Milk Wars: The latest battlefront in food freedom

07/31/2012

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by James Corbett
boilingfrogspost.com
31 July, 2012

For centuries, the image of the family farmer has been as iconic a piece of Americana as baseball and apple pie. Rugged and independent, the farmer still represents in the minds of many those true ideals of American individualism that the country was based on, with Thomas Jefferson’s ideal of the “yeoman farmer” providing for him the ideal citizen for the fledgling American republic.

Even now, after the virtual extinction of the family farm model in the corporate agri-business paradigm, long after the American population shifted from predominately rural and agrarian to predominately urban and corporate, there is still the ideal of the farmer, dedicated to a life of hard, honest work, growing the food upon which we all rely.

What an indictment of modern day America, then, that it sits by while a federal agency appoints itself over the remaining few organic family farmers, presuming to come between these farmers and their customers, telling people what they can and cannot eat, and even raiding farms that dare to resist with guns drawn.

Although the recent Rawesome Foods raids have garnered national and even international attention for their senseless violence and the in-your-face nature of the armed FDA operation, these raids were by no means the first such raids conducted by the FDA in the name of keeping the world safe from raw milk.

In 2006, police officers and agricultural officials involved in a “sting operation” arrested Gary and Dawn Oaks of Double O Farms on suspicion of selling raw milk. Some of the shareholders in the Oaks’ cow-share program were physically restrained at the scene, kept from retrieving the milk from their own cows, and repeatedly told to shut up and stay out of the way while officers browbeat Gary, who was later sent to hospital.

In 2008, six Pennsylvania state troopers and a Pennsylvania DoA official trespassed onto the farm of Mark Nolt, a Wenger Mennonite dairyman, confiscating over $20,000 worth of his products and equipment and forcibly arresting Mr. Nolt for selling raw milk without a license.

In 2010, Bloomington raw milk consumer Rae Lynn Sandvig had her home raided by police and was threatened with prosecution by the Minnesota DoA for acting as a distribution point for raw milk from a local farmer.

Many other such incidents continue to take place across the United States, often in localities, like California, where the sale of raw milk is perfectly legal.

Ostensibly, these crackdowns are being done in the name of “safety.” Raw foods, after all, can be dangerous, and pasteurization is touted as one of the great triumphs of modern food safety processes. Recent research and data, however, are challenging long held beliefs about the benefits of pasteurization, and a vigorous debate is currently underway in the medical profession over the safety and benefits of raw, organic dairy products.

Whatever side of this argument any individual comes down on in the scientific debate, the policy and law that comes out of that debate has to be seen in the larger societal and historical context. If farmers have enjoyed the freedom to grow and process their foods as they see fit for centuries, and customers likewise have enjoyed the freedom to purchase those foods from those producers they personally trust, how and why did the FDA gain the authority to interfere in that process? By what jurisdiction does a federal regulator have the authority to legislate what foods people are allowed to put into their own bodies?

The legal argument for FDA jurisdiction in these cases is the interstate commerce clause, that part of Article I of the constitution which gives Congress authority over commerce that crosses state lines. In this case, any food product that crosses state boundaries can be said to come under federal jurisdiction, and with this foot in the door the FDA has argued that it is within their mandate to terrorize family farms, raid them at gunpoint, dump their milk and spoil their produce, and arrest the farmers.

Some on Capitol Hill have attempted to stop this legislative tyranny with counter-legislation that would remove this authority from the FDA altogether.

But reducing the scope of the interstate commerce clause is an indirect way at best of countering the tyranny inherent in this bureaucratic, legislative assault on food freedom. Many people will judge this debate, not on the merits of the scientific arguments, or on the principle of freedom of choice by which individuals are naturally invested with the right to choose what food they do or do not eat, but by the question of “food safety” that the FDA uses to frame their involvement in the debate. This “safety” is akin to that of the TSA’s “airport safety.” In the name of providing that mythical state of “safety” which will supposedly keep our skies free of terrorists and our plate clear of potential hazards, the federal government proposes an all-encompassing, all-pervasive, inescapable bureaucracy with the power to pat down old ladies in wheelchairs and young children alike, or to conduct guns-blazing raids on family farms and private food clubs where voluntary exchanges happen between customers and producers, or even to shut down children’s lemonade stands in state after state, because the proprietors don’t have the proper license to conduct business.

Even if we were to accept the premise that pasteurized milk was in each and every case empirically healthier for each and every individual, and that raw milk was invariably inferior or even potentially harmful, by what right does the federal government come between the people and their dinner plate? If the government is invested with the power of watching over everyone’s individual diet, then why not the mandated eating of broccoli? Why not the banning of ice cream? Why not the outlawing of sugar in favor of aspartame or nutrisweet or AminoSweet or whatever label its corporate manufacturer is assigning it this week in an attempt to dupe an unwitting public?

Once again, we see that the operative principle of freedom is the only guarantee from systemic harm. If the supposedly all-loving nanny government comes in with such mandates and those mandates prove to be wrong, or harmful, then every single man, woman and child in the country has to choose between eating the government-prescribed foods or being an outlaw in the pursuit of a healthy alternative. If the public is granted freedom, however, then no one will be forced into any behavior that they find unacceptable. Those who believe in the unerring efficacy of pasteurization can happily feed that to their family, just as those who seek organic dairy alternatives would be able to purchase that free from harassment.

Such a system does not guarantee that mythical ideal of total safety, but it does guarantee that no wrong decision is hard-wired into society, and that no one is imprisoned for eating the wrong foods. And in the end, who can argue with freedom of choice?

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