On the coattails of last month’s protest at the Food and Drug Administration headquarters in Maryland, more raw milk-supporting moms are planning to defy the federal ban on distributing unpasterized milk across state lines by transporting 100 gallons from Wisconsin to Chicago on Friday.

“What if Santa and his reindeer fly better with whole, unprocessed milk?,” asked Kimberly Hartke, a publicist for the group, in a press email Monday. “Lots of children (and even zoo animals) seem to do better with the farm fresh, white as snow beverage. Moms worried about the FDA Grinch-like police actions against this nourishing food still plan to leave raw milk and cookies out for Santa. It won’t be a sleigh bringing it across state lines, but a bunch of moms in SUV’s.”
The group, dubbed “Raw Milk Freedom Riders,” will pick up the milk from a small farm in Wisconsin and serve it at a rally in Chicago’s Independence Park, violating federal law that prohibits interstate distribution of raw milk for human consumption.

“I am willing to risk arrest in order to obtain the foods of my choice from the producer of my choice,” says Mary Gercke, an Illinois mother of three, who will participate in the rally.  “It is abhorrent that Americans risk criminal penalties for getting healthy foods from small family farms or helping other families with the transportation of these foods.  Americans need to wake up to the reality that their tax dollars are used to enforce draconian laws on their neighbors.”

Rally organizers say that the protest is in direct response to the reaction they got from FDA in early November when they carted raw milk from Pennsylvannia to Silver Spring, MD.

FDA issued a statement saying it has not and does not intend to take “enforcement action against an individual who purchased and transported raw milk across state lines solely for his or her own personal consumption.”
The raw milk protesters believe the FDA’s statement “leaves the door open for FDA to pursue farmers, buying clubs and individuals acting as ‘distribution agents.’ “The Wisconsin to Chicago Raw Milk Freedom ride will challenge the FDA’s use of force against raw milk distribution — they are pointing out that the mothers transporting the milk will act as ‘agents’ on behalf of other mothers who cannot make the trip.”

Raw milk advocates gained some support in Congress last month. Local food champion and small farmer Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) wrote to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg questioning the agency’s enforcement actions against raw milk producers who have distributed their dairy products across state lines.

Pingree said she believed the FDA’s statement on individuals who purchase and transport is a “step in the right direction” but she “continues to have concerns about some of the practices of the FDA.”

“For example, during tight budget times it appears that the Agency has chosen to commit scarce resources to activities like farm raids and what many believe to be overly zealous enforcement of the ban on the interstate sale of raw milk. When consumers increasingly want to know where their food comes from and that it’s safe, why does the FDA choose to put so much energy into these enforcement activities aimed at small farmers?” asked Pingree in the Nov. 18 letter.

“It also doesn’t make sense to me that, given the numerous food safety scares involving large-scale producers, resources are being diverted to prevent consumers from choosing the type of milk that they want to drink,” she added.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatricians and the FDA deem raw milk a public health risk, pointing to a variety disease-causing pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria that can potentially contaminate raw dairy. According to FDA, between 1987 and 2010 there were 133 outbreaks, 2,659 illnesses, 269 hospitalizations, 3 deaths, 6 stillbirths and 2 miscarriages linked to raw milk and raw milk products.