Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has sought a court order to force the destruction of raw milk cheese at a farm in the Ozarks, but the owners of the Morningland Dairy dispute whether their cheese is contaminated.
The cheese standoff began in June, following a raid in California of Rawesome Foods. With guns drawn, federal, state and local authorities entered the Venice raw food club and seized cartons of raw milk and packages of unpasteurized goat cheese.
A Los Angeles Times report treated the action as somewhat of a laughing matter, with quotes such as “I still can’t believe they took away our yogurt.” Comedy Central’s Colbert Report satirically re-enacted the raid.
But the California Department of Food and Agriculture notified Missouri officials that Morningland cheese confiscated in the raid contained traces of Listeria Monocytogenes and Staphylococcus Aureus.
In late August Morningland voluntarily recalled cheese that had been made between Jan. 1 and Aug. 26. The dairy sells several types of raw milk cheeses in 48 states–in retail stores, by mail order, direct delivery and through crop-sharing associations.
One of the retailers caught up in the recall was Whole Foods, which stopped selling raw milk in bulk last March but had continued to offer cheese containing unpasteurized milk. It announced a recall of Morningland Dairy and Ozark Hills Farm Raw Goat Milk Mild Cheddar Cheese.
After the recall, 14 samples of Morningland Dairy’s cheese were sent to a St. Louis laboratory to be tested. Koster and Missouri’s State Milk Board have said all 14 samples tested positive for Staphylococcus Aureus and 6 of the samples tested positive for Listeria Monocytogenes.
Morningland, however, is critical of the way those samples were collected and handled.
On Oct. 1, Missouri’s State Milk Board condemned all the company’s cheese products manufactured between Jan. 1 and Aug. 26 and ordered them destroyed.
On the company’s website, Morningland Dairy owners Joseph and Denise Dixon reported receiving a letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in mid-October. The letter states that the dairy’s cheese poses “an acute, life-threatening hazard to health.”
The Dixons have protested the characterization, noting that in 30 years of cheese-making, no illnesses have been associated with their product. They said the order to destroy eight months of work, which they estimate involves about 50,000 pounds of cheese worth approximately $250,000, is “untenable.”
They have suggested alternative remedies, including additional testing.
Both sides in Missouri say they are acting on behalf of consumers.
On their website, the dairy owners say “the battle is not just about cheese.” They thank supporters “who are standing with us in the endeavor to defend our right to choose the food that we believe is good for us.”
Koster, a former Republican state senator who ran for Attorney General as a Democrat, said that by asking the court to issue an injunction against the dairy, he was trying to protect the safety of Missouri consumers. “Because this company refuses to destroy the contaminated product,” he wrote, “we are asking the court to order them to do so.”