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Temperance, Tea Parties, and Raw Milk

“Never again will any political party ignore the protests of the church and the moral forces of the state.” –Wayne B. Wheeler, as quoted in Smithsonian, May 2010*

The godfather of prohibition did not wait until he had a majority behind his cause when he began his Temperance crusade. He did it–according to Daniel Okrent’s illuminating article in the May 2010 issue of Smithsonian–with minorities.

Wheeler focused on elections in districts where just a few percentage points separated the candidates, and mustered the temperance vote behind candidates who promised to support prohibition. His small groups of committed voters often were enough to swing close elections. Wayne Wheeler may not have invented pressure groups, but he was the first to use them effectively to gain a specific political objective in the face of a majority that was either opposed–or indifferent–to his aims.

The Tea Party movement has benefited from Wayne Wheeler’s lessons. Its members are among the most conservative elements of the U.S. population. They represent the political opinion of a minority of the country’s citizens. They are, arguably, a minority even within the Republican Party. Yet this relatively small group of people has had a significant impact on the current round of election primary results–and on the policies of established politicians, including former Presidential candidate and self-proclaimed maverick, John McCain.

Then there’s raw milk.

The great majority of U.S. consumers are either opposed–or indifferent–to legalizing the retail sale of raw milk. Yet through the actions of a minority of committed consumers, raw milk can be purchased legally in 29 states. The number may be growing as raw milk advocates continue to refine the lessons taught by Wheeler’s temperance movement.

Earlier this month, supporters of raw milk fought successfully against a Massachusetts effort to place restrictions on raw milk “buying clubs” in that state. The movement also came within a whisker of achieving their goal in Wisconsin. A recent bill to legalize raw milk sales in the Dairy State was vetoed by Governor Jim Doyle.

The stated goal of the raw milk movement is to make retail sale of raw milk legal in all 50 states. Despite the occasional setback, they are well on the way to achieving that objective.

And the food safety movement?

Ask any consumer whether he or she supports food safety, and the answer will be “yes.” Why, then, has it been so difficult to achieve reform of our food safety system? I believe that the answer lies in the temperance, tea party, and raw milk movements.

An omnibus food safety bill like S. 510 dilutes the message. It gets bogged down, and ends up taking a back seat to more politically pressing legislation. Eventually, it dies, because food safety isn’t glamorous.

We need to define our goals, rank them by priority, and tackle them one by one, district by district, and state by state.

Is mandatory recall authority for FDA and USDA our number one priority? If so, let’s promote a bill that tackles this single item, and swing our votes in favor of candidates who agree with us.

Do we want USDA to define all raw beef as adulterated if it contains Salmonella, Campylobacter, STEC E. coli, or any other human pathogen? Then we must craft a bill that focuses on this one issue.

Do we want to see true Country of Origin labeling for all food ingredients? That, too, should be a stand-alone bill.

The only way to achieve our food safety legislative goals is one step at a time–just like the temperance movement, just like the Tea Party activists. And just like the raw milk advocates.

Daniel Okrent’s article on Wayne Wheeler and the temperance movement should be required reading for all food safety advocates.

*Okrent, Daniel. “The Man Who Turned Off The Taps.” In: Smithsonian, pp. 30-37. May, 2010.

© Food Safety News
  • aed939

    Phyllis,
    I’m with you on standalone bills. (It would have been good to have several standalone bills for health care.)
    I am also with you on Country of Origin labeling for all food ingredients, with no compromises (none of this “may contain apples from Brazil, China, or Argentina; must be definitive. Also no exceptions for less than 2% ingredients). Furthermore, let’s see the state of origin for all the US ingredients.
    On the raw milk thing, from the other perspective, you could just as easily say that a great majority of Americans are opposed–or indifferent–to prohibiting raw milk sales. My point is both sides are minorities because the majority is indifferent. So both sides are going after that indifferent majority. The prohibitionists, supported by Big Ag, are leveraging food safety, and the other side is arguing for “food freedom” as an application of liberty.

  • jmunsell

    Ask consumers, and 100% say “Yes, I support food safety”. FDA and USDA say likewise. Well then, why don’t these agencies implement policies which promote food safety? Answer: because the very industries which are allegedly monitored by the agencies wield sizeable influence over agency decisions. And government agencies are now flaunting their bastardized styles of HACCP, claiming it is “Science Based”, when it is based in political science and science fiction.
    Interesting that the question is posed asking if raw milk should be classified as “Adulterated” when it harbors pathogens. Good luck. USDA/FSIS knowingly allows INTACT beef cuts to be shipped into commerce which are surface-contaminated with E.coli 0157:H7. Go figure. FSIS blithely considers such bugs are mere contaminants, concluding that the bugs supernaturally morph into lethal killers only AFTER the small downstream further processor, retail meat markets, and restaurants process the intact cuts into steaks, roasts and burger. Why? This justifies the agency’s official position that the adulteration occurred because of negligence at the downstream facility. Of course, this insulates the SOURCE of contamination from accountability. Since this is our government’s official stance, why do we think the same government would classify raw milk “Adulterated” if containing these pathogens? If our government is consistent, it would declare that consumers and restaurants are responsible for pathogens in raw milk, allegedly via improper and insanitary handling protocol. One major difference however: over 85% of our feedlot steers and heifers are slaughtered by the BIG 4 packers, who wield overt influence over USDA/FSIS. In comparison, there are not 4 major dairies which enjoy oligopolistic control over our government. Same thing for produce. Therefore, perhaps appropriate government monitoring of milk and produce may be within grasp.
    Regarding mandatory recalls: USDA “suggested” (aka mandated) that I recall some burger in 2002, a decision based on a USDA lab analysis of my burger, which tested positive for H7. I knew that I could have said “NO”. I also knew that if I did so, the agency has the power to seize and detain my products. This would also have created an irrepairable schism between the agency and my plant, guaranteeing permanent future problems with the very powers that gave me the authority to operate (or close me down). I fully agreed with the agency’s suggestion, and “unilaterally and voluntarily” participated in the recall. That’s only the tip of the iceburg folks. The real issue is what does the agency do when it detects pathogens in meat. In my case, although the agency knew I ground the burger, the agency was fully cognizant (through its inspector who collected the burger) that all the source meat which was ground emanated from a source slaughter provider from whom I had purchased the meat. Who cares? Although I offered to give unopened, intact meat containers to the agency, at no charge, to be tested for E.coli 0157:H7 at USDA labs, the agency refused my offer. The agency does NOT want to challenge the BIG 4 packers, instead placing all accountability at downstream locations which are victimized by their purchase of previously-contaminated meat, which enjoys the official USDA Mark of Inspection which states “USDA Inspected and Passed”. The agency’s action was not unique to my plant, but has been duplicated in dozens or hundreds of other plants this century. I bring this up to challenge everyone to consider that Mandatory Recall Authority is NOT the basic issue here. More important issues are (1) FSIS is monolithically opposed to tracing back bad meat to the slaughterhouse of origin, as the agency is paralyzed with fear of litigation from the BIG 4 packers. (2) USDA-Style HACCP has deregulated the largest slaughter establishments, allowing the agency to embrace a comfortable “Hands Off” non-involvement role at the industry behemoths. The agency’s HACCP Hoax is greatly dissimilar to Pillsbury’s original HACCP program, which was indeed science based, and consistently produces safe food. All these blasted ongoing outbreaks and recurring recalls publicly reveal that USDA-Style HACCP does NOT consistently produce safe meat, for fully-understandable reasons. Our primary foes here are (1) USDA’s unwillingness to aggressively pursue tracebacks to the origin, refusing to “Force the Source” to clean up their acts, and (2) USDA’s HACCP Hoax. Way down the list of problems, perhaps totally off the top 100 list is the issue of mandatory recalls. Forget about it, and focus on the most pertinent issues.
    The vast majority of Americans want Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), and congress already passed a COOL Bill. Here again is where we encounter our primary opposition, which is, again, free trade globalists at USDA, who are responsible for rule making. The agency has intentionally created COOL regulations which exempt common sense protocol from the industry, virtually eviscerating most benefits from COOL legislation. For example, retail meat packages are regularly labeled with the statement “Product of America, Canada, and Mexico”. This circumvents the letter and meaning of the COOL law. Why has the agency issued such meaningless reg’s? Answer: opposition from the industry again, and to hell with consumers, Senators, and Representatives.
    Folks, do you see that USDA itself is our primary foe, and the agency hides behind the skirt of HACCP, which is an interloper for true HACCP? Even when our legislators pass meaningful legislation, the ever-vigilant, 24/7 paragon of public health protectors (USDA) effectively prevents proper implementation of the legislation, by intentional agency design. The first objective we should embrace is a clean sweep of all top and mid-level USDA officials, who are merely mouthpieces for the industry.
    John Munsell

  • John Munsell

    Ask consumers, and 100% say “Yes, I support food safety”. FDA and USDA say likewise. Well then, why don’t these agencies implement policies which promote food safety? Answer: because the very industries which are allegedly monitored by the agencies wield sizeable influence over agency decisions. And government agencies are now flaunting their bastardized styles of HACCP, claiming it is “Science Based”, when it is based in political science and science fiction.
    Interesting that the question is posed asking if raw milk should be classified as “Adulterated” when it harbors pathogens. Good luck. USDA/FSIS knowingly allows INTACT beef cuts to be shipped into commerce which are surface-contaminated with E.coli 0157:H7. Go figure. FSIS blithely considers such bugs are mere contaminants, concluding that the bugs supernaturally morph into lethal killers only AFTER the small downstream further processor, retail meat markets, and restaurants process the intact cuts into steaks, roasts and burger. Why? This justifies the agency’s official position that the adulteration occurred because of negligence at the downstream facility. Of course, this insulates the SOURCE of contamination from accountability. Since this is our government’s official stance, why do we think the same government would classify raw milk “Adulterated” if containing these pathogens? If our government is consistent, it would declare that consumers and restaurants are responsible for pathogens in raw milk, allegedly via improper and insanitary handling protocol. One major difference however: over 85% of our feedlot steers and heifers are slaughtered by the BIG 4 packers, who wield overt influence over USDA/FSIS. In comparison, there are not 4 major dairies which enjoy oligopolistic control over our government. Same thing for produce. Therefore, perhaps appropriate government monitoring of milk and produce may be within grasp.
    Regarding mandatory recalls: USDA “suggested” (aka mandated) that I recall some burger in 2002, a decision based on a USDA lab analysis of my burger, which tested positive for H7. I knew that I could have said “NO”. I also knew that if I did so, the agency has the power to seize and detain my products. This would also have created an irrepairable schism between the agency and my plant, guaranteeing permanent future problems with the very powers that gave me the authority to operate (or close me down). I fully agreed with the agency’s suggestion, and “unilaterally and voluntarily” participated in the recall. That’s only the tip of the iceburg folks. The real issue is what does the agency do when it detects pathogens in meat. In my case, although the agency knew I ground the burger, the agency was fully cognizant (through its inspector who collected the burger) that all the source meat which was ground emanated from a source slaughter provider from whom I had purchased the meat. Who cares? Although I offered to give unopened, intact meat containers to the agency, at no charge, to be tested for E.coli 0157:H7 at USDA labs, the agency refused my offer. The agency does NOT want to challenge the BIG 4 packers, instead placing all accountability at downstream locations which are victimized by their purchase of previously-contaminated meat, which enjoys the official USDA Mark of Inspection which states “USDA Inspected and Passed”. The agency’s action was not unique to my plant, but has been duplicated in dozens or hundreds of other plants this century. I bring this up to challenge everyone to consider that Mandatory Recall Authority is NOT the basic issue here. More important issues are (1) FSIS is monolithically opposed to tracing back bad meat to the slaughterhouse of origin, as the agency is paralyzed with fear of litigation from the BIG 4 packers. (2) USDA-Style HACCP has deregulated the largest slaughter establishments, allowing the agency to embrace a comfortable “Hands Off” non-involvement role at the industry behemoths. The agency’s HACCP Hoax is greatly dissimilar to Pillsbury’s original HACCP program, which was indeed science based, and consistently produces safe food. All these blasted ongoing outbreaks and recurring recalls publicly reveal that USDA-Style HACCP does NOT consistently produce safe meat, for fully-understandable reasons. Our primary foes here are (1) USDA’s unwillingness to aggressively pursue tracebacks to the origin, refusing to “Force the Source” to clean up their acts, and (2) USDA’s HACCP Hoax. Way down the list of problems, perhaps totally off the top 100 list is the issue of mandatory recalls. Forget about it, and focus on the most pertinent issues.
    The vast majority of Americans want Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), and congress already passed a COOL Bill. Here again is where we encounter our primary opposition, which is, again, free trade globalists at USDA, who are responsible for rule making. The agency has intentionally created COOL regulations which exempt common sense protocol from the industry, virtually eviscerating most benefits from COOL legislation. For example, retail meat packages are regularly labeled with the statement “Product of America, Canada, and Mexico”. This circumvents the letter and meaning of the COOL law. Why has the agency issued such meaningless reg’s? Answer: opposition from the industry again, and to hell with consumers, Senators, and Representatives.
    Folks, do you see that USDA itself is our primary foe, and the agency hides behind the skirt of HACCP, which is an interloper for true HACCP? Even when our legislators pass meaningful legislation, the ever-vigilant, 24/7 paragon of public health protectors (USDA) effectively prevents proper implementation of the legislation, by intentional agency design. The first objective we should embrace is a clean sweep of all top and mid-level USDA officials, who are merely mouthpieces for the industry.
    John Munsell

  • dangermaus

    The USDA and FDA do not make food safe, farmers and food processors do. This bill will put more small farmers out of business and the only ones left producing our food will be giant mega-corps that hire people in this country illegally.

  • Doc Mudd

    Correct,dangermaus; “USDA and FDA do not make food safe”. However, farmers and food processors do not make food safe so much as they potentially make food unsafe. And that is precisely what HACCP evaluates – the potential for a farmer or food processor to produce unsafe food.
    There is no defensible reason to think that S.510 and HACCP will put anyone out of business, at least not anyone who will equip themselves with the potential to produce clean, safe food product. If any producer should be unable or unwilling to identify and curb potentially unsafe practices they may, instead, elect to discontinue operating – and in that case all consumers win, as does the market in general. We all will be better off without uninformed and potentially dangerous producers infiltrating the food stream. We will be far better off if our assumption, as innocent consumers, that any legal food product we might consider purchasing meets at least some minimum standard of cleanliness and safety is supported by USDA oversight in every case. There will, certainly, always be ample black market activity catering to those thrill-seekers who crave esoteric food adventures.
    This is not a philosophical argument and it has nothing to do with “giant mega-corps” or illegal aliens; that is just a tawdry distraction. This is about the cleanliness and safety of our food supply, all of it… regardless the source: large or small; local, distant or offshore; common or fashionable. This is about reasonable assurance for ordinary consumers of the safety and wholesomeness of any food product they may be presented with. This is about creating a reliable market for a broad spectrum of quality food products, a market that justly instills consumer confidence…not just another empty promise of quality, safety and wholesomeness proportional to the perceived quaintness of its self-interested purveyors.
    Enough drama and romance. Let’s settle down to business and pass S.510 into law to instill consumer confidence and grow ready markets for food products of all sorts from conscientious producers of all philosophies and all sizes.

  • hhamil

    Once again, the person hiding behind the name “Doc Mudd” declares a lie to be the truth, namely, “There is no defensible reason to think that S.510 and HACCP will put anyone out of business, at least not anyone who will equip themselves with the potential to produce clean, safe food product.”
    HACCP style food safety was designed for and ONLY works cost effectively in a large industrial setting. The world renowned expert on HACCP, Dr. William F. Sperber presented papers in December 2002 saying “HACCP does not work from farm to table” and diverts us from working on ways that could actually improve food safety.
    And, as “Doc Mudd” knows, Pugs Leap Farm is closing because of it and no one is interested in keeping the cheese making operation open because of the estimated $50,000 annual cost of implementing the expected requirements of S 510.

  • Harry Hamil

    Once again, the person hiding behind the name “Doc Mudd” declares a lie to be the truth, namely, “There is no defensible reason to think that S.510 and HACCP will put anyone out of business, at least not anyone who will equip themselves with the potential to produce clean, safe food product.”
    HACCP style food safety was designed for and ONLY works cost effectively in a large industrial setting. The world renowned expert on HACCP, Dr. William F. Sperber presented papers in December 2002 saying “HACCP does not work from farm to table” and diverts us from working on ways that could actually improve food safety.
    And, as “Doc Mudd” knows, Pugs Leap Farm is closing because of it and no one is interested in keeping the cheese making operation open because of the estimated $50,000 annual cost of implementing the expected requirements of S 510.

  • Doc Mudd

    Forcing a producer to simply clean up and adopt safety precautions is a far cry from “putting them out of business”.
    Harry, your recycled example of Pugs Leap is an odd suggestion that S.510 would somehow damage an already failed business model, as you have previously described them in another thread.
    Managed food safety will reassure consumers, and markets for the produce of “small operations” will grow by that assurance. Why is there no mention of consumer protection in any of the anti-S.510 arguments? Are paying customers afforded no consideration at all? Could that explain some of the ordinary business failure that is so worrisome to anti-food safety activists?

  • dangermaus

    Doc, two things: One, this IS a philosophical argument, in that it involves Ethics. You’re ignoring the distinction between writing something down with actually doing it. Of course growers and producers must have clean facilities and standard procedures – but then again, it wouldn’t be possible to even make a consistent product without them! Making the small farmer spend an extra 5 hours a week on paperwork doesn’t have any appreciable effect, other than to rob him or her of time he or she could be spending actually improving those procedures. If you don’t like my reference to hiring practices in big agribusiness, how about this – A farmer making cheese with his two employees personally observes every step of the process… The same is NOT true for Kraft where the owners’ relationship to operations are of an entirely different nature.
    Two: Some of the things you say strike me as terribly arrogant: “innocent consumer” are we to assume everyone is a child and only the nanny-state may decide what is safe for us? “No appreciable reason…” What about the many small farmers groups that are saying that this bill will do exactly that? We’re killing ourselves with this “There autta’ be a law” mentality.

  • Doc Mudd

    Don’t look now, dangermaus, but there already is a law. And it needs to be applied equally across the entire food supply. Big guys, little guys, tall guys, height-challenged guys; if they are producing food and taking my grocery money I should reasonably expect the assurance of a consistant standard of cleanliness and safety in every product. If the big dogs can do it, then so can the little dogs…or stay under the porch.
    Some little peckerwood cheesemaker with “two employees” is just as likely as the much maligned tycoon to be out on the golf course while the minimum wage hired help is running the show back home in the pole barn. I’m not falling for that “know your farmer” nonsense – it’s not my job to inspect the facilities and protocols of every schlub who is trying to charm me out of my hard earned money. That’s why I pay taxes to fund the USDA APHIS inspection system, and I’m finally demanding my money’s worth of them.
    If anyone should be out on the golf course (and not excusing a poor game on food poisoning cramps and diarrhea) it should be me and anyone else who purchases food for their family’s consumption instead of growing their own.

  • dangermaus

    That’s right Doc. We’ll pass more laws. And more laws and more and more and more and more. Ever since they made heroine illegal, there have been no junkies anywhere. Theft is illegal so there is no theft in this country, the same for violent crime. Ralph Nader’s crusading has completely eliminated traffic fatalities. It’s so nice that all we have to do is pass a law and things work. Too bad all these evil farmers out there are pooping in their bulk tanks because the government hasn’t made it illegal.