Morningland Case Demonstrates Why Private Food Groups Need to Dot Their I's and Cross Their T's, WI Raw Milk Illnesses; Response to CNN Ban Proposal; "Farmageddon"
The matter of people organizing privately to obtain their food is clearly a sensitive one to the judiciary, as was clear in my previous post. And for good reason: it gets to the issue of control. Who controls people, and what they buy? If they are organized privately, those decisions are outside the power structure's purview.
The problem for the powers that be is that the American Constitution has been interpreted on several occasions by the U.S. Supreme Court as allowing the freedom to associate, in other words, to organize privately with like-minded people. Despite his rant, which I quoted in my previous post, I sensed that Judge David Dunlap appreciated that reality more than he may have let on.
During the time Denise Dixon, an owner of Morningland Dairy, was on the witness stand last Monday being questioned by the prosecutor and by her lawyer, Gary Cox of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Judge Dunlap asked a number of telling questions about the operating procedures of the private association established by Morningland after its cheese inventory was embargoed:
"Does this private association advertise?" ("No," she answered.)
"Does you have a separate web site for the association?" ("No.")
"You did not put a sticker on the association's cheese, not for re-sale?" ("No, I didn't--I should have.")
"Did you ask any lawyer how to distinguish your association from the corporation that is registered with the state of Missouri?" (She said she had obtained advice in this area, and obtained a new tax identification numbers, but hadn't taken steps to discontinue the original Morningland corporation until very recently.)
The message I took from the judge's questions was that he hadn't completely ruled out the legality of a private association. Rather, he wanted to determine if her association met certain standards of being completely private. If Denise Dixon had been able to answer unequivocally affirmative to all his questions-- tell him that not only does the association not advertise, but that it has a separate password-protected web site, explicitly warns members not to re-sell product, and had fully ended its corporate status, he may well have been more impressed. Unfortunately, she and her husband had felt compelled to organize the Morningland association on the run, under tremendous regulatory pressure.
One of the things Michael Schmidt had going for him in his Ontario court victory last year was that his cowshare was well established, and followed clear guidelines consistent with its private-association status. The message is clear: to have any chance of gaining acceptance of the approach in a court, you must dot your i's and cross your t's.
The report out of Wisconsin that 16 children were sickened by raw milk is a troubling one. Not only because children got sick, but because it provides fodder for the nightmare scenario often sketched out by raw milk opponents: children become ill from raw milk being served in a public setting. I'd like to know additional details before saying more--for example, whether the milk came from a dairy that specializes in producing raw milk, or from a commercial dairy that normally has its milk pasteurized. Either way, not a good situation.
A couple weeks ago, CNN published an editorial advocating that raw milk be banned. The crazy thing is that the editorial was based on the E.coli illnesses in Europe, currently being blamed on contaminated sprouts. I just wrote a rebuttal for Grist, dissecting the CNN argument for what it was--very fuzzy logic. The comments that have already accumulated make for provocative reading as well.
The Kristin Canty documentary about the state and federal crackdown on small farms, "Farmageddon", is off to a great start--a three-star review on the Washington Post online edition. A number of raw milk advocates appear in the film, including Joel Salatin, Mark McAfee, Sally Fallon, Pete Kennedy, and yours truly. It's opening this weekend in Washington, DC.