When Michael Bloomberg started his anti-soda campaign in September 2012, there was an outrage. He cited the “obesity epidemic,” and the “statistic” that 2013 would be the first year that more people died from overeating than from hunger. The “big gulp ban,” which prohibited the sale of sodas more than 16 ounces in size, was struck down by the New York Supreme Court in July 2013 because of a violation of the city’s separation of powers doctrine.
Many people celebrated a victory for liberty in what seemed like an obvious issue. Soda may be unhealthy, but the government doesn’t have the right to dictate what people choose to consume. The government already does this nationwide though, and some of the strongest regulations involve products with tangible health benefits, like unpasteurized, or “raw,” milk.
The FDA controls the sale and consumption of raw milk because they claim that it poses a threat of foodborne illness. It can contain salmonella, lysteria and e-coli, much the same way that unpasteurized eggs, raw meat and even raw vegetables can, and which in all likelihood are a result of the commercial process rather than the milk itself.
Many people, however, believe that raw milk is significantly healthier and better tasting than milk processed according to FDA regulations. Pasteurized milk is heated, usually at extremely high temperatures, and then homogenized, which prevents the formation of a cream layer. This process destroys many valuable enzymes and vitamins, changes the taste and reduces culinary possibilities.
On the federal level, the sale of raw milk is forbidden across state lines, and most states have stringent restrictions, including 19 which have banned sales completely and an additional 14 which ban sales outside of the farm on which the milk was produced.
Recently, the FDA has also been involved in multiple lawsuits and controversial cases regarding raw milk. Earlier this year, one lawsuit was filed and another dismissed against the FDA regarding its regulations. The first, by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, involved 100 gallons of milk which were embargoed and forced to be destroyed by the Georgia Department of Agriculture in 2010, but which the plaintiff argued was actually enforced by a present FDA agent instead of the state government. The case ruling established that the FDA would not take action against consumers who purchased raw milk, instead focusing their effort on farmers and distributors.
The second lawsuit took place in California, and involves Organic Pastures Dairy Company, which petitioned for the right to sell across state lines four years ago. The company’s goal is to force the FDA to take final action on the petition, which it should have decided on in 180 days. Both Arizona and California allow raw milk sales, but the Fresno-based company cannot sell its product to the Arizona-based Sprouts grocery stores because of the federal law.
Stories of FDA crackdowns on raw milk dairies, distributors and clubs have emerged across the country. Some people have bought shares in cows to get around regulations, because the government does not prevent people from drinking the milk produced by their own cows.
This battle is only a small part of a far bigger battle over agricultural freedom which involves everything from commercial drivers’ licenses to the estate tax – which will destroy the family farm – to Senate Bill 510, which makes it illegal to produce food valued over $5000 without submitting it for FDA testing.
Raw milk and agricultural freedom is an issue which goes beyond citizens’ right to decide what they put in their own bodies. The ability to grow one’s own food allows for independence and self-sufficiency, and the destruction of the family farm will make people dependent on centralized food supplies. The fight over raw milk and agricultural freedom is a fundamentally important one to the US.