The fledgling Raw Milk Institute is in trouble.
The grandiose plan for a national organization that will at once establish raw milk production standards, educate farmers on improving their safety protocols, lobby for raw milk legislative expansion, and back research into raw milk’s benefits finds itself hobbled by internal dissension out of the gate.
I don’t think it’s overly dramatic to question whether the group can survive what has turned out to be a huge test of its purpose and objectivity.
As evidence, beyond the debate on this blog, a group of a dozen activists today sent everyone associated with RAWMI a formal request for information on standards, membership requirements, and legislative plans and activities.
The request was prefaced by a statement from Liz Reitzig, co-founder of the Farm Food Freedom Coalition, who said she was “concerned that RAWMI is not as transparent as its website indicates.”
She also complained that “one RAWMI board member in particular has maligned other raw milk activists and slandered individuals in an unprofessional manner. Whether or not RAWMI intends to or not, this behavior reflects unfavorably on the organization as a whole, discrediting the purported work of the organization.”
Within hours of receiving the request, Mark McAfee, the founder of RAWMI (and owner of Organic Pastures Dairy Co.), said common standards, protocols, and food safety plans “are officially under development and not completed.”
He added that, “To become a producer that is ‘Listed with RAWMI’ there is a formal process that is currently under development. This educational process will include watching various educational modules and or webinars that form the basis of knowledge for quality raw milk production. There will be additional requirements and the cost of this process is not finalized yet.”
Finally, he said, “There has been no legislative language submitted to any legislative body anywhere in the USA (that I am aware of).”
He apologized for “inflammatory comments…being shared in the name of RAWMI. I speak for myself and no one else speaks for me.” And, he noted, “Religion and politics should never ever play a part in Raw Milk Quality Assurance.”
He promised a detailed report on changes he plans in “a week or so…” He added, “We all come from divergent backgrounds and agendas but we must all stand together.”
McAfee’s response sounds promising. It could be he needs to scale his initially ambitious plans back some, and simply focus on a few things that can reasonably be accomplished–say, in the education arena–as a means of building credibility. Yes, credibility and trust are the key required ingredients at this point in RAWMI’s rocky launch.
Here is the formal request submitted to RAWMI from food rights activists:
To Whom it may concern:
We, being tenants of the raw milk sovereignty, individuals as producers, consumers and third party distributors, do hereby request the following pursuant to our common law right to know:
1. All protocols and requirements – including but not limited to standards, parameters, suggestions, guidelines, requirements and any language being used, to be used and that can be construed as suggested or required instructions, parameters that farmers must follow, adhere to, meet, comply with or otherwise participate to attain RAWMI certification or whatever language RAWMI uses, or expects to use, that is the equivalent of “certification” – being forwarded by the RAWMI organization as intended to apply to raw milk and raw milk products so that we may determine for ourselves the impacts to our individual situations.
2. All requirements for simple membership in RAWMI whether for a farmer or non-farmer
3. Copies of all legislative language RAWMI has proposed or intends to propose to state legislators.
We deem 20 contiguous days to be sufficient time to respond.
This document is submitted by:
Liz Reitzig, Co-Founder, Farm Food Freedom Coalition
Karine Bouis-Towe, Co-Founder, Farm Food Freedom Coalition
Laurie Cohen-Peters, Co-Founder, Farm Food Freedom Coalition
Odette Springer, Co-Founder, Farm Food Freedom Coalition
Deborah Stockton, Executive Director, National Independent Consumers and Farmers (NICFA)
Greg Niewendorp, Board Member, National Independent Consumers and Farmers (NICFA)
John Moody, Whole Life Services, LLC
Randy Cook, President, National Organization of Raw Materials (NORM)
Paul Griepentrog, Vice President, National Organization of Raw Materials (NORM)
Doreen Hannes, Property Rights and Traditional Agriculture Advocate, Researcher
Andy Mastrocola, Wisconsin Raw Milk Association
Canadian raw dairy farmer Michael Schmidt provides comments very much to the point of recent discussions here, in a blog post of his own (an interview with himself). The part I like best:
“My biggest challenge is the “either or”mentality of some, ignoring the process of transition.
“We have allowed a bureaucracy to get out of control and expect that we simply can remove ourselves from the system to evade the dictatorial powers, (which) does not work.”