Setbacks and Bizarre Turns in the Raw Milk Saga
Got raw milk? Increasingly that question
appears difficult to answer in the affirmative.
For fans of raw milk and those who, like me—a non-consumer of
either raw or pasteurized dairy milk—fight for food freedom in all
its forms, the past year or two have been notable for several
setbacks on the unpasteurized dairy front.
The FDA has increased pressure on
states to crack down on raw milk within their own borders. And the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently
stepped up its efforts against raw milk after the agency
recent analysis “found that the incidence of dairy-associated
disease outbreaks caused by nonpasteurized dairy products was 150
times greater per unit consumed than that from pasteurized
Farmers and others across the country who provide raw milk to
consumers—from the Mid-Atlantic to the Midwest, the Northeast to
the West Coast—have been hauled into federal and state courts and
charged with illegally selling raw milk.
In one instance last year, Pennsylvania Amish farmer Dan
Allgyer, whose farm was raided by armed sheriffs, U.S. Marshals,
and FDA agents—something I
wrote about last year—was forced by court order to stop
providing raw milk to consumers in Maryland and the District of
In another well-known instance, federal and state agents carried
raids on the Rawesome cooperative in Venice, California. After
the latter raid, the owner of Rawesome, James Stewart, was jailed
and his bail set at more than $100,000.
(Article continues below video “Raw Foods Raid: The Fight
for the Right to Eat What You Want”)
While S.W.A.T. raids on food coops may strike you as the height
of absurdity, the Rawesome saga took an even more bizarre turn last
week. Stewart, who had missed two court dates and who some believed
was in the process of jumping bail, was seized and handcuffed by
bounty hunters on a Los Angeles-area street—a capture that was
caught on video.
Odder still was news about who called in the bounty hunters:
McAfee—the owner of California’s largest unpasteurized dairy,
Organic Pastures, and the man who had put up his family home as
collateral in order to get Stewart out of jail in the first
“I was the one who hired the bail agents to arrest James,”
told Food Safety News.
And who could blame McAfee, who stuck his neck out for Stewart
only to see Stewart
thank him Assange-style by putting McAfee at risk of having a
lien placed on his home.
David Gumpert, author of the definitive book
Raw Milk Revolution, has an
excellent post on Stewart’s capture at his blog The Complete
Patient. Cookson Beecher of Food Safety News has an
equally good write-up.
All of this drama and politicization of raw milk wasn’t always
the case in this country (especially, for obvious reasons, prior to
the advent of pasteurization). In fact, it was just about 100 years
ago—1908, to be precise—that the first American laws began
requiring some dairy milk to be pasteurized. (For those interested
in learning more about the politics and other machinations behind
the early bans, I recommend Alan Czaplicki’s easily accessible 2007
“Pure Milk is Better Than Purified Milk,” in the journal
Social Science History.)
At the national level, it wasn’t until 1987 that FDA
that unpasteurized milk could no longer be sold across state lines.
The agency had successfully bucked pressure to implement such a ban
but was forced to do so thanks to a federal judge’s 1986 ruling in
a lawsuit launched by Public Citizen, the group founded by Ralph
Nader. Without that lawsuit, it’s at least debatable whether a
federal ban would be in place today.