Friday, August 31, 2007

Who's afraid of raw milk?

Raw milk, the unpasteurized dairyland goodness that is the basis for most of the world's great cheeses, is becoming a political issue.

In Pennsylvania, farmer Mark Nolt is being harassed by state agriculture officials for the crime -- yes, crime -- of selling unpasteurized dairy products to consumers who want them.

Earlier this month, state officials seized some $25,000 worth of supplies, equipment and products from Nolt's farm in Newville. Nolt told reporters that the state threatened him with arrest and imprisonment if he tries to sell again without a permit.

The issue is more than just about a missing permit, however. While Pennsylvania does grant permits to allow sales of unpasteurized milk, the state expressly bans farmers from selling raw-milk products like cheese and yogurt. Nolt has sound-minded customers interested in buying, yet the state says no, and is willing to use its law-enforcement powers to block him.

Raw milk is an issue in states across the country. The New York Times recently reported on the rising controversy pitting raw-milk advocates against agriculture bureaucrats.

As the Times story notes, interstate sales of unpasteurized milk are forbidden by the federal government. In 15 states, any sale for human consumption of raw milk is banned, and another 26 states put various restrictions on its sale.

In San Francisco, where I live, raw milk is legal, widely available, and delicious. (I made some ice cream with it recently, which was out-of-this-world tasty.)

But in places like New York City, where it's much, much harder to come by, black markets thrive. According to the Times, Amish farmers are shipping up to 200 cases a month of the stuff to buyers in the Big Apple.

My view? Banning this milk is ridiculous. Sure, consumers should know that bacteria may be present in unpasteurized milk. Sure, farmers should be required to take care in handling and distributing the stuff. But ban it? The Nanny State needs to back off on this one.

Read more about it:

Should this milk be legal? New York Times story.

Raw milk rally. Cumberland County Sentinel (PA) story.

Farmers fight back. Lancaster Farming (PA) story.


Painted Hand Farm said...

Ok, let's get our facts straight. First, there was NO EQUIPMENT taken off of the Nolt farm--only illegally produced products.
Nolt's farm was not surreptitiously raided, either. State Representative for Cumberland County, Will Gabig personally intervened to mediate the situation between his constituent and the PA Department of Agriculture. Mr. Nolt didn't even dignify Gabig's effort to contact him. Gabig even went to the Mennonite bishops in the area to warn them about the state and federal agencies that would be coming to the farm to confiscate his illegal products.

All the people involved in this case have bent over backwards trying to accommodate Nolt, but he flatly refuses to do even the simplest of things to help ensure his milk maintain the standards required to legally sell raw milk, one of which includes regular testing to assure there are coloforms (shit) in the milk. Ever been in a milking parlor? Even if cows are healthy and grass-fed, if you don't have a clean milking environment, you can have dirty milk. It's that simple.

He wasn't surreptitiously "raided" either. Even the State Representative in this region attempted to contact Nolt to try to help rectify the situation before it got to the point were law enforcement was going to confiscate his illegal products (again, no equipment was taken). Nolt refused to talk to his elected official. So the representative went a step further and went to the bishops of the Mennonite church and explained to them what was going to happen so they could warn Nolt and try to rectify the situation. Still, he ignored everyone.

The truth is that there is PLENTY of legal raw milk available, but people would rather make it seem that they are attempting to procure something that has been outlawed. Pennsylvania has some of the most progressive raw milk laws in the country and instead of focusing our energy and resources on someone who has chosen to flagrantly break the law, we should be working on making raw milk legal in all 50 states...not just about half of them.

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