right to Eat What You Want")
While S.W.A.T. raids on food coops may strike you as the height of absurdity, the Rawesome saga took an even more bizarre turn last week. Stewart, who had missed two court dates and who some believed was in the process of jumping bail, was seized and handcuffed by bounty hunters on a Los Angeles-area street—a capture that was caught on video.
Odder still was news about who called in the bounty hunters: Marc McAfee—the owner of California’s largest unpasteurized dairy, Organic Pastures, and the man who had put up his family home as collateral in order to get Stewart out of jail in the first place.
"I was the one who hired the bail agents to arrest James," McAfee told Food Safety News.
And who could blame McAfee, who stuck his neck out for Stewart only to see Stewart thank him Assange-style by putting McAfee at risk of having a lien placed on his home.
David Gumpert, author of the definitive book Raw Milk Revolution, has an excellent post on Stewart's capture at his blog The Complete Patient. Cookson Beecher of Food Safety News has an equally good write-up.
All of this drama and politicization of raw milk wasn’t always the case in this country (especially, for obvious reasons, prior to the advent of pasteurization). In fact, it was just about 100 years ago—1908, to be precise—that the first American laws began requiring some dairy milk to be pasteurized. (For those interested in learning more about the politics and other machinations behind the early bans, I recommend Alan Czaplicki’s easily accessible 2007 article, "Pure Milk is Better Than Purified Milk," in the journal Social Science History.)
At the national level, it wasn’t until 1987 that FDA regulations mandated that unpasteurized milk could no longer be sold across state lines. The agency had successfully bucked pressure to implement such a ban but was forced to do so thanks to a federal judge’s 1986 ruling in a lawsuit launched by Public Citizen, the group founded by Ralph Nader. Without that lawsuit, it’s at least debatable whether a federal ban would be in place today.