Just across from Gillette Stadium, the gleaming Foxborough, Mass. home of the three-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and their brilliant quarterback, Tom Brady, sits Lawton's Family Farm, a small family farm that's stood in place since the 1730s.
But while the 10-3 Patriots have New Englanders daring to dream of another NFL championship this year, the smaller but no less impressive Massachusetts institution that is Lawton's is struggling to fight an existential new threat proposed by the town's health department.
That crackdown would subject Lawton's to a host of new, stricter standards for raw milk above and beyond those Massachusetts presently requires of dairies throughout the state.
Lawton's and their customers—and supporters throughout the state and beyond—are up in arms. But Foxborough health department officials don't see the big deal.
“We’re not trying to take away their rights," Foxborough health director Pauline Clifford told the Boston Globe last month. "We just want these regulations beefed up.”
One of the regulations Clifford suggests are in need of beefing, she told the Globe, would "require the dairy to submit a list of its customers so they could be notified of any health issues."
While I find it exceedingly disturbing that a town would force its farmers to keep tabs on their customers (just as I would if a restaurant, or food truck, or any other food seller was forced to obtain each customer's name and address, and to hand those names and addresses over to city regulators without a warrant), I find it equally troubling that Pauline Clifford is one of the leading voices supporting this crackdown. (Indeed, according to journalist, author, and blogger David Gumpert, Clifford is "responsible for developing the new regulations[.]")
Though I'd never heard of Clifford before the current raw milk imbroglio, it turns out that she is no stranger to controversy.
When Foxborough promoted Clifford to health agent from her job as town sanitarian in 2008, the Attleboro-North Attleboro Sun Chronicle reported that Clifford was a controversial choice for the job because she "didn't meet all the job requirements," according to town manager Andrew Gala.
"[T]he promotion of Clifford, who lacked the advertised requirement of a bachelor's degree, has been a source of tension over the hiring process, qualifications and salary, according to town officials and records," reported the Sun Chronicle in the wake of Clifford's promotion.
Of course, an academic degree alone is no guarantee of anything. In fact, one particular example of this fact, another instance of the public health community's frequent attacks on raw milk, will always stand out in my mind.
Noted raw milk opponent Bill Keene, whose professional qualifications were never in doubt—he held both a doctorate in microbiology and a master's degree in public health—served as a senior epidemiologist with Oregon's state health department. His many accomplishments are rightly celebrated.
But Keene also claimed, in a May 1999 op-ed (subscription required) on raw milk in the prestigious medical journal JAMA, that "dairy milk is essentially a suspension of fecal and other microorganisms in a nutrient broth."
In other words, all milk is poo.
That patently false claim of Keene's has since clung to raw milk. It's been quoted everywhere from the website of food-safety litigator nonpareil Bill Marler (as part of the website's "peer-reviewed literature") to the pages of Safe Food, a 2010 book by Prof. Marion Nestle.