“As far as I can tell, we are at war,” David Gumpert, a onetime journalist turned raw-milk advocate declared emphatically at a rally on Capitol Hill Monday. “We have been attacked by our own government.”
The attack, as Gumpert and other ardent supporters of raw milk describe it, occurred last month when the Department of Justice filed a permanent injunction against Rainbow Acres Farm in Kinzer, PA after the farm’s owner, Dan Allgyer, ignored warning letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administrationfor allegedly violating federal law by selling unpasteurized dairy into interstate commerce.
The sale of unpasteurized milk is legal in more than half the states and raw milk is available, through cow shares and other means, throughout the U.S. There is no legal prohibition against consuming raw milk. But interstate sales are barred and the FDA is charged with enforcing that federal law.
“Drinking raw milk is dangerous and shouldn’t be consumed under any circumstances,” said Dara A. Corrigan, FDA’s associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, noting that raw dairy can contain “a wide variety of harmful bacteria,” including E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria and Campylobacter.
To protest the agency’s action against Allgyer, well over a hundred of his customers, many of whom live in the greater Washington, D.C.-area, staged a spirited protest, sporting signs like: “FDA, pick on someone your own size” and “Farmers are not the enemy.” The rally organizers served up several gallons of raw milk and, to much fanfare, milked a jersey cow named Morgan right outside Senate office buildings in the shadow of the Capitol.
Small children donned T-shirts that read: “FDA Leave My Farmer and My Raw Milk ALONE!”
The FDA maintains the agency is simply protecting public health.
“Consumers count on FDA to protect them from food that can carry harmful bacteria,” the agency said in a statement provided to Food Safety News Monday. “Raw milk presents a clear and well-documented danger, especially to young children, pregnant women, and the elderly. In states where it is legal to sell raw milk and raw milk products, there are three times as many outbreaks caused by those products and nearly twice as many outbreak-associated illnesses associated with them than in those states where it is unlawful to sell raw milk and raw milk products. FDA has determined that preventing the sale of unpasteurized milk across state lines saves lives and reduces illness.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics share FDA’s position on the issue, echoing similar caution toward young children and pregnant women.
Sally Fallon Morrell, co-founder and president of the raw-milk promotion group Weston A. Price Foundation and the hero of the so-called raw milk revolution, disagrees with the leading federal public health agencies.
“Children who start out on raw milk are very healthy children, as all of you know. They don’t have asthma, they don’t have allergies, they don’t miss days at school, they don’t get sick, they don’t have digestive problems,” said Fallon at the rally, to applause and cheers. “Raw milk is a magic food and we are here to defend that magic food.”
Fallon said the market for unpasteurized dairy is “growing exponentially” and predicted it would soon surpass the demand for conventionally produced, pasteurized products.
“There’s no force on earth greater than the educated, committed consumer, and passionate moms,” added Fallon.
Advocates claim nearly 15 million Americans are now consuming raw milk. And, numbers aside, there is no question the issue is becoming a symbol in the so-called food freedom debate and a rallying point shared by the Libertarian right and the foodie left.
Presidential candidate and Texas Congressman Ron Paul introduced a bill last week to allow the interstate sale of raw milk, which would remove what he believes is an “unconstitutional restraint on farmers.”
“Many Americans have done their own research and come to the conclusion that unpasteurized milk is healthier than pasteurized milk,” said Paul on the House floor last week. “These Americans have the right to consume these products without having the federal government second-guess their judgment or thwart their wishes. If there are legitimate concerns about the safety of unpasteurized milk, those concerns should be addressed at the state and local level.”
Speaking of local, a Capitol Hill police officer told protesters serving raw milk to post signs and warn passersby that they were drinking raw milk at their own risk because “the FDA and the local health department are freaking out.”
Organizers were then overheard saying “Drink at your own health,” as they handed out the unpasteurized beverage.
Photos by Helena Bottemiller