Food and Health Archive

Can RAWMI Be Saved? Activists Petition Fledgling Group for Clarification on Standards, Legislative Action; McAfee Promises to “Repair and Fix” Problems; Schmidt on Rights

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

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.”

Raw Milk Revolution David E. Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution.

We’d All Like the Perfect Martyrs to Go Out and Protest For, But Life Isn’t Always That Cooperative When You Are Fighting Government Thuggery; Pollan on Raw Milk

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

It sure would be nice if the emerging food rights movement could always pick its spots to protest government brutality and criminality against farmers and food clubs. Note, I am choosing my words carefully here. Yes, when government agents from ten or more agencies steal hundreds of pounds, thousands of dollars, worth of food–not once, but twice in 15 months– that members of a club have contracted for, that is brutality and criminality.

I’m talking about the Rawesome Food Club situation, but it’s not just Rawesome that has been brutalized. It’s Denise and Joseph Dixon (Morningland Dairy), Barb and Steve Smith (Meadowsweet Dairy), Dan Allgyer, Michael Hulme, Toni Bechard, Brigitte Ruthman, Wayne Craig, Mark Zinniker, Max Kane, Vernon Hershberger, Grassfed on the Hill food club, Gary Oaks, Richard Hebron…Jeez, try saying all those in one breath. And their compatriots in Canada are intent on making an example out of Michael Schmidt. I’m sure I’ve missed some names here, and we don’t even know all those that have been hit hard by the ripple effects of the government clampdown on Rawesome and these other food clubs and farmers. Sharon Palmer was just one of many farmer suppliers to the food club.

Not long ago, after I wrote about how the raids against Rawesome were threatening the availability of nutrient-dense food to many people, someone commented that she’d just go to another food club in Los Angeles to get her food. Sure, that might work for a while…till they go after that food club.

Believe me, they will keep picking farmers and food clubs off, one by one, unless people stand up and say, Enough! But so long as they say, as Amanda Rose and Raw Milk Advocate have essentially said, “Well, I don’t approve of Sharon Palmer, so I’m going to sit this one out,” we’ll be playing into the thugs’ game plan.

In addition to picking farmers and clubs off one by one, they want to divide the opposition. They do that most effectively when Amanda Rose states, “I am hearing from LA sources that some consumers have looked into the Palmer allegations…” Yes, whisperings and rumors are what they want. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Sharon Palmer isn’t charged with fraud in outsourcing. She is charged with selling raw milk without a license and selling food that didn’t meet federal labeling law requirements. If there are other charges against her, take those up separately. But for the thugs trying to scare people away from food clubs, that wouldn’t serve their real purpose.

One indication of how much the authorities relish these internal whispers and accusations is when Milky Way says, “What’s really odd here is that a movement so seemingly passionate about everything except food safety, tolerates vendors outsourcing and mis-labeling food…” No matter what you do, these apologists for the government crackdown will find fault. Backing a food club under attack? You don’t care about safety. Get obsessive about the safety issue, and then they tease you about why you aren’t defending this farmer or that farmer.

I happen to be on the RAWMI Advisory Board, and like many others in favor of food rights have said that food safety is a high priority. RAWMI is but one approach for encouraging safety for raw dairy. But if the producers are all bullied and intimidated out of business, there won’t be any safety issues to worry about, will there?

The challenge to food rights is coming to a head even as I write. Michael Schmidt had undertaken a brave hunger strike in Canada. Max Kane and Vernon Hershberger are doing their own hunger strikes in direct sympathy. Others are joining in.

I’d much prefer to have the kind of great discussions that occurred following my previous post about handling calves and feeding dairy cows all grass or including some grains. Those are useful discussions that inform and educate. The more intense the government’s campaign, the more they are likely to become a luxury…and eventually even hypothetical in nature.

It’s tempting, when the battle heats up, to want to find a nice safe place on the sidelines. The authorities are hoping lots of people will want to do that. Things like hunger strikes and courthouse protest rallies make them nervous. They fear above all the masses finding out the truth about what is happening. And what is happening is that the thugs are systematically seeking to deprive us of nutrient-dense foods, using the excuse of food safety.  It would be nice if everyone could just get a goat, but even if they do, the thugs may well come for those as well. Didn’t a judge just one-up the FDA and say we don’t have a right to our own cow, or to its milk?

The time is now. I hope I’ll see some of you in Los Angeles this week.
Probably his fullest assessment of raw dairy comes today from food writer Michael Pollan in today’s New York Times. He considers the advantages (taste, nutrition, better cheeses) and disadvantages (”several cases of people, especially children, getting sick…”), and then concludes:

“You do have to wonder about the Food and Drug Administration’s priorities. Why is the government putting its resources into shutting down raw-milk producers, a teeny-tiny ‘industry,’ when there are many more serious threats to food safety on factory farms? (In fact the overwhelming majority of illnesses tied to milk and cheese come from pasteurized products.) While Amish dairymen are being raided by the F.D.A., Jack DeCoster, the notorious Iowa egg producer whose filthy, salmonella-infected eggs were linked to an outbreak that sickened more than 1,500 people last year, received a mild warning letter from the F.D.A. What is going on here? Sounds like political theater to me.”

Raw Milk Revolution David E. Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution.

Family (farm) affair: my connection to Eliot Coleman’s rise to prominence

Friday, May 27th, 2011

I’m not sure exactly what it means to play a cameo role in a family memoir exploring the roots of today’s food movement; but certainly it makes you keenly aware of how quickly the years are piling up. I’m referring to the tale of my brief, but apparently significant, role in helping launch organic farmer and author (and occasional Grist contributor) Eliot Coleman toward fame, chronicled in the new memoir by his daughter, Melissa, This Life Is in Your Hands, recently reviewed quite favorably in The New York Times. (Grist’s Tom Philpott recently interviewed Eliot Coleman here.)

Some background: As a Wall Street Journal reporter in 1971, I wrote a front-page profile of a middle-class family living off the land in coastal Maine — the family of Eliot Coleman, including his then-2-year-old daughter Melissa. That profile, headlined, “The New Pioneers,” was one of the WSJ’s best-read features ever to that time, so popular that front page editors encouraged me to revisit the Colemans and do another piece two years later (sorry, that one seems to be unavailable online).

It was a major event for me personally — not only experiencing the Colemans’ vegetarian and no-electricity lifestyle, but meeting and getting to know the original trailblazers in the living-off-the-land movement, Helen and Scott Nearing; the authors of the classic Living the Good Life, who lived just down the road from the Colemans.

I lost touch with the Colemans after doing those profiles, though I did read articles here and there about Eliot’s own increasingly successful writing career, as one of the world’s foremost experts on growing organic foods year-round in hostile climates like in Maine. Contained in some of the articles I read were snippets suggesting family problems … but then, I figured, who doesn’t have family issues?

I reconnected with the family when Melissa contacted me a year-and-a-half ago to tell me about her upcoming book, and to request an interview to capture what I remembered about visiting her family in 1971 and living in a tiny trailer while reporting my story. It turned out that my initial WSJ article was a watershed event for the family, leading to a huge influx of both tourist and hippie visitors to the family’s isolated outpost on Maine’s Cape Rosier, and eventually to Eliot becoming a celebrity farmer.

Needless to say, it’s kind of strange to read now in a memoir the remembrances of my initial visit and the family’s impressions of me. “He had lived only in Chicago, New York, and Boston, so our lifestyle was an especially exotic contrast to his own. Quiet and easy to talk to, the young reporter adapted without complaint to the difficulties of using the outhouse and eating our vegetarian food, though he secretly thought the goat’s milk tasted of the barnyard … ” (I suppose that was my first exposure to raw milk.)

Eliot’s then-wife, Sue, expressed feelings of foreboding about my visit, noted Melissa. In a diary, Sue stated, “I realize now that the experience with the reporter was an unfortunate one. He was like an intrusion, making me feel uneasy and paranoid the three days he was here.” Melissa reports. She adds, though: “despite Mama’s fears, it turned out to be a favorable profile.” And more significantly: “The article … was a messenger of change, as more and more people became interested in a simpler way of life — people who would seek us out in droves … ”

Some of the change was positive, as volunteers showed up, ready to pitch in and reduce the huge workload on Eliot and Sue. Some was stressful, putting the couple ever more under outside scrutiny. The intrusions were especially difficult for Sue, who was by nature a very private person. The breaking point occurred with the drowning of Melissa’s younger sister, Heidi, in a pond on the farm in 1976.

Aside from the fact that the tragedy tore the family apart, it also forced Melissa, in the course of writing the book, to confront larger issues associated with the family’s unusual lifestyle. Indeed, the entire situation carries important messages for today’s emerging class of professionally trained and city-raised young and middle-aged farmers. I won’t reveal any more about the book, except to say that it is an absorbing read that intelligently arrays the romanticism of living off the land against the emotional challenges of moving off the grid.

David Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights (Chelsea Green, 2009). He is also a journalist who specializes in covering the intersection of health and business. His popular blog has chronicled the increasingly unsettling battles over raw milk. He has authored or coauthored seven books on various aspects of entrepreneurship and business and previously been a reporter and editor with the Wall Street Journal, Inc. magazine, and the Harvard Business Review.

Read the original post on Grist.

Raw Milk Revolution David E. Gumpert is the author of

Three Reasons Why Raw Milk Safety Still Deserves to Be High Priority; DC Demonstration Monday for Amish Farmer

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

It’s not a great time to be trying to convince raw milk advocates–farmers and consumers alike–about the importance of a heightened emphasis on safety. Not at a time when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which frequently argues that raw milk can’t be produced safely in any event, is doing undercover investigations poking around in people’s garages and back yards, and filing for a permanent injunction against an Amish farmer. Or when public health and agriculture officials from Minnesota and Wisconsin continue to try to make life miserable for raw dairy producers and consumers.

But I made the effort, nonetheless, at the Raw Milk Symposium in Bloomington, MN, Saturday, as part of a panel discussion. My argument wasn’t that we have a sudden public health crisis around raw milk, but rather that we have a perception problem–a perception in certain segments of the public that farmers and consumers alike are insensitive to cases of illness from raw milk.

Catherine Shanahan,
a speaker at Raw Milk

Why should we care about a perception problem? It’s easy, after all, to say that the perception is fostered by those who adamantly oppose raw milk. Regardless of the cause, though, there are at least three reasons why we should care about this perception problem:

1. Because we are caring people, who don’t want to see people get sick.

2. Because farmers whose milk make people sick run the risk of losing their farms.

3. And more recently, it’s become apparent that this perception problem increases the risks of loss on the legal side, which is where much of the action is taking place these days. If the opponents of raw milk are able to bring up specific safety concerns in court cases involving raw milk, then judges are very likely to react to the regulator fear mongering. It’s happened already in several cases, most recently the Morningland Dairy case in Missouri. Such cases have emboldened the regulators, in my view.

A number of attendees suggested that, because the most serious illnesses appear to have occurred with first-time drinkers, those just starting out should begin slowly. “If it’s your first time, sip it in small quantities, at room temperature,” Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, advised. A physician, Catherine Shanahan, suggested that prospective users take probiotic capsules and eat fermented foods before launching into consuming raw milk.

Beyond those suggestions, I encouraged a more formal and organized effort to take the offensive, such as a raw milk association to establish standards and carry out inspections. My feeling is that, whether in a court of law or the court of public opinion, it’s best to be proactive.

For video streaming of many of the Raw Milk Symposium sessions, take a look at this site. It begins with Canadian raw dairy farmer Michael Schmidt’s moving account of his long spiritual and historical journey through the worlds of raw milk and biodynamic farming.
The Maryland food club victimized by an FDA undercover investigation that led to a federal court action against Amish farmer Dan Allgyer will be holding a demonstration on Capitol Hill at 10 a.m. this Monday. The food club, Grassfed on the Hill, wants to show visible support for Allgyer and other farmers victimized by the FDA. Speakers will include Sally Fallon of WAPF, Attorney Jonathan Emord, Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures, and yours truly.

To the news that as many as one in every 38 children may be autistic, one raw dairy farmer stated, “That should increase business some more.”

Read the original post on The Complete Patient.

Raw Milk Revolution David E. Gumpert is the author of
The Raw Milk Revolution

FDA agents launch covert ops against D.C.-area raw-milk buying club

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has just filed a complaint in federal court, seeking a permanent injunction against Amish farmer Dan Allgyer in Pennsylvania. It accuses him of violating a federal prohibition on interstate sales of raw milk by shipping unpasteurized milk to a Maryland buying club’s members.

As part of its complaint, the agency says it carried out a lengthy undercover investigation to acquire raw milk, and as part of it, “FDA investigators picked up each unpasteurized milk order at various private residences in Maryland.” All of which has me wondering …

Were the agents looking over their shoulders as they wandered onto decks and into garages of the private homes as they picked up their milk? Were they whispering into cell phones to comrades waiting outside, eager to get their hands on the contraband? Did they stop to admire deck furniture, barbeque grills, and lawn tools on their way into and out of the homes? And maybe do a little dumpster diving, checking the trash for clues to the family’s prescription drugs, nutritional supplements … whether there might be some leftover weed.

Perhaps more to the point, did the imposters feel any sense of remorse or shame by virtue of entering private residences to seize food — eagerly ordered and paid for by the club members — as part of a major federal investigation?

On this last point, the answer appears to be negative. According to the complaint filed in U.S. District court a couple weeks back, the FDA undercover effort has been going on for more than a year. “In late 2009, an investigator in FDA’s Baltimore District Office used aliases to join the cooperative that Allgyer’s farm was supplying in Maryland and Washington, D.C.” The complaint noted that the group “warns group members to ‘not share information about our group and certainly not about our farmer’ with government agencies or doctors … ”

Over the 15 months between December 2009 and March 2011, additional FDA investigators used the cooperative’s “online ordering website and placed orders for unpasteurized cow milk on 23 occasions … Payment for each purchase was made in the form of a money order payable to Dan Allgyer. Payment was either mailed to Allgyer” or left inside a zip closure bag that was located at the pickup site in Maryland, the private homes where FDA investigators obtained their evidence.

These surreptitious pickups weren’t the end of the investigation, though. “An FDA laboratory analyzed twelve of the twenty-three samples of milk purchased by the FDA investigators and confirmed that all twelve were unpasteurized.”

Investigators also visited Allgyer’s farm on April 20, 2010, and “observed numerous portable coolers in the Defendant’s driveway and a walk-in cooler/freezer on the property that contained products that appeared to be milk and other assorted dairy products.” The coolers were labeled with the names of various locations within Maryland, including Takoma Park, Bethesda, Bowie, and Silver Springs.

Not surprisingly, members of the buying group in Maryland are upset by the FDA’s undercover tactics. The club has hundreds of members, “including bureaucrats, lobbyists, staffers on the Hill,” says Liz Reitzig, one of the club organizers. “It feels like betrayal,” she says. “The fact that they have been in some of our homes is mean. We trusted them, and they are totally betraying us.”

Reitzig argues that the milk being delivered to members wasn’t being purchased, and thus wasn’t part of interstate commerce. It was already owned by the members as part of their club membership agreements, and was merely being delivered to them. Indeed, the fact that it could only be obtained by entering private residences is testimony to the private nature of the transactions, she says.

Who knows, maybe some FDA staffers who weren’t privy to the undercover operation had their homes visited. It’s a tough business, this official effort to deprive people of food.

Read the original article on Grist.

Raw Milk Revolution David E. Gumpert is the author of
The Raw Milk Revolution

It’s Time to Give the FDA a Dose of Its Own Medicine: Five Suggestions for How the Maryland Food Club Can Fight Back (and How the Rest of Us Can Help)

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Following my previous post, Fish in the Water expresses the emotional extremes many of us feel about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s latest assault on our food freedoms. “As a member of the aforementioned club, I have just been absolutely devastated this week, and am on pins and needles to see what happens next.”

Yes, what does happen next? Well, the members of the Maryland food club that was targeted by the FDA for an undercover operation to apparently make a case for unlawful interstate sales of raw milk by Pennsylvania farm owner Dan Allgyer, need to make a decision. They have two basic choices:

Aajonus Vonderplanitz speaking last fall in Los Angeles. (photo by Jennifer Sharpe)

1. They can cower in fear, maybe abandon the farmer who is risking his farm and his freedom to supply them with fresh nutrient-dense food…

2. Or they can stand up, tall and proud, against the crude effort to instill fear, and fight back.

I very much hope they choose the second option…not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because the FDA needs to be taught that there’s a price to be paid for using police-state enforcement tactics to interfere with private farmer-consumer food agreements…so it will think twice before embarking on this kind of adventurism anytime soon. I also think the FDA outrage offers Maryland food club members a huge opportunity to educate legislators, judges, and the public at large about the seriousness of the FDA’s actions and the terrible precedent that could be established trashing private contractual food rights.

In this sense, I diverge from the earlier advice of Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy Co., telling Dan Allgyer to settle with the FDA and avoid a lengthy court battle. McAfee’s advice was based on his own experience being indicted for interstate sales of raw milk, but in his case, he actually was selling raw milk. The Allgyer case is much different, involving consumers in a direct contractual relationship with their farmer. Thus, it would be a huge concession of fundamental rights for Allgyer to capitulate to the FDA.

One reason this situation offers such an opportunity is that there isn’t even a hint of a food safety problem. This food club has been in operation for nearly five years, without any kind of illness, from raw milk or any of the eggs, beef, and chicken the members buy. The club’s experience gives lie to the FDA’s statement in its court filing seeking a permanent injunction against Allgyer: “Unpasteurized mik and milk products contain a wide variety of harmful bacteria…all of which may cause illness and possibly death.”

Aajonus Vonderplanitz, the California nutritionist, whose organization, Right to Choose Healthy Food, oversees the contractual arrangements of the Maryland food club targeted by the FDA, seems to be of the same mindset. He tells me the FDA’s move in federal district court in Pennsylvania, is intended “to scare more farmers and consumers,” and he’s not buying in.

“I look forward to court events. I will write the briefs that Dan and I will file claiming non-jurisdiction, fraud and harassment.”

But public involvement is a critical component for eventual legal success, he says. “I would love to have more people aware and watching. More people watching is likely to make the judge more honest and law-abiding.”

In that spirit of creating more public awareness, here are five of my own unsolicited suggestions for how the Maryland food club can fight back:

* Recruit some serious legal talent. Vonderplanitz will need legal help to joust with the Harvard-Yale-Princeton Law School types at the U.S. Department of Justice who will be handling this case. That will cost money. If each of the hundreds of Maryland food club members puts up just a few hundred dollars, they can buy some pretty impressive legal help. There have to be experienced lawyers out there who would love the public exposure that will result from defending an Amish farmer set upon by obsessive and arrogant government regulators and prosecutors.

* Let your U.S. House and Senate representatives know about the FDA’s outrage, and urge them to express disapproval. They control the FDA’s purse strings, and can make a difference. They likely don’t know what’s been going on here. Now is the time to inform them.

* Let the White House know about your outrage. The FDA and the Department of Justice are both directed by President Barack Obama. He likely didn’t know about the case specifically, but there are some highly placed administration officials who must be aware. This kind of intensive year-plus undercover investigative operation against the reclusive Amish community has to be approved at high levels before it goes forward. One relatively low-level bureaucrat like John Sheehan, the FDA’s dairy director, can’t by himself make something like this happen; many others have to sign off. Obama’s handlers need to know that many people are outraged.

* Improve vetting procedures. Yes, I know the horse is out of the barn at the Maryland food club, but you never know if the feds will make additional efforts to plant spies. Plus, they may well have other food clubs under surveillance. Unfortunately, food clubs need to tighten their processes, which should include requiring member prospects to show drivers licenses and even credit cards to confirm their identitities, thus making it it tougher for people with aliases to get in. Moreover, it’s helpful to do Google searches on everyone. One buying club I know spotted an FDA operative this way, before she could sign her membership papers.

* Pack the courthouse when Dan Allgyer’s case comes up for hearings in Pennsylvania. As Wayne Craig says in his comment following my previous post, “We need to shine a very bright light on the resources and time FDA is using against raw milk vs other priorities.” Lots of people showing up with high-priced legal representation helps focus the judge’s attention.

The FDA was obviously trying to send a strong message of intimidation and fear. It’s time for those of us who value food rights to send an even stronger message that its strong-arm tactics won’t be tolerated. Farmers can’t do it alone.

Read the original post on The Complete Patient.

Raw Milk Revolution David E. Gumpert is the author of
The Raw Milk Revolution

Memo to Petraeus at CIA: Grab Those FDA Guys Who Took Out Amish Raw Milk Farmer…On Second Thought…

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

When Gen. David Patraeus takes over direction of the Central Intelligence Agency sometime in the next few months, he may want to begin mining the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for some new talent.

The FDA sent a number of its agents into undercover mode to gather the goods on Dan Allgyer, the Pennsylvania Amish farmer named in a complaint filed on behalf of the FDA by the U.S. Department of Justice seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting the farmer from distributing milk outside of Pennsylvania.

According to the complaint filed in U.S. District court a couple weeks back, the FDA undercover effort has been going on for more than a year. “In late 2009, an investigator in FDA’s Baltimore District Office used aliases to join” the cooperative that Allgyer’s farm was supplying in Maryland and Washington, DC. The complaint noted that the group “warns group members to ‘not share information about our group and certainly not about our farmer’ with government agencies or doctors…”

Over the 15 months between December 2009 and March 2011, additional FDA investigators used the cooperative’s “online ordering website and placed orders for unpasteurized cow milk on 23 occasions…Payment for each purchase was made in the form of a money order payable to Dan Allgyer.” Payment was either mailed to Allgyer “or left inside a zip closure bag that was located at the pick up site in Maryland. FDA investigators picked up each unpasteurized milk order at various private residences in Maryland.”

I’m sure it will reassure the owners of these homes to know that FDA investigators were roaming their garages, decks, and back yards, snooping around, doing everything necessary to protect the owners and other food club members from not only the milk, but the eggs, beef, chicken, and other foods they sign on for from the Allgyer farm.

That wasn’t the end of the investigation, though. “An FDA laboratory analyzed twelve of the twenty-three samples of milk purchased by the FDA investigators and confirmed that all twelve were unpasteurized.” Whew! Got to tie up those loose ends.

Investigators also visited Allgyer’s farm on April 20, 2010, and “observed numerous portable coolers in the Defendant’s driveway and a walk-in cooler/freezer on the property that contained products that appeared to be milk and other assorted dairy products. The coolers were labeled with the names of various locations within Maryland, including ‘Takoma Park,’ ‘Bethesda,’ ‘Bowie,’ and ‘Silver Springs’.”

The complaint notes that the consumers had “club membership,” but doesn’t explore whether that counts as “interstate commerce.” Most food clubs are set up to take delivery of food they already own under leasing and agent relationships.

Certainly the Allgyer experience reinforces the push by food clubs to carefully screen their members. It’s difficult, though, when you’re dealing with determined professional agents driven in their mission to deprive ordinary people of real food.

The Washington Times reported as well this morning on the investigation, labeling the federal effort a “sting.” I’m not sure I’d give the investigation that level of professional recognition, and on second thought, Gen. Patraeus may want to hold off on going the FDA route for new investigators.

Read the original post on The Complete Patient.

Raw Milk Revolution David E. Gumpert is the author of
The Raw Milk Revolution

Taking Illness Bull By the Horns: Should Raw Dairies Be Issuing Pointed Warnings to Raw Milk Newbies?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

I look at the illness outbreak blamed on Texas’ largest raw dairy, and I’m mystified. It happened at a dairy with apparently impeccable cleanliness and serious attention to safety.

We don’t know much beyond what Texas health authorities say about the evidence they have, and the fact that the one case of serious illness that’s been made public involves a woman who says the milk she drank from Lavon Farms was her first experience with raw milk, coming at the suggestion of a friend.

I should preface what follows, in terms of illnesses blamed on raw milk, with the acknowledgment that I am well aware all foods make people sick. I’m also aware that as raw dairy explodes in popularity, its enemies–Big Dairy, government regulators, the public health community, and others–become ever more determined to curtail consumption, stamp out raw dairy entirely. We can see that in the totally cynical way opponents used the illnesses in Texas to try to de-rail legislation to expand raw milk availability.

When you’re under assault by forces with superior firepower, you can either stand there and take it, or you can intelligently fight back. In my view, it behooves all of us who value our food rights to fight back intelligently, and that means in part being forthright about the issues, including the issues the opponents say they are most concerned about. So I want to do some exploration around this issue of illness from raw milk, since this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the situation we’re seeing in Texas. Because it involves illness and raw dairy, it gets blown up for the purposes of fanning fear.

First off, it could be that Lavon Farms had a slip-up in its safety process, and a batch of milk became contaminated with salmonella. Anyone can slip up, even the most meticulous of food producers.

Beyond that, there’s a theme that has come up from time to time when I write about illnesses from raw milk: the very real possibility that newbies– children and adults trying raw milk for the first time, sometimes with health issues, or a combination of the two factors–are most prone to potentially serious problems from raw milk that is contaminated.

One of the challenges with trying to prove this hypothesis is that we don’t know a lot about most of the reported victims of raw milk. Their identities are protected by privacy laws. But those cases that have become public, either because they’ve filed court suits, or chosen to go public, repeatedly demonstrate this theme.

For example:

* Each of four cases highlighted on the web site of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which went up last year with much fanfare, are of newbies–two adults and two children.

* All five cases highlighted on the Real Raw Milk Facts web site, another site launched last year with heavy promo, are also of first-time raw milk drinkers (three of the cases appear as well on the CDC web site, perhaps part of an intended echo effect, so it’s really two additional cases, one of an adult and one of an infant).

So of six cases that have gotten the full dramatic video treatment on web sites designed to spread fear about raw milk over the last year, all are first-time drinkers. There are a few other cases over the last few years that have similarly received much public attention–I’m thinking in particular of Lauren Herzog, a second child who became very ill in September 2006, at the same time as Chris Martin, who is featured on the CDC web site, in connection with the outbreak blamed on Organic Pastures Dairy Co.

To those cases, you can now add Mary Chiles from Texas.

I’m not suggesting that only newbies become ill from raw milk. There are a number of outbreaks–in California, Colorado, and the Midwest– in which experienced raw milk drinkers have become ill. But in none of those cases did an experienced raw milk drinker become seriously ill, from what I can determine.

For example, a survey by public health officials in California of individuals who became ill from raw milk from a Del Norte County dairy showed that six of the fifteen (40%) were first-time drinkers. As it happens, one of those first-timers became so sick she was paralyzed (and is one of those featured in the video on the Real Raw Milk Facts web site).

There is no indication that any of the nine more experienced drinkers suffered serious illness.

The public health authorities seem not to want to take notice of this anomaly. Indeed, I’ve wondered in the past why the public health community doesn’t encourage research into this situation, to try to improve the usefulness of its advisories on raw milk. The only possible answer I can come up with is that that the public health community has its mind already made up–if you believe deep in your heart that raw milk is inherently dangerous, then why do research that might muddy your thinking?

This is an extremely important matter because the public health and medical communities point to the dramatic cases featured on the CDC and Real Raw Milk Facts web sites as proof positive that raw milk is so inherently dangerous that no one in his or her right mind should be drinking it. But more significant, these cases are used to justify federal and state crackdowns on raw dairies, and as key evidence to defeat state legislation allowing for limited availability of raw milk. As such, the cases are highly damaging to raw dairy farmers of all types, jeopardizing their livelihoods, and jeopardizing as well the availability of raw milk to millions of regular drinkers.

If, indeed, the situation is more nuanced–that there is a very slight danger of serious illness for some individuals who have never before consumed raw milk–then dairy farmers might press harder on the safety front. And public health authorities may well need to adjust their warnings, targeting them to those individuals.

If the public health community isn’t doing its job–in fact, is misrepresenting the reality–then how can people interested in raw milk learn about the reality? How about if raw dairy producers and proponents take the lead? Here’s what I mean:

There’s the matter of implementing safety standards. A number of people here, like Tim Wightman, Mark McAfee, and Scott Trautman, have discussed organizing a raw milk association that would establish standards and monitor member dairies. Maybe it’s time for that effort to move forward.

In addition, I’m thinking that farmers should consider issuing strong warnings beyond the general ones they already use, to advise new customers about the potential dangers of raw milk. Moreover, they might consider as well advising regular customers not to give raw milk to friends or neighbors who have never before had it.

And consumers need to accept responsibility to check out raw milk producers in terms of their safety precautions, and the special qualities of their milk. David Augenstein, a public health expert and raw milk proponent, puts it this way in a new publication he’s just put out, “Finding Your Safe Local Raw Milk”:
“If you are lacto-intolerant, a first time raw milk drinker or changing to another dairy, it is recommended to acclimatize your body and build immunity for the microorganisms specific to the dairy’s ecosystem that varies from dairy to dairy. To do this, begin with half a cup of milk, yogurt or kefir each day for about a week. This will reduce the risk of stomach upset or diarrhea that could be experienced by some people.”

The larger suggestion I am making here is that the raw milk community take the lead in being upfront about the danger of raw milk illnesses in certain narrow situations. For example, it might make sense for farmers to speak with anyone trying raw milk for the first time, and inquire into their decision to begin drinking raw milk; most farmers know their customers well. Ask if they have any illnesses or conditions that might have depressed their immune systems. Ask if they have made any other changes to their diet in terms of nutrient-dense foods.

On this last point, I have a friend who has read some of my writing about raw milk, and occasionally asks me if I think he should drink it. I know he mostly consumes the standard American diet, and emphasizes low-fat foods, so I’ve told him that, no, I don’t think raw milk makes sense for him. To me, you consume raw milk as part of a larger decision to change your approach to diet and health–to eliminate processed foods and sugar and to seek out nutrient-dense foods. You don’t do it in isolation.

Those of us who value food rights need to make this point more emphatically. Raw milk isn’t a magical medicine people suddenly begin gulping down to cure MS or cancer. It may well be useful in aiding such conditions, but usually part and parcel of a larger, more holistic approach.

Moreover, it’s not appropriate to ignore or deny the serious illnesses that are so damaging to both the health of the individuals affected, and the reputations of the farmers who are held responsible. The illnesses need to be acknowledged and used to teach, rather than used as a political football. 

Read the original post on The Complete Patient.

Raw Milk Revolution David E. Gumpert is the author of
The Raw Milk Revolution

Health Officials Say They Have the Goods on Texas Raw Dairy, So Why Are There So Many Strange Occurrences?

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

On the face of it, the case against Lavon Farms looks open and shut. Milk from the Plano, TX, raw dairy, the largest in the state, has been genetically linked to four illnesses from salmonella–three of them involving children–over the last few months, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Todd Moore (second from left) and family being recognized at a livestock show.

But even if you’re inclined to accept such seemingly irrefutable evidence, there are a number of elements to this situation that just don’t feel right. For example:

* The news about the linkage was made public yesterday, just hours before the Public Health Committee of the Texas House of Representatives was due to hold hearings on controversial legislation that would allow the state’s 44 permitted raw dairies to sell milk at farmers markets and county fairs. The hearing was held last evening, and at least one legislator expressed amazement at the timing of the release of information.

* The news was made public by the Texas Medical Association and the Dallas County Health and Human Services department; the Texas Department of State Health Services, which conducted the testing, says it didn’t deem the information about the linkage important enough to publicize beyond the customers of Lavon Farms, and local public health departments. The dairy alerted its 450 or so customers by email last week that milk sales were suspended because salmonella had been found in the dairy’s milk.

* Dairy owner Moore says the state refuses to provide him with details of its findings so he can have additional testing done. He says he went to an independent lab after learning about the state discovery of salmonella. “The food lab I took the milk to asked what the strain (of salmonella) is. I didn’t know, and they won’t tell me the strain because they say it’s under investigation.”

* Even after the email to his customers, not a single one has come forward to Lavon Farms to say he or she was sickened by raw milk, according to Moore. The state won’t reveal the identities of any of those sickened, but a 57-year-old woman has been quoted in several local publications as saying she was one of those affected. Here’s what the Dallas Morning News said: “Mary Chiles, 57, of Dallas said she tried raw milk for the first time at the urging of a friend in February. Soon she had a high fever and was hospitalized. She later learned that she had multiple sclerosis, which likely contributed to her salmonella illness because of a weakened immune system.”

* Moore says tests he conducts (for salmonella, E.coli 0157:H7, and listeria in his own state certified laboratory) of every batch of raw milk offered for sale, have failed to provide any indication of salmonella (or any other pathogen). “I sell over 800 gallons (of raw milk) a week,” he says. “We have tested every load, without a single indication of salmonella.” Moreover, state tests of his milk have consistently shown his milk to be well under the state-mandated 10-coliforms-per-milliliter level (in the bottle). Public health professionals consider high coliform readings to be a precursor of pathogens.

* As the previous suggests, Moore is a stickler for safety and for herd health. He says the walls of his milk parlor are scrubbed daily, and he has a strict protocol for cleaning the milking equipment. “My milk facility is spotless,” he says. “You walk into my barn, and you would not hesitate to drink my milk…We wear hair nets, we wear rubber globes.” For details on Moore’s approach to safety, take a look at the first of a three-part video on his home page. And by the way, there’s no talk of raw milk curing illnesses, or advice to avoid pasteurized milk.

Moore, who is a third-generation dairyman, says that when he first learned two weeks ago about the test showing salmonella in his milk, “I was devastated.” But the more he’s learned, and not learned, he’s changed his attitude. “Two weeks ago, the state had me doubting myself,” he says. But he’s since had “all this positive feedback” from his customers. “I had a doctor call me and he said he has it and he feeds it to his four children…My customers are ready to go to the mat. They want the phone numbers of legislators. They want their milk back.”

I spoke with Judith McGeary, head of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and a major proponent of the proposed Texas legislation on extending raw milk sales, and she, too, was taken aback by the timing of disclosures. She pointed out that a representative of the Texas Department of State Health Services testified at last evening’s committee hearing that there have been two illnesses attributed to raw milk over the previous twenty years. “Even if these illnesses turn out to be tied to Lavon Farms, that’s six illnesses in twenty years.”

Politics and public health–they just don’t mix. 

Read the original article on The Complete Patient.

rawmilkrevolution David E. Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution.

Isn’t It About Time for Some New Thinking About Raw Dairy and Children?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

One of the more moving experiences during my travels in India was visiting the Gandhi Museum in Mumbai. It’s plain–basically, a modest home in a nice area of Mumbai…low tech, as well, relying mostly on framed photos and letters written by Mahatma Gandhi. The home was actually owned by one of Gandhi’s supporters, but the leader himself spent much time living there–the highlight of the museum is a large room on the third floor, where Gandhi spent much time while in Mumbai. The main fixtures are a floor mat, where he slept, and a spinning wheel, where he did the weaving he’s well known for.

Indian students crowd exhibits at the Gandhi Museum in Mumbai.

While I was there, the museum was very crowded with Indian grade school and high school students, which is as it should be for the man who is equivalent of our George Washington–a leader who defied convention and stood above the fray.

I completed the experience by watching the 1982 movie, “Gandhi”, on the flight home. I had seen it years ago, but was intrigued to see it again, what with having just been through the museum, combined with the experience of some years now of monitoring the raw dairy war in the U.S.

I came to appreciate how long it took Gandhi to achieve what he did. He actually began his civil disobedience in South Africa in the early 1900s, before eventually moving back to India and putting his lessons to work. Then, it took until 1948 before the Indian subcontinent finally achieved independence, with the emergence of India and Pakistan.

Fortunately, he was a patient man, and never let the temptations of violence force him from his path. But his thinking was always evolving, and he took pride in that. “Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.”

I thought of that quote when I read over the comments at the Marler Blog in response to a flyer put out by the Marler Clark law firm warning parents not to give raw milk to their children.  The flyer itself is a propaganda sheet suggesting children can die from drinking raw milk, even though none have for at least the last 25 years. (”All of these infections can result in death, especially in children…”)

A propaganda sheet, yes, but what the heck. Everyone’s entitled to their position.

The flyer is introduced by Marler Clark in a press release as something necessitated in part because “Raw milk enthusiasts have claimed that it not only tastes better than pasteurized milk but prevents against autism, cancer, Crohn’s Disease, and asthma…” So mistake one is the old demonizing-the-opposition trick by suggesting that a few such claims are endorsed by everyone who drinks raw milk.

I’d say the second mistake is for Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy Co. to use the flyer as an opportunity to question Bill Marler’s ethics. Then Bill Anderson jumps in to say it’s possible to smell potentially contaminated milk. Now, such statements may be true, but they don’t get us anywhere in the debate on how to ensure the availability of clean fresh milk.

Not surprisingly, that prompts Marler’s dogs to go on the attack, particularly someone named Dog Doctor. I even get included, as someone who “doesn’t allow personal attacks against himself on his blog although he allows and makes them on others.” Hmmm. I’d like to see an example of that.  I have edited out personal attacks I regarded as potentially libelous against a few individuals, including raw milk opponents, but I’ve never cut or eliminated an attack against myself.

I suppose all this is neat entertainment for some people. And I suppose I’ve promoted such debates in the past. But I like to think I’ve moved on. Indeed, I think we all need to move on.

Raw dairy is exploding in popularity. Any number of states are considering legislation designed to ensure that it be produced safely. Yet the raw dairy opponents simply continue to oppose anything and everything. In the process, they drive the business underground. Is that protecting the children these individuals beat their chests over? It really is time to transition from the old entertainment, and do some fresh thinking. 


Evidence is mounting that demand for raw dairy and other nutrient-dense foods will continue, even accelerate. The latest indication comes from the huge accounting and consulting firm, Deloitte, which has just published results of a national survey on “Consumer Food Safety”. While the focus of the survey is on safety, when it comes to food, a higher percentage of respondents (54%) are concerned about “healthiness of the ingredients or product” than “safety of the ingredients or the product” (49%). (See page 9 of the report.)

This isn’t to suggest that safety isn’t a major worry, but mainly to highlight how widely the concerns about health are spreading. This constitutes a major business opportunity for farmers of all types, especially dairy farmers. Look for more smart ones to take advantage of the opportunity that beckons and move to escape the market power Big Dairy wields over farmers, and finally begin to make money from their investment and labor.

Read the full article at The Complete Patient.

rawmilkrevolution David E. Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution.