The Amish are known for their forgiving, peaceful, buggy-driving, agrarian ways. To those of us who buy raw milk, the Amish are also some of our least expensive, neighborly suppliers. But criminal? That’s not usually a word we’d use to describe them.
So what brought armed members from three separate government agencies to raid the Pennsylvania farm of Amish farmer Dan Allgyer in the pre-dawn last month? What had them doing a year-long undercover investigation to gather incriminating evidence? Is he a subversive supplier of arms or drugs to the seedy criminal underbelly of Washington D.C.?
Nah. He’s just a farmer selling his milk. Selling it in it’s — GASP! — raw, unpasteurized form.
In this op-ed piece for the Washington Times, Baylen J. Linnekin writes:
The sting operation against Mr. Allgyer’s Rainbow Acres Farm has touched a nerve around the country and across the ideological divide. Mr. Allgyer’s customers – including a soccer mom I know – are outraged. Former Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, took to Twitter recently to blast the raid, calling it a waste of time and resources and mockingly suggesting the FDA would do better to shut down the “many unlicensed lemonade stands” operating around the country. Author David Gumpert, writing at the left-of-center environmental website Grist, wondered whether those who took part in the raid felt “remorse or shame” over this “official effort to deprive people of food.” On May 11, Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, introduced H.R. 1830, the Unpasteurized Milk Bill, which would end the FDA’s ban and permit the sale of raw milk across state lines.
The FDA banned the interstate sale of raw milk in 1987 and has since declared that if such regulation were within its power, it would ban the sale of raw milk altogether. Rather than debate the merits or pitfalls of raw milk, I’d like to share a point Mr. Linnekin made in his op-ed:
Many critics question why the agency concerns itself with raw milk. After all, virtually any food can conceivably contain harmful pathogens – including beef, poultry, pork, seafood, fruits and vegetables. Yet the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) permit the overwhelming majority of these products to be sold in their raw forms. For example, the USDA, which regulates beef, pork and poultry, permits their sale in raw and cooked forms. The FDA, which regulates seafood and eggs, likewise permits those to be sold raw or cooked.
Pathogens are hardly unique to raw food. Just last week, the USDA warned about the risks posed by eating pre-cooked deli meat. The USDA went so far as to urge at-risk populations such as the elderly not to eat sliced turkey, roast beef and other lunch meats unless they first reheat the meat to a “steaming hot” 165 degrees, according to USDA spokesman Neil Gaffney.
Like deli meat, raw foods aren’t some niche market, and buying food in its raw form doesn’t make one part of some underground movement. Anyone who has ever brought home a dozen eggs from a grocer’s shelves has purchased raw food. And once a consumer brings any food home, it’s up to the consumer – not the government – to decide how (or if) he or she wants to cook the food. The notion that the government would ban raw chicken, beef or eggs – or deli meat, for that matter – from store shelves may seem ludicrous. Seen in this context, the current raw milk ban is no less absurd.
Typically, debates about raw milk’s legality deteriorate into statistic wars with each side touting numbers to backup their claims about the health, safety, or risk involved with consuming raw milk. Many also start arguing about anecdotal evidence and scientific studies proving the benefits of raw dairy. But the point that gets lost in all the kerfuffle — the point that Mr. Linnekin made — is that the FDA has no business prohibiting the sale of raw milk when they won’t also prohibit the sale of other, more dangerous, raw foods (like spinach!). Furthermore, if we think it’s ludicrous to ban the sale of raw eggs, why don’t we also think it’s equally as ludicrous to ban the sale of raw milk? What business is it of the FDA’s how we choose to cook (or not cook) our food in the privacy of our own home?
If a warning label on eggs and other raw foods is considered a sufficient means to protect the public, why isn’t a similar warning label on raw milk also considered sufficient? Why must its sale be entirely banned?
Questions. Questions. I’ve still not heard a reasonable answer to these questions.
(photo by untitledprojects)