Fear of Legal Problems Puts FL Farmers Market, and Its Raw Milk Consuming Directors, on the Front Line in Raw Milk War
The five members of the board of the Alachua County Farmers Market in Gainesville, FL, all love to drink the raw goat’s milk sold at the market by one of the farmers, Joe Pietrangelo of Glades Ridge farm.
But now that same board has banned Glades Ridge from the farmers market, at least temporarily.
The problem, Helen Emery, one of the farmers market board members, tells me, is plain old fear—fear by the board of legal problems should a consumer become ill from the milk. The board has already been told by its insurance company that if the market is sued for any reason, the insurer will pull coverage in the future, she says.
There’s been no problem at the market with the Glades Ridge milk or cheese since the farm began selling its products at the market last May. Indeed, the milk and cheese have become popular items at the market, and helpful money makers for Joe Pietrangelo.
But a farmers market customer, who also happens to be a lawyer and pathologist, planted the seeds of doubt and fear in the board when he pointed out that the market could be liable for damages if someone became ill. In Florida, it’s legal to sell raw milk only as pet food, and indeed, it is sold via retail stores like Whole Foods clearly labeled as such. The Glades Ridge stand at the farmers market similarly has labels posted on the milk and on its stand re-affirming the point.
But, says Helen Emery, “We all know people are buying it for themselves. One of our customers said everyone is drinking it.”
So the board made the decision a few days ago to temporarily suspend Glades Ridge from selling. In the meantime, the board members have been doing research about raw milk—speaking with medical people, lawyers and (uh-oh) the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “It’s a huge issue for us,” says Emery.
She even went out to the Glades Ridge farm to do an inspection. “The place is gorgeous,” she tells me. “the goats are clean, the facilities are clean.”
The problem? “It’s illegal to sell dairy products for human consumption in Florida.”
“If Joe were to get sued, we (the market) would get sued. That would force us to close, which would close out 30 other farmers. It doesn’t just affect him. It affects another 30 farmers, plus 30 additional farmers that come in on a daily basis.”
As for Joe Pietrangelo, he says he could sell his milk via retail store channels, but would rather not. “I don’t want to do store retail sales, because you don’t know your customers. They don’t know you.”
In the meantime, the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund has become involved, with its director, Pete Kennedy, trying to convince the market to restore Glades Ridge’s place in the market.
So you have this crazy situation where the directors of the market, raw milk drinkers, are in the ironic position of being pressured to ban from sale the product they personally consume…and depriving themselves of the freedom to access a nutritious food product. All in hopes of holding the lawyers (and eventually the regulators) at bay to "protect" the other farmers at the market.
That never works. The lawyers (and eventually the regulators) won't be satisfied with just banning one farmer. They'll want more farmers banned from other markets. They'll put the farmers markets associations on notice to warn their members.
Helen Emery is right, this is a huge issue, for all of us. Selling raw milk as pet food is legal in Florida, and to my knowledge, no one has outlawed the human consumption of pet food. (Poor people eat canned pet food all the time.) If the Alachua County Farmers Market gives in on this, I guarantee the FDA and state ag officials around the country will get the idea of using the cave-in to go after the overseers of farmers markets in other places with the same scam: Get rid of the raw milk, raw apple cider, locally slaughtered beef, and maybe eventually, non-irradiated veggies and meats. To their way of thinking, if one consumer can intimidate a farmers market, think what an army of regulators can do.
The board of the farmers market hopes to make its decision in the next few days. What will it decide? “Right now, it’s fifty-fifty,” says Helen Emery.