Last Friday in Louisville, Kentucky, the city’s Department of Health and Wellness issued a cease-and-desist order to the Whole Life Buying Club, and then placed the organization’s milk cache under quarantine. Since the contraband milk has not been pasteurized – it comes directly from a small farm located outside the city – officials deemed it a potential threat to public health and safety.

In response about 40 members of the club picked up their milk as usual, after having signed the following declaration:

I, the undersigned, hereby declare that I have taken my milk that comes from cows I own via private contract under the protection of the KY constitution (articles 1,2,4,6,10,16,26), and if the county health department would like to speak with me about this matter, I can be reached at the number given below.

As the collective statement of club members indicates, there is a legal twist here, in that nobody can be “guilty” of either selling or buying contraband milk because the milk itself undergoes no transaction – rather, club membership entails purchasing a share in the cattle that supply the club. In other words, the health department was trying to regulate club members’ access to milk from their own cows.

For those who don’t know, raw milk has become increasingly popular in recent years, even as federal and state health agencies have sought to suppress its consumption through highly aggressive campaigns. The impression created by the FDA’s anti-raw milk literature – and by federal sting operations, such as the one that foiled Amish dairy mastermind Dan Allgyer – makes one wonder why the Department of Homeland Security is so slow to get in on the action. It is, after all, only a matter of time before a vengeful Al Q’aida gets the bright idea of weaponizing the stuff.

Certainly cui bono? applies. To keep employed, Beltway locusts must come up with work for themselves – i.e., find new ways to justify meddling in everybody else’s lives. It is, furthermore, hard not to notice the longstanding chummy relationship between our incorruptible public servants and corporate agribusiness. More theoretically, those trying to understand the ongoing expansion of FDA power might resort to Tacitus’ belief that the more corrupted a society is, the more numerous are its laws – a belief revived and revised into the concept of “anarcho-tyranny” by the late Samuel Francis of Chronicles.

Yet above all the fetish about pasteurization highlights the contemporary zeitgeist of hygenic morality and its yearning for a sanitized utopia. Without scientists, social engineers, and metropolitan health & wellness departments to save them, of course Kentuckians would all slide back down into an existence somewhat resembling that of their ancestors – and Ford knows we wouldn’t want that. Sterility is next to godliness, per the new dispensation; say what you like about the tragic-mad Nietzsche, the tortured man spoke truth when he warned that our antiseptic liberal age “promise[s] to invent a way of life which refrains from all organic functions.” As a boy I once read a sci-fi story depicting a future hydroponic society, the inhabitants of which get nauseous at the thought of eating “filthy” dirt-grown food; today in the real world I’m told that there are indeed those who find the smell of manure from a barn more repulsive than the unnatural odor from a chemical plant. No doubt there is some nanotech engineer hard at work somewhere designing a milk-synthesizer, so we might happily eliminate not only the hick farmer but even the foul cows.

Contempt for the very earth and the traditions from whence we come is one symptom of hubris. Another is what biochemist-gadfly Erwin Chargaff described as “galloping expertitis” – modern society’s tendency to mistake a parcel of facts for omniscience. Given that the technocratic establishment spent years countenancing and even encouraging cow cannibalism, crop monoculture, the use of artificial growth hormones and DDT, and a petroleum-dependent food distribution system, only such expertitis can explain the experts’ continued expectation of being treated as infallible oracles.

As for Louisville’s MiniWel in particular, as of this writing its representatives have conceded that the quarantine has no legal basis – yet evidently regard miscreant raw milk drinkers as undeserving of an apology. It seems hunting the White Whale is so important that there is no time to express the slightest hint of embarrassment (much less remorse) at having been caught out-of-bounds: OK, OK, so we overstepped our authority – so what? We’re still right and we know it, and what you need, comrade, is a tall, cool, frothy glass of USDA-approved shut-the-hell-up.

 This refusal to learn humility from gross mistakes seems indeed a universal vice among the American managerial elite. Neoconservative foreign affairs wonks noisily agitate for more and better wars, like the one waged because of Iraq’s non-existent nuclear weapons program. Self-righteous liberal pundits sermonize about reactionary hate, conveniently forgetting the days when the crème de la crème of liberalism never tired of licking Stalin’s bloodstained boots.

To top it all off, now the same Know-It-All expert class that uncritically peddled the miracles of industrial agriculture has the nerve to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward a natural form of food. Hesiod was on to something when he identified Shame as a god who dooms a country by departing from it.

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  1. In 2005 Virginia briefly toyed with the idea of making FRESH milk illegal for even farmers to drink; the bill was passed in committee, but even its supporters realized that preventing farmers from drinking their own milk would probably be a step too far.

    Still, interest in closing this “loophole” is publicly mooted periodically; the effect of which is to keep folks from (heavily) investing in Fresh Dairies – which, of course, is exactly the objective desired by the Industrial Commodity interests in VA.

  2. “Sterility is next to godliness, per the new dispensation; say what you like about the tragic-mad Nietzsche, the tortured man spoke truth when he warned that our antiseptic liberal age ‘promise[s] to invent a way of life which refrains from all organic functions.'”

    Exactly. Thanks for the articulate and well-argued piece.

  3. I agree with the entire critique, but I do think the FDA is a great organization. If we are going to have a large and industrial state – which does indeed bring us many benefits we sometimes don’t want to admit – we need organizations to protect consumers.

    I’m intrigued by the story. What was their argument for banning the milk? I assume at some point non-pasteurized milk poses a health risk, but it would seem not in a localized economy. But I’m totally ignorant of the facts.

  4. Marchmaine, a while ago (I can’t find the article now), some counties in MI tried to make it illegal for animals (ie calves) to drink raw milk!! I hope someday the FDA doesn’t try to regulate human milk…

  5. Very well stated.

    Statism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere may make a consequential personal choice.

    A corollary definition: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere may trust his neighbor more than the state.

    When I was growing up we often bought unpasteurized milk from local farmers precisely because it was unpasteurized. This became more difficult already in the 1960s, with the widespread use of bulk tanks and tighter inspections for Grade A milk, but we did it anyway. I’d sometimes be the one to walk over to a nearby dairy farmer’s milk room and dip some out of the bulk tank into a pail I had brought along. This was not exactly legal, but we had instructions on how to do it without risking any problems with the milk inspections. Such problems could incur considerable cost for the farmer.

    Laws against the sale or purchase of unpasteurized milk do have one positive effect, though. They teach impressionable young minds that the regulatory state is more often stupid than not. They act as a preventative against unwarranted respect for government.

    BTW, this Whole Life Buying Club you told us about is going to get one of my not-nearly-famous-enough Leviathan Ankle-Biter awards.

  6. This raw milk stuff causes an elevated number of illnesses. I’d just as soon not have it being consumed in my community. Not appreciating the heavy hand of government is one thing. Ignoring the simple science and safety of pasteurization is another..

  7. Observor — which illnesses? I am new to all this and really have no clue. Whenever I read about this ‘illness” seems implicit — but I’m not seeing and documentation or even a simple explanation. If nothing else the FDA has a public relations problem and it needs to deal with it. I engage in all sorts of risky behavior — when does it become a public health problem and not merely the latest crusade for nosy wonks?

  8. There’s no way to get ill from raw milk if it a) comes from a healthy cow and b) is contained in clean containers. The only reason pasteurization is even necessary in mainstream milk production is because of the unhealthy practices used in industrial dairy farms. People get sick from mishandled and contaminated raw milk, not raw milk itself. Those who sell raw milk are by and large responsible farmers who raise their cattle in such a way that the risk of e. coli and salmonella is negligible. Of course, the conditions on industrial dairy farms are breeding grounds for those bacteria. The FDA is right to regulate industrial milk sales, but to prevent outright the sale of any raw milk product is a totalitarian act. I’m more and more convinced the FDA does more to protect the industry from the consumer than the other way around.

  9. Observer, my family and I have been drinking raw milk for 3 years now (2 gallons a week), and have never had any illness from it. It’s cheaper and tastes better and you get “free” cream to make fresh butter. Jesse is right–there are real, scientific reasons to regulate milk “produced” at filthy dairy farms whose cows are never off antibiotics (I’ve been to a few, and some are small and family owned–they just can’t or won’t care for their cows the way they should). The farm we get our milk from has a great reputation and even checks the bacteria level after we fill our jars. And did I mention it’s half the cost of organic milk at the grocery store?

    Plus, you can tell right away raw milk has spoiled, unlike pasteurized milk (the smell is not nearly as strong). A friend visiting China bragged about how the ultra-pasteurized milk over there can stay on the counter all day and never spoil!

  10. _I’d just as soon not have it being consumed in my community. Not appreciating the heavy hand of government is one thing. Ignoring the simple science and safety of pasteurization is another._

    Sounds like Observer would be more heavy-handed than the FDA, if such a thing is possible. S/he wishes that I wouldn’t even drink raw milk from my own goats. I hope that’s just a wish and not a willingness to let the government prohibit it.

    During the Carter years there was a big homesteading movement. The economy was tanking, and a lot of people were hunkering down. We bought our goat ‘n chicken acreage about the time when Reagan came into office and made things better, but we kept on with it anyway. I figured that if a railroad lawyer like Abraham Lincoln could milk his own cow, I could milk a goat. I was accused by some of trying to have my own little third-world-country. Eventually we gave most of it up due to the desire to send kids to college, travel more, etc. I sometimes miss it. We still have our 7.5 acres. If Bernanke and Geithner keep having their way, we may need to hunker down again and bring back the goats and chickens.

    And no, it’s not a matter of ignoring the science and the safety. I make my living at place where ecological research is done. My own research, back when I was trying to be a researcher myself, was with population dynamics in aquatic systems, a field which brings one into contact with microbiology, epidemiological models, and such. You don’t need to ignore the science to purchase and drink raw milk.

  11. Raw milk? Next thing you know, these hillbillies will be smoking tobacco. We must save them from themselves.

  12. When milk is placed upon a list of “contraband”, a person should know that they have entered a kind of twilight realm where the regulation itself is more important than the underlying premise behind the regulation.

    Sure, it might not last as long as the clammy gruel delivered to the mass market but the taste and texture is a helluva lot better . “Perishable foods”…what a concept.

    The nerve of these organic anarchic hippies . Don’t they know that they are supposed to maintain a High State of Fear so that their government can protect them?

  13. The interesting thing is that Raw milk is actually much more nourishing than pasteurized milk. It still contains all of the [Good] bacteria and the vitamins that are easily digested in our bodies.

    Pasteurized milk, however, contains no bacterias therefore it does nothing to promote the health of the gut. It is also “fortified” with vitamins, though in forms that our bodies cannot digest.

    Raw milk supports local, sustainable farmers. Pasteurized milk supports, well, agribusiness.

  14. Excellent article. Some states do allow raw milk, including the one I live in. To sell raw milk, farmers allow their cows and milk to be tested periodically for certain diseases. This protects farmers and consumers and ensures access to “safe” raw milk to those of us who appreciate it. This model would translate well to other states and is something worth emulating.

    But we must not forget that pasteurization was a reaction to a real health risk – bad milk being produced in bulk (usually in large cities) by large unregulated corporate farms. People were getting sick in large numbers from the milk. And in true ‘statist” fashion the answer became the problem. Pasteurization was more simple than regulation and became the “standard”.

    Raw milk represents more that just a desire for better milk. In a broader sense it represents what we as a society have given up – a more pastoral way of like – compared to what we have gained – a more complex and sterile society. One represents a wholeness gained through hard work and natural order; the other represents a less-than-whole approach that equates “efficiency” with “better”. Keep up the good fight! And if you get a chance, pick up a gallon or two of raw, fresh buttermilk. Now that is something worthy of a revolution!

  15. “Drinking raw milk today causes an elevated number of illnesses”. Lets assume that it does. My response is “so what”! Drinking pepsi every day also causes an elevated number of illnesses. Need I say more?

  16. Per the CDC’s own data, raw milk is roughly 10 times as safe as pasteurized milk, give or take a little. Note what is happening in Europe right now with veggies – you cannot eliminate risk in a fallen world.

    More so, 1/4 chickens at the conventional store has at least one strain of pathogens that is antibiotic resistant. New strains are coming about almost yearly now thanks to our broken, industrial, chemical, pharma agriculturally model.

    Those who are against real milk are usually ignorant, not only of the data, but of how ecosystems, nature, farming, and life work.

    The FDA and USDA are on a mission to destroy not just freedom, but food, and those who consume healthy food especially, turning us all into additional american zombies, barely able to function on the nutrient deplete and chemical laden crap they shovel down upon us through their subsidies, programs, and the like.

    I have watched over 20 thousands gallons of real milk be consumed over the past 4 years without a single report of illness – Taco Bell, Mc D’s and the like cannot claim the same, yet no one clamors for them to be hammered.

    We are a very lost nation in great danger of going over the final abyss.

  17. I ‘m amazed at all the apologists for government thuggery in the comment section! People, trading with your neighbor is a basic human right. If some third party comes in and tries to stop your peaceful trade, you have a right to stop that person by whatever means are necessary. A fancy sounding title and a ridiculous government costume impart no legitimacy.

  18. Great article. I find it disturbing that children today are afraid of dirt, bugs, and anything outdoor related. This is a terrible trend and is reminiscent of Huxley’s Brave New World.
    The philosophy behind the argument to legally acquire raw milk is fundamental to liberty and freedom. If we expect the government to protect us from the “dangers” of food, where is the line to be drawn?
    With our Nation cursed with large amounts of debt, is a million $ plus sting operation on an Amish man a reasonable thing to pursue? Wake up America!

  19. Fun over at CNN:

    Notable lines:
    “Proponents of raw food believe natural products are healthier. This is a myth. In actuality, those who consume raw food, in particular unpasteurized milk and juice, are taking an unnecessary risk with their own health.” (A) Natural products are healthier (B) A is a myth (C) Therefore, raw foodies take a risk. Huh?!

    “Outbreaks from raw milk are relatively common. According to the FDA, 85 outbreaks of human infections occurred from 1998 to 2008. More than 1,600 people were infected during that time, and two people died.” Were these 85 outbreaks solely related to raw milk, or are these infections from food (raw or not) in general? Are these “human infections” all even food-related? I couldn’t find the FDA report to which he refers. Two deaths in ten years doesn’t sound too bad.

    My husband told me about an article about corporate gardens at a programming/design company. The company’s employers got free lunch every day (work-grown veggies + fruit, plus I believe the business provided meat, bread, etc.) for working the garden. As a programmer, my husband says working out a problem in your head could definitely be easier with the chance to go out and do some manual labor outside. Some comments after the article expressed concern about the safety of that–you know, since the garden is unregulated.

    I think our culture has a stronger repulsion of biological harm than synthetic chemical or mechanical (machine) harm. If we are really concerned about 2 people dying every 10 years, or even 1,600 getting sick or injured every 10 years, why are we “allowed” to drive cars and use RoundUp?

  20. I think that the FDA, like the AMA and the ADA are in bed with the pharmecutical industry. They are acting in the interests of those, while allowing them to fleece the flock. (The American People). Government has become a ruling class, instead of the servants of the American People!
    Just google Floride, and see if you want to drink or bathe in it, and yet we do, daily. This insanity has to STOP!

  21. One German organic farm has just killed twice as many people as the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the Gulf Oil spill combined.

  22. This is why I would prefer a heavy water reactor in the backyard rather than accept a filth laden bunch of silverbeet from a neighbour.

  23. Regarding Russia’s ban on filth laden beets from the EU, I enjoyed this article from the Moscow Times.

    “Always look for a little worm in your food,” said Tamara Naldeva, who sells honey at the Dorogomilovsky farmers’ market between Kievsky Station and Kutuzovsky Prospekt….

    Naldeva also spoke of how difficult it is to find organic food. But she said she usually trusts her taste buds and worms to determine the health value of a product.

    “Organic products taste better,” she said and, as for the worms, “if you can find one in an apple, it’s probably a good indicator that no pesticides or chemicals were used to grow it.”

    But my favorite paragraph was this:

    “The quality of food is an intimate affair between the consumer and producer,” explained Alexander Semyonov, a spokesman for Rostest Moskva, an independent organization that issues food safety licenses.

  24. Pasteurization was an important tool in cutting the prevalence of tuberculosis, which used to be endemic. At some point however, people must be allowed to choose and drink their own poison. If we turn every bit of medical knowledge into positive law, we run up against the honest statement of a med school professor to his class: “By the time you retire, half of what we are teaching you will have been proved false.”

    The longer and more complex the supply chain, the more important it is to regulate it. The more local the product, and the more informed the consumer, the less necessary regulation becomes. We’re not, as a whole, going to do without big industrial supply chains. The statement members of the co-op signed should be more than sufficient basis for the inspectors to relax and go away.

  25. I grew up on raw milk. I am a mom of three and have had a cow share for years. Some of the above comments surprise me coming from this site. The FDA is NOT our friend. Farming was meant to be on a small scale. What a blessed freedom to know the farmers who supply your family with milk, eggs, produce and meat. Small is beautiful.

  26. “Farming was meant to be on a small scale”

    A few years ago, when I was living in West Virginia, I knew a man named Ellis Baker, now deceased, who kept two small herds of cattle, and an electric motor repair shop. He explained that there wasn’t much raising of dairy cows any more in the state, because local dairies had been bought out by regional dairies, based in Ohio and Virginia, none of which found it cost effective to make the rounds of the mountain back roads to collect milk for processing. They relied on larger, more intensive dairy farms, a shorter shipping distance from their plants.

    Unfortunately, until we can figure out a way to get our overwhelmingly urban populations redistributed across the countryside, without mega-suburban sprawl, and without taking up huge amounts of good farmland to build housing subdivisions on, MOST people will not know the blessed freedom of personal acquaintance with the farmers who provide their families with milk, eggs, produce, and meat.

    To really get back to the land, at present, would require killing off half the population — by some lights, perhaps a redundant surplus population, but it still raises significant moral concerns. Meantime, we have long supply chains.

    Actually, at the time Pasteur did his initial work, even small local supplies were infected with tuberculosis and other infectious pathogens. General improvement in hygiene has no doubt made that less true, and offered more options than mandatory pasteurization. The real problem is not that we should get rid of the FDA. It is how to distinguish between big bad supply chains, that need rigorous supervision, and small local producers, without creating loopholes for the big regional corporations and their large legal staffs to take advantage of.

  27. Raw milk is not a POTENTIAL threat to health, it’s a REAL threat to health. One of my high-school friends died of brucellosis because his parents were “health-food” advocates who insisted on using raw milk.

    Some parts of bureaucracy and technology make sense and some don’t. Basic public health is a part that makes sense.

  28. I’m all for fresh milk — it’s been almost 10 years since I last consumed any “pasteurized” dairy products and I keep a few Jerseys at least one of which I hand milk every morning and evening — but I’m almost inclined to side with the FDA and pasteurization proponents based on Jerry’s article and the comments thus far. First of all, we’re having this discussion on the internet which presupposes a heavily industrialized society. Do you all want an advanced industrialized society or not? Let’s face up to the reality that our modern industrialized lifestyle is dependent on the kind of big government that regulates how milk is processed and distributed (along with 10 gazillion other regulations.) Katy asked “…why are we “allowed” to drive cars and use RoundUp?” The answer is because 99% of our population chose to give up fresh milk in order to have cars and not hoe cotton or soybean fields. Fresh milk belongs to a way of life we sacrificed a long time ago for our modern lifestyles. Our modern lifestyles are dependent on technology and supply chains which are far too sophisticated for us to safely depend on without the heavy hand of government control and regulation. Let’s also face up to the reality that “cow shares” are a legally complicated way for rich, consumerist suburbanites to buy high priced snake oil. The “shareholders” are going to pick up their milk in their $40,000 minivans and SUV’s. They have money to throw away on snake oil, so they’re buying fresh milk. Let me see them hand hoeing a cotton field, and then I’ll believe they don’t want heavy government regulation of their food supply. In the meantime, the government’s just doing what’s necessary for the way of life we all asked for.

  29. Bravo, sir! I’ve never read anything by this author or on this site, but was led here after my search on raw milk. I love this, and will certainly be looking for more from this brilliant writer!

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