- the right to decide for yourself what foods are healthy for you, and not have it decided by corporations; and
- the continued existence of small dairy farms in Massachusetts
What: Mass Department of Agricultural Resources hearing regarding proposed changes to raw milk regulations which would make it illegal for me to give raw milk to someone.
When: Monday, May 10, 2010, 10AM
Where: 100 Cambridge Street second floor, Boston MA
Why: There's no law against drinking it (yet), so there should be no law against buying it and giving it to someone who is themselves qualified to buy it.
For more details, read on.
Raw milk regulations in the US vary from state to state. In Massachusetts, where I live, farmers can be licensed to sell raw milk, and they sell it on their farms.
This is a huge boon to small dairy farmers in Massachusetts. By adhering to stricter production and sanitation standards, farmers are able to sell their milk raw, direct to consumers for anywhere from $6-$12 per gallon. Their only alternative is to sell it to big distributors for between $1 and $2 per gallon, or occasionally as much as $2.50.
For years, much of this milk has been sold through buying clubs, informal or formal, anything ranging from a small group of friends who take turns going to the farm, to a small business that charges delivery fees. For years, no one has become sick in Massachusetts from raw milk. Small farms have relied on these buying clubs to help them get raw milk to the folks who want to drink it—especially folks who might live far away from the farm, or might not be able to drive themselves to the farm for whatever reason.
The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources has proposed new regulations that would outlaw buying clubs of any kind, by making it illegal for me to go to a farm, buy raw milk, and give it to someone else. So I could not buy some for my neighbor, or for someone who doesn't drive, or is disabled. Or even give a glass of it to someone who stops by my house. The proposed regs are here. Paragraph 27.08A says:
No person shall sell, distribute, provide or offer for consumption to the public any raw milk elsewhere than on a dairy farm where that raw milk was produced provided that to such farm a Certificate of Raw Milk for Retail Sale has been issued by the Commissioner. For the purposes of these Regulations the term “offer for consumption” shall include any sampling of milk by the public or offering of samples to the public.Think about it for a minute: What other products in this country are governed by similarly contextual regulations? Not alcohol or cigarettes; I can buy alcohol and cigarettes and give them to anyone who is qualified to buy them—no matter if they are diabetic, emphysemic, whatever—even though alcohol and cigarettes are clearly some of today's biggest killers. I can buy all the supermarket cakes I want, too, and give them to my diabetic grandmother, even though these cakes contain significant amounts of trans-fats, sugar, and food coloring.
I know…guns! Actually, no, not really. I am free to sell or give my guns to others, so long as everyone involved is qualified to own them, and so long as all relevant paperwork is filed.
Can anyone think of an example of a product with similar regs surrounding it?
Is raw milk more dangerous, and more deserving of regulation, than guns?
There has been no sign of tainted raw milk in Massachusetts for over a decade (or longer, depending how you count). Can the same be said for pasteurized milk? Tomatoes? Peanuts? Spinach? Ground beef? (Hint: The answer is no.) Are there regulations restricting me from giving my friend a hamburger with a slice of tomatoes on it?
Scott Soares, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, has historically been an ally of small farms in Massachusetts. In fact, in a recent hearing regarding the granting of a raw milk license to a farm in Framingham, Soares went to the trouble of writing a letter in support of the license. He could instead have chosen to do nothing, or he could have written a letter in opposition; but he wrote a letter in support. He understands as well as anyone the economics of raw milk sales on small dairy farms—he discussed these economics in his letter.
Why has he changed his tune?
It could be due to pressure from the dairy industry. David Gumpert presents evidence and makes a good case for this theory in his blog, here, raising some questions about the transparency of Soares' dealings. Gumpert's account is worth a read; and if I were in Soares' shoes, I would respond to it as quickly and as plainly as possible.
Why is the dairy industry anti-raw milk? Because the more the public and the press discuss and debate the virtues of raw milk, the more the severe shortcomings of pasteurized-homogenized milk become visible. And raw milk is a product that large dairies cannot produce because their herding and sanitation practices are inadequate, a fact that I'm sure they'd rather not have everyone discussing. In short, raw milk is a public relations disaster for Big Dairy.
Sadly, it is no longer surprising when industry and government are cozy. To anyone who is still shocked by this, I'd recommend watching Food, Inc. For an excellent summary of the movie, check here.
To read "Why this raw milk debate matters", including an interesting question about just exactly what the current regs and laws DO permit and restrict, visit my friends the boston localvores here on their blog.
To read what the Northeast Organic Farming Association has to say about the reg change and hearing, click here.
The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund has as their purpose "[d]efending the rights and broadening the freedoms of family farms and protecting consumer access to raw milk and nutrient dense foods. ". Here's what they say.
Again, Gumpert's blog on the subject is here.
And here is a link to the MDAR website, the proposed regs, and the Notice of Public Hearing.
See you on May 10.
(This post is entered in Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade)