Who Are Those Guys?

Remember the famous scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, where Robert Redford and Paul Newman were sitting on the edge of a river canyon?  They were being chased by a relentless team of marshals and one turned to the other and said, “Who are those guys?”

Then they said “Oh, _____” and jumped into the river far below.

This must be how our Food and Drug Administration (FDA) feels about the raw milk movement.  Try as they might to inspire fear into consumers about raw milk, the raw milk posse keeps coming at ’em. Every newspaper account about raw milk gets progressively more favorable (toward food freedom) as it airs both sides of the story. Raw dairy farmer, Michael Schmidt, in Canada goes to trial on 20 criminal counts (for farming!) and he emerges a folk hero, not only in Canada, but in the U.S. having won more converts to his cause. An International Raw Milk Symposium held during his trial, creates even more buzz about the benefits of consuming milk from sustainably raised dairy cows. Scientific evidence that supposedly doesn’t exist, according to health officials, was made public by scientists at the symposium.  “Who are those guys?”–you can almost imagine the cowboy hats coming off and head scratching going on around the food safety campfire.

So, Butch and the FDA are circling their wagons, and next week are going to re-hash all their well known objections to raw milk.  They are hosting a symposium of their own, struggling to maintain the offensive against the raw dairy industry (mind you the only dairies that don’t take government handouts, and even in this current economy many are growing, profitable businesses–or would be if the government would allow them to operate unimpeded).

When Being on the Offense Starts to Look Defensive

The event is called Raw Milk Consumption: An Emerging Public Health Threat? At least there is a question mark at the end of the title, and if the participants are willing to honestly ask that question, they may find that there are surprising answers.

Take, for instance their stated goals for the meeting: “to explore the scientific risk and public health issues related to the human consumption of raw milk in the developed world.”

Did you know that milk in the undeveloped world is widely consumed raw, as a staple in the human diet? Developed is the operative word here. If by developed they mean, the change from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy, that may give us a clue why in the early 1900’s, some milk products fostered foodborne illness. In fact, it was the change of animal husbandry in some urban dairies–improper food, improper habitat, crowding and filth–that developed pathogenic strains in the milk. And, unfortunately, these abuses of industrial “farming” continue to exist.

Raw milk advocates only desire to return at least some of our dairy farms “back to the land.” When cows are put back on pasture, they are in their natural environs, and they have access to their natural diet, which makes their product healthy again for human consumption.

Who FDA is Targeting

The invitation to the event is targeted at food safety professionals, regulators, legislators and anyone with an interest in improving the safety of the food supply.

Sally Fallon Morell, the President, Geoffrey Morell, Board Member and other staff of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF, a strong advocate for nutritional benefits of raw milk) will be attending, because WAPF falls into the final category.  WAPF is extremely interested in improving the safety of the food supply.  However, their suggestion of how to get there is radically different from our current government policy.

Their Campaign for Real Milk attempts to bring the milk question into proper context.  If milk does not provide adequate nutrition, even though it is claimed to be devoid of pathogens, how safe is it?  If milk processing damages and adulterates the milk, should it be given preferential nod by health and medical professionals? And, if pasteurized milk has a record of producing more food borne illness outbreaks that spread farther and wider thereby infecting a larger number of people, than raw milk, which milk is qualitatively safer?

From the press release announcing the event:  “Advocates for raw milk consumption use messages such as a “consumer’s right to choose”, “natures best food with miracle properties that prevent or cure many diseases”, and “can be produced safely from healthy animals” to promote their product as more healthful than pasteurized milk. In addition, raw milk advocates suggest that raw milk consumption is safe due to the perceived presence of active natural antimicrobial agents in raw milk.”

Yes, they do. And, why aren’t you listening? Raw dairy proponents believe that our government needs to promote all farms, not just the mega farms.

It is clear at this point in history, that we need more emphasis on finding alternatives to consolidation in the dairy industry, with the attendant pathogen problems, carbon footprint and environmental issues that result.

Let’s Focus on Farm Productivity, as Well as Food Safety

Please, FDA, get acquainted with the rest of your constituency, the small family dairies, and the consumers who patronize them.  We need your help to make room in the marketplace for decentralization, micro dairies and locally produced fresh milk.  This open hostility to the growing market share of raw milk producers is standing in the way of progress, and indeed, food safety.

Furthermore, the biggest financial drain on these otherwise highly successful farms are the expenses they incur defending themselves from government prosecution and persecution. Overweening control of these businesses is preventing them from creating jobs and needlessly keeping them away from their families and farms.

If our FDA would find a way to work with the trend, perhaps more industrial dairies would decentralize and return to proper, humane animal husbandry. Our economy would be strengthened by more small to mid size dairies, and more competition.  The fact that a nation of 5o states has only 4 companies controlling the milk market is the biggest problem facing the dairy industry today.  To work with the burgeoning and popular raw milk movement, would be an organic way to bust up these monopolies, the free market would take care of it, naturally.

“Who are those Guys?”

We are your friends, neighbors, countrymen.  We have families, we want safe food, especially local food. We are all political stripes, income levels races and creeds. We like knowing who our dairy farmers are, and how they treat their cows. We have tasted raw milk, and love it. We are more than fans, we are advocates, and we are willing to work with you to open up the conversation about our food future. Please invite Sally Fallon Morell to be a presenter at this meeting or any future meeting where this important issue is discussed.

Give us a voice and you won’t be jumping off the cliff into any canyon rivers!

Details about the event:

IAFP Presents
Raw Milk Consumption: An Emerging Public Health Threat?
February 17, 2009
8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

DoubleTree Hotel Crystal City
300 Army Navy Drive
Arlington, Virginia

The cost to attend is upwards of $500.oo per person, just fyi.

Here is the link to information about the FDA’s program: