From the Middle East, a Rallying Cry for Raw Milk and Food Rights Activists
Barack Obama gave a remarkable speech in Israel last week. Remarkable not just because he challenged Israeli young people to push for peace with the Palestinians, but because he was cheered by the young Israelis in the audience.
One of his statements especially resonated at home, possibly in a way he didn’t intend: “Let me say this as a politician -- I can promise you this, political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.”
Around the U.S., ordinary people are pushing their state and local politicians to take risks over the issue of raw milk and food rights. Nearly everywhere you look, it seems, there is a skirmish over raw milk and food rights. In some cases, the politicians are responding positively, and in other places they are responding negatively. But the efforts on behalf of food rights seem more widespread this year than ever before. And I’ll bet they’ll be even more widespread the year after that.
I have selected a few examples of developments affecting legislative and other initiatives on behalf of raw milk. For a more complete listing of initiatives that have been under way, the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund monitors the legislative proposals.
*In Texas, hearings are being held to change the state’s law to allow raw dairies to sell at farmers markets and to deliver to customers’ homes, reports Judith McGeary, of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance.
*In Nevada, an assembly committee heard testimony on behalf of a proposal that would officially legalize the sale of raw milk, heard testimony from Mark McAfee, owner of the country’s largest raw milk dairy in neighboring California.
*In Maine, a ninth town, Brooksville, has passed a Food Sovereignty ordinance, allowing for private sale of raw milk and other farm products directly from town farmers to consumers.
*In Arkansas, a House committee defeated a bill that would allowed raw milk sales from farms, by a nine-to-eight vote.
*In Montana, a House committee has approved legislation that would allow raw milk sales direct from the farm. Interestingly, the bill’s supporters felt compelled to remove a provision mandating testing because state agriculture officials were objecting that testing is too costly. So to avoid this opposition, the legislators approved a labeling provision. When the bill comes up for a vote, the opponents will no doubt criticize the absence of required testing...damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
*In Wisconsin, the state’s governor, Scott Walker, has indicated he would sign legislation that made raw milk available directly from dairy farms. This is a reversal from 2010, when the state’s then-governor, Jim Doyle, vetoed legislation allowing sales from the farm. Legislation is due to be introduced within the next few weeks.
*In Iowa, a bill that would have allowed sales from the farm failed to make it out of committee to the full House.
*There is an effort in North Dakota to reverse the state’s existing laws, which allow the sale of raw milk from farms.
*The National Farmers Union, a 110-year-old representative of small family farms, approved at its national convention a resolution in favor of raw milk, “as it provides a viable market niche for dairies.” It recommended “that raw milk be bottled as the product of a single source...” And it said there should be “equal access to raw milk (and or raw dairy products) for human consumption for all consumers that choose to consume raw milk.”
Joseph Heckman of Rutgers University in New Jersey sent me a headline from a newspaper in 1980, about an Iowa farmer being jailed for refusing orders to discontinue sale of raw milk. His point was that this battle has been going on for many years, and seems nearly endless.
But as the forces for food freedom grow and expand, one thing is clear: there are more proponents than opponents. The problem is that the opponents often have more money, to influence key legislators. The proponents need to keep pushing and organizing and backing politicians who understand that food choice is important to the vast majority of people. There will inevitably be defeats along the way. For better or worse, maintaining access to wholesome foods is as much a political process as it is a farming process.