Bull in the China Shop? Sparks Fly As RAWMI Inserts Itself into Local Legislative Battles Over Raw Milk in WI and MN; Before-and-After at One Market
I can remember when I was a kid, and visiting guests were expected momentarily, my sister and I would be admonished by my parents not to "fight in front of the company."
Raw milk supporters in Wisconsin and Minnesota are on the verge of fighting in front of the company--the company being legislators in their states who are wavering on whether to pass legislation that would ease access to raw milk.
The fighting, which so far is being played out behind the scenes, threatens to move into public view as resentment mounts among local raw milk supporters in Wisconsin and Minnesota over intrusions into the legislative process by the fledgling Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI).
One of RAWMI's goals, in addition to establishing raw dairy safety standards, has been to push for legislation that will expand access to raw milk.
RAWMI has begun this effort in three states that have experienced intensive regulatory enforcement against producers and consumers--Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California. In California, RAWMI has been involved since last summer in helping mediate between goat milk herdshares and the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
In Wisconsin, RAWMI has involved itself in helping push forward legislation that would legalize the production and sale of raw milk from Grade A dairies. In Minnesota, RAWMI has been negotiating with legislators about allowing raw milk to be delivered to consumers; now, it's only available to consumers who travel to permitted farms.
So far, RAWMI's approach is of the bull-in-the-china-shop variety-- stirring up lots of controversy...about its own tactics and communication practices in working with established raw milk activists.
The problem first came to my attention about ten days ago, when a couple of raw milk activists in Minnesota complained to me that their group seemed to be shut out of RAWMI's efforts to influence legislators on expanding access to raw milk there. They said they didn't mind RAWMI coming in, but resented being kept in the dark about discussions going on between RAWMI and state legislators.
Then, earlier this week, the head of a local raw milk activist group in Wisconsin voiced similar complaints in an email to other activists.
"Red flags are popping up with RAWMI and now that they are working with DATCP (the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection) I have even greater reservations about RAWMI," Andrew Mastrocola of the Wisconsin Raw Milk Association stated in an email. "Now the big money players in raw milk are doing an end around and want to use our inroads to get their overbudensome raw milk legislation on the docket instead of ours. The group in Minnesota that has been working on food freedom issues and health freedom issues and they also already have legal raw milk have been asked to drop their bills and accept RAWMI's in blind faith. That's right they are not being allowed to see what RAWMI is proposing. Rumor is that RAWMI's version of legislation for Minnesota is full of overburdensome safety regulations and destroys the work done for the past 14 years by the group in Minnesota."
The Wisconsin and Minnesota activists are upset not only with RAWMI, but with the Weston A. Price Foundation for its support of RAWMI. In a letter to members recently, Sally Fallon, the head of WAPF, wrote, in part:
"RAWMI is making great strides in the regulatory and law-making communities. For example, Stacy Pearson, RAWMI’s Vice President, has been meeting with the California Department of Food and Agriculture to define a legal herd-share that will be exempt from regulation!
"As a result, she has been asked to work with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture on their raw milk legislation...In Minnesota, legislators are lined up to carry the new RAWMI raw milk access bill and RAWMI is meeting with their activists to coordinate a Raw Milk Day at the Capitol."
All of which prompted Mastrocola of Wisconsin to wonder in his email if WAPF was inadvertently sabotaging long-term local efforts, which had resulted in legislation being passed back in 2009, only to be vetoed by the governor. "Why are we paying a lobbyist and working so hard if Sally is working behind our backs to get a different type of raw milk legislated in Wisconsin. Something stinks in WAPF land..."
I'm not sure what's going on here, whether it's a clash of communication and lobbying styles or a serious disagreement over substance. Or maybe a combination. The locals in both states are feeling shut out of RAWMI's lobbying campaign. But part of what concerns the locals is that RAWMI appears to be pushing for "safety" rules that the locals consider "burdensome."
Whatever the situation, it seems as if the various parties should be able to work together to iron out their differences and come to a common agenda. It's not as if the food rights movement is so powerful it can afford in-fighting and dilution of effort. In the current crackdown climate, the regulators can be forgiven if they sit back and smile. It's never good form to fight in front of the company.
The two photos here are the ones Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures sent me to illustrate the pent-up demand for raw milk. There were taken 50 minutes apart, showing how quickly the milk disappeared at Our Little Market in Los Angeles.
The photos illustrate a broader trend, says McAfee: "We boosted our routes by 150% (amount carried on the trucks) and the stores are selling out in 1.5 days (with a week's worth of product delivered) demanding re-deliveries immediately. We cannot catch up with demand. This is more than pent up demand. This is a new market."