Last week, Obama’s food safety chief Michael R. Taylor defended the recent FDA raids against raw milk producers, even when none of the milk is actually contaminated with pathogens. He said that such sting operations were based on a “public health duty” and “statutory directive.” In other words, the FDA believes that all raw milk is dangerous and bad for you, and they’re going to do everything in their power to keep you from getting your hands on it.
Not surprisingly, the recent food safety legislation passed through congress will empower the FDA to do just that.
This recent article at the San Francisco Gate Politics Blog explains how:
The FDA is in the midst of writing the critical regulations that will implement the Food Safety Modernization Act Congress passed last year with applause all around from the Obama administration, Democrats and Republicans despite ferocious opposition from small-farm advocates. The sweeping new law gives the agency extraordinary powers to detain foods on farms. It also denies farmers recourse to federal courts.
Before the new law, the FDA could only impound food when it had credible evidence the food was contaminated or posed a public health hazard. The detention powers are part of what Taylor described as a new agency focus on preventing food poisoning outbreaks rather than responding to them after the fact. Taylor described the new law as giving the agency “farm to table” control over food safety.
Taylor outlined an aggressive approach, saying he would seek a “high rate of compliance” with new food safety rules, touted the agency’s “whole new inspection and compliance tool kit,” including access to farm records, mandatory recall authority, and enforcement actions that can be accomplished administratively, “without having to go to court.” He said the agency can now also revoke a farm’s mandatory registration (also a new requirement under the law), meaning the FDA can put any farm it finds in violation of any food safety rule out of business.
If the FDA starts muscling your raw milk farmer out of business, what will you do?
The words of Wendell Berry, my agrarian poet hero, come to mind: “There are moments in a nation’s — and a planet’s — history when it may be necessary for some to break the law in order to bear witness to an evil, bring it to wider attention, and push for its correction.”
That’s just what happened recently in Kentucky, when a raw milk buying club defied the Kentucky Department of Health Services by picking up their “quarantined” raw milk. After the state inspector had slapped his quarantine stickers on the coolers of raw milk, buying club administrators responded swiftly,
By the time members arrived, a new piece of paper had been placed on the coolers, stating:
I, the undersigned, hereby declare that I have taken my milk that comes from cows I own via private contract under the protection of the KY constitution (articles 1,2,4,6,10,16,26), and if the county health department would like to speak with me about this matter, I can be reached at the number given below.
Before the afternoon was out, about 40 members of the buying club had signed the statement, and taken their quarantined milk. “A large number of my members pulled in today and ignored the cease-and-desist and quarantine orders,” John Moody, a co-administrator of the buying club, told me.
In other words, these buying club members openly defied the Louisville public health authorities. In so doing, I believe they are the first consumers to sign on to such an act of group defiance to protect and preserve their food.
If it were you, would you have signed your name? Would you have risked giving state authorities your contact information as you blatantly disregarded their quarantine and picked up your milk? Would you have joined others in appearing to break the law?
Well, if you had, you’d be glad to know that it worked.
This past Friday, a week after the quarantine was implemented, a health inspector showed up again, this time to issue a “withdrawal” of the quarantine. Victory. The first known official withdrawal of a public effort to block raw milk distribution and consumption.
In an email forwarded to Moody from Louisville city officials, Matt Zahn, interim director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, stated: “After lengthy discussion…the Kentucky state health department feels that it does not have a legal basis to support quarantining milk from a ‘cow sharer’ group. While they continue to believe (as we do) that raw, unpasteurized milk represents a health hazard, they have reversed their previous guidance and instructed us to release the milk from quarantine.”
According to the Center For Disease Control’s own survey, at least 10 million people in the U.S. consume raw milk regularly! That’s at least 10 million people who can join together and openly defy the FDA as it tries to use its new found power to shut down raw milk farmers.
It’s my hope that if that time comes, we’ll all be prepared and act as swiftly and courageously as the Kentucky buying club did. David Gumpert calls it “learning to live on a war footing.” To find out how to be prepared, read his recent blog post on the subject.
(photo by kthread)