To no one’s surprise, raw milk dairyman Mark McAfee, owner of Organic Pastures Dairy Company near Fresno, Calif., has come out swinging against the federal Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) legal attempt to put him and his dairy under tighter scrutiny.

“It’s ridiculous to come after us like this,” McAfee said in a Jan. 25  interview with Food Safety News. “It’s like throwing us into the shark pool. They want a pound of flesh and blood.”

op-fda lawsuit docs.pngRaw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized, a process that kills potentially harmful or deadly pathogens.  Raw milk advocates swear by the health benefits of raw milk, while government officials — backed up by statistics — warn that it can sicken or kill you.

In December 2009, the FDA asked a district court in California to impose a permanent injunction that would forever prevent Organic Pastures from selling its raw milk and raw milk products across state lines–no matter how they’re labeled.

The previous year, Organic Pastures and McAfee pleaded guilty to two counts of selling the dairy’s raw milk across state lines “misbranded” as “pet food.”

With that label, out of state consumers could order raw milk that they intended to drink.

Although California state law allows licensed raw milk dairies to sell raw milk and raw milk products to consumers in California, federal law prohibits the sale of those products for human consumption across state lines.

As part of the legal agreements reached with the FDA in January 2009, McAfee agreed to stop all interstate sales of raw milk and raw milk products and to make changes to the company’s website that make it clear that under federal law, raw milk and raw milk products in final package form intended for human consumption cannot be sold across state lines.

That agreement comes to an end in January 2011.  McAfee has said he’d be willing to extend that date.

But legal gurus say the agency wants to put restrictions in place–in advance–to keep McAfee and his dairy from trying new ways to get around the ban against selling raw milk across state borders.

“Absent an order of this court, such illegal sales are likely to recur,” says the FDA in its legal papers to the court.

The agency also wants to make sure that McAfee doesn’t start making health claims about raw milk again.

As a result of the earlier criminal agreement, Organic Pastures has  taken testimonials about the health benefits of raw milk–such as that it can cure asthma and improve immune systems–off  its website and out of its literature.

In addition, the dairy also pulled links off its website directing viewers to links to other websites containing testimonials about the health benefits of raw milk.

“If the Court is to impose any additional sanctions, it should merely extend the injunctions against interstate shipments and links to websites,” McAfee concludes in the papers he submitted to the court on Jan. 15, 2010.

According to information supplied to the court, McAfee’s dairy, which is the largest retail-approved raw-organic-dairy-products producer in North America, has about 60,000 customers in California. Its milk is sold in about 375 retail stores including all 60 California Whole Foods stores.In an earlier interview with Food Safety News, McAfee said he “could care less” about a permanent injunction when it comes to interstate sales because the dairy can’t keep up with demand in California.

Igniting McAfee’s wrath, the FDA’s civil case against him and his dairy wants to secure the power of unlimited inspections at the dairy, with the dairy paying for those inspections.

“In other words, the FDA wants this Court to give it the tools to put Organic Pastures Dairy Company out of business,” says McAfee in papers filed with the court.

McAfee cites as an example the estimated cost of sending 3 federal inspectors, at $100 per hour for an 8-hour day, flown to and from Washington, D.C., with meals and lodging thrown in, plus follow-up lab and report time time, at $12,000 to $15,000. And that’s not to mention, he says, that the agency could repeat this once a month.

McAfee said he has already agreed to allow FDA inspections without notice, but that doesn’t include paying for the inspections.

Envisioning an army of federal officials descending on his farm, he describes the FDA inspections as a waste of taxpayer money. That’s because under California’s strict raw milk regulations, his dairy and its milk already go through regular inspections. And under new state legislation on raw milk that went into effect Jan. 1 this year, raw milk in California must meet the same safety standards when it comes to the presence of bacteria as pasteurized milk.

“Indeed, the state of California highly regulates the raw milk industry,” he says in his legal papers. “From udder to butter, it insures uniform safety standards. Thus, the federal government is not the only entity regulating raw milk.”

He also questions why the FDA has targeted raw milk as “an intolerable health risk,” especially, he says, since this concern was not caused by any widespread illness from drinking unpasteurized milk, nor from complaints from a state (particularly California) that it was unable to enforce its own dairy laws, nor from any public outcry.

He contrasts this stance with the millions of pounds of beef and leafy green vegetables that were destroyed because hundreds of people had been sickened by them and several had died and “the failure to find the cause of the contamination of staples of the nation’s food sources.”
Unlike raw milk, produce and produce products are allowed to be distributed and sold across state lines.

McAfee takes umbrage at interstate restrictions on licensed raw milk for several reasons.

“The logic for this is dubious,” he says in his recently filed legal papers, “since the borders between states do not transform healthful foods into poison.”

He also points out that distance is not an issue here since milk from cows on the California side of Lake Tahoe cannot be sold on the Nevada side of the lake. Yet milk from cows in Yreka, which is in the far reaches of northern California, can be transported to and sold in San Diego.

McAfee also told Food Safety News that this attempt on the part of the FDA to regulate his dairy shows that the agency wants not just interstate control over raw milk but also intrastate control over it.

“They have jurisdiction across state lines,” he said, referring to the feds, “but not up to the state line.”

A hearing on this case is scheduled for 10 a.m., March 1, 2010, in the District Court for the Eastern District of California.

  • Bill,
    Your piece about OPDC and our raw milk freedom fight with the FDA is very good. Thank you for the accuracy in reporting and writing.
    The FDA should read up on the newst studies at Yale and Northwestern Univ. Bacteria are critical to life itself. Our immune systems are suffering terribly becuase of antibiotics, superbugs and sterilized foods. People that drink raw milk know this and seek out raw milk precisely because it is biodiverse and enzyme rich. The FDA has not a clue about this issue. It is tragic that FDA policy seeks to sterilize our entire food supply when that is the exact policy that is creating havoc with our immune systems and food safety to begin with.
    Thank you,
    Mark McAfee

  • Mark, actually, it is Cookson’s piece. We are honored to have her write for us. Actually, FSN strives hard to give an honest and balanced view of the facts and to also allow all comments and viewpoints. I have not editorial say over what gets up.
    I have to admit that I agree that the FDA and our government should do a far better job of treating all food manufacturers fairly. As you know, I have been complaining for over a year on the lack of prosecution of Stewart Parnell whose company sickened over 700 and killed at least 9. Why the FDA chases you, but ignores Stewart is beyond me. You both should be treated fairly.

  • I am a mother of three young children, wife, and working professional in California. In addition, I am one of those unlucky people who suffer from severe “lactose intolerance.” Happily, I discovered Organic Pastures’ raw milk. Our family has been drinking OP raw milk for almost a year now, and we love it. I suffer NONE of the ill effects that always occur when I drink regular (pasteurized) dairy products. On the contrary, I feel great! I had the great pleasure of meeting Mark in person a few months ago. He strikes me as a passionate, educated, conscientious dairy farmer with all the best intentions. It’s a shame that the FDA has targeted him and OPDC, and I suspect the big dairy factions and their powerful lobbyists have much to do with this. I strongly support Mark and the wonderful, healthy, SAFE products his company produces. Stay strong, Mark!

  • Jim

    Mr. Mcaffee when you kill someone pushing your “raw” milk will you pay the family for the lost income since you are so sure of yourself?
    Your claim of sterilizing the food supply is such BS. If it were true we would have died off quite a while ago.

  • Amanda Rose

    Visit Mark’s dairy and his whole operation has health claims, from earth worms to outsourced butter. It really was a matter of time. This is the FDA’s big issue these days. Had Parnell been selling peanut butter “to get your groove on” or to cure asthma, he might actually be in trouble.
    Dairy farmers should let their products speak for themselves.

  • Michelle Malmberg

    Go, Mark, go!
    To you and Michael Schmidt and Wild Thing Organics (B.C., Canada) and all the other small producers and artisian producers who are ploughing the way for all of us to regain our rightful health, I applaud you. As Vanda Shiva, VP of Slow Food International, said at Terra Madre in 2008: “The growing and making food is the highest possible karma.”
    To those who want it, I suggest you and your neighbour stand up together. This isn’t just about ‘raw milk’; this is a North American food security issue, not a Californian problem – we must work collaboratively and see the big picture issues.

  • Dear Jim,
    The last people to die from milk was pastuerized milk in MA at Whittier Farms. Three people died their when listeria monocytogenes was able to grow in the ultra clean pastuerized milk environment.
    Bill…thanks again for the fair piece and the whole truth.
    Mark McAfee

  • My family (which includes myself, my fiance, and our toddler) have been drinking Organic Pastures’ product — especially the milk and butter — purchased at our local health food store for quite some time now and the benefits of it are wonderful. My son is lactose intolerance and I have a mild allergy, and we are able to drink raw milk in any chosen quantity without fear or health risk. We have been able to enjoy a wider array of foods because the bacteria in the raw milk has actually helped improve my digestive system and the sinus problems I found myself suffering from improved as well.
    It is the consumer’s responsibility to research the companies they’re buying from and what kind of food is coming out of those locations. It is also important to know what kind of personal standards the company has for itself, aside from some necessary regulations. Organic Pastures is an honest company and that is reflected in what they produce to the consumers. Naturally if a farm — and the animals on it — are not properly cared for, do not have the correct safety standards, or simply do not care enough to be certain that their products are safe for consumption then YES there are going to be potential health risks. I am not for complete removal of regulations because that is when the “latch key” farms begin producing unsafe products. But let’s be honest, that will NEVER happen; there will always be regulations. But for those like Mark and his farm, the proof of safety is in the product that is currently in the homes of Californians. The proof is NOT in the people who may have never had raw products (like Jim, above) and think they are the authority on what is factual. The proof is in the quality of the farm where the product is produced, the product itself, and the voices of the consumers who will gladly speak up in defense of Mark and Organic Pastures against fictitious claims of danger.

  • Lisa

    I would like to send thanks from the East Coast. In Maine we have small farms selling raw milk. These farms could not outlast a legal battle with the FDA, yet the farm that supplies my milk is clean, organic, family run, with grass-fed cows. The owners are careful to meet all standards of product care and committed to a quality product. Your support base is national and you represent many.

  • DeLeana

    I see the demise of choice in this matter the most basic demolition of rights in this country. How dare the country’s leaders/agencies tell us we have no right to choose the food that is best for our bodies. We elect these officials. On another note why don’t we implement something like a signature for the purchase of our raw milk products, showing that we are taking responsibilities for our own purchases and actions as consumers?

  • Catherine

    Until people take ACTION against the food mafia they will continue to harass and disintegrate our choices. The FDA is nothing more than an overfeed monster that must be reined back or killed.
    A close friend told he was followed by black cars years ago around the same time the FDA was trying to shut down his girlfriend’s father’s meat locker business outside of Santa Rosa. The FDA made bogus claims and ended up shutting down his business.
    What is it going to take America to get OUR America back?

  • Kong

    Hi everyone! I agree with all of you supporting Mr. McAfee and the practice of raw milk! I think it is a shame that the FDA is acting like a business firm: instead of being people who would use their education and skills to do what is right, their actions and words show that they are after money! Why would they want to ban raw milk so much, and especially Organic Pastures? Why so much controversy when scientific evidences and the consumers of raw milk show that raw milk is far superior than pasteurized milk? The only explanation I can think of is that the pasteurized dairy companies don’t want to lose their customers to raw milk, and they may even have some of their shareholders or investors among the FDA itself. Plus, it seems that most of the pasteurized dairy industries are from the states that want to ban raw milk. This could very well explained why the FDA wants to make laws to shut down Organic Pastures, because shutting it down would mean the power to shut down all raw milk companies, and then, create jobs and money for itself and its pasteurized dairy lobbies to stop everyone who wants to either make or sell raw milk, including us who buy raw milk. It sounds like a mafia indeed! The whole nation needs to know about the truth concerning raw milk, and then, the FDA would have to follow the people as the nation instead of money.
    Mr. McAfee, thank you so much for all your work, you and your team, and your cows!!!!!! Keep up the good work!!!!! With God’s help, justice and truth will prevail!!!!

  • Please note that Whole Foods has made the decision to ban sales of all raw milk products until they apparently create a 3rd party “overseer” agency that will create a standard for raw milk products because the standard changes from state to state.
    go to Claravale’s Dairy webpage:
    There was no advance notice to customers, Whole Foods decision appears to arbitrary and unfair.

  • Kenny

    I am saddened to see the demise of free liberties in our country when simply wanting to do a exchange of services of something as simple as milk seems to be a life or death struggle. Why can’t we be informed consumers and drink raw milk knowing full well the dangers of drinking it? It saddens me to see people like Jim whose first thought is about lawsuits, why can’t we be adults and weigh pros and cons about a subject? It’s not like we are in living in some sort of Charles Dickens place where we are selling grossly tainted milk products In Europe raw milk cheeses aged less than 30 days have been consumed with no fuss Heck, we smoke cigerettes knowing the full weight of the the true damages and people beat up on raw milk drinkers like they are some sort of dope dealers. Keep up the good fight, let’s take back our civil liberties We all know this isn’t about food safety but corporate profits I have nothing against big business until they try and kill off honest businesses who are trying to supply what the market demands This is just a niche business, the big corporations still will make big profits off Wal-mart and McDonalds so let the rest of us live the way we want.

  • Chris

    After reading this page and peoples comments, it seems clear that big government has an agenda to eliminate peoples choices. Although I don’t myself drink raw milk ( my adult children do ),I agree we need to make our own choice’s, of what we drink and eat. Organic produce is also under attack, but genetic altered foods are grains are OK? What about the long term affects of that?
    Big beef industries kill all the time with their tanted products, I think its all about the money.
    Good luck O.P. farms.

  • NFL Jerseys

    Please note that Whole Foods has made the decision to ban sales of all raw milk products until they apparently create a 3rd party “overseer” agency that will create a standard for raw milk products because the standard changes from state to state.

  • nice articles thank you for sharing

  • After reading this page and peoples comments, it seems clear that big government has an agenda to eliminate peoples choices. Although I don’t myself drink raw milk ( my adult children do ),I agree we need to make our own choice’s, of what we drink and eat. Organic produce is also under attack, but genetic altered foods are grains are OK? What about the long term affects of that?

  • I cannot say for sure if Ive ever seen so many wonderful news at one blog. Thanks for nice post!

  • Mikenna

    My family has started to drink raw milk in Utah, and you honestly would not believe the difference it has made for all of us. You wont know until you try it, but my family has always had a lot of allergies, asthma, and other health problems that since they have been on raw milk, has decreased and become so much better you would never believe the results! Even I was hesitant at first, but I saw it happen to my family and it’s absolutely incredible. I would say fight for it!