How New Body-Bag Strategy on Raw Milk Racked Up a Dairy Industry Win in CA
The late Aajonus Vonderplanitz used to tell me, when one or another state launched an unexpected campaign against raw milk, that he was never surprised. “Even if it seems they have moved on, they haven’t,” he explained on one occasion, after Wisconsin had renewed its campaign against raw dairy farmers back in 2008, following several years of quiet. “They can’t leave this issue alone. It will always be with us.”
And so it has been. California, seemingly a liberal bastion for raw milk, renewed its campaign against small dairy farmers beginning in late 2008, when it went after Sharon Palmer’s goat farm in Ventura County, and then moved up the coast, using cease-and-desist letters from local prosecutors to try to intimidate a number of small dairies into abandoning their herdshare arrangements with neighbors. That campaign eventually culminated in two years of negotiations between dairy farmers and the California Department of Food and Agriculture, leading to the proposed Home Dairy legislation (AB2505) that seemed so promising.
According to one report, the bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, gave this assessment: “AB 2505 was strongly supported by the Community Alliance for Family Farms, the California Grange, and hundreds of individual small home dairy owners, but they couldn't overcome opposition from the California Farm Bureau, Western United Dairymen and the California Medical Association.” Yamana should also have mentioned that the bill couldn’t overcome opposition from Mary McGonigle-Martin, the mother of a boy who was sickened by raw milk nearly eight years ago.
Martin has become a Big-Dairy rock star, as her testimony about the suffering of her son, Chris, with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) has led to defeats of raw milk legislation in Nevada, Iowa and, now the biggest prize yet, California. After she concluded her California testimony, a member of the California Assembly committee hearing the legislation wondered aloud how anyone could serve raw milk to their children. This was the "body-bag strategy" I described earlier this month, in connection with proposed federal legislation on raw milk, in action.
Illinois might have been another notch on the belt for the Martin/Big-Dairy team except that state never got to the hearings stage about the state public health effort to ban raw milk sales in the state; such sales have long been legal direct from dairy farms. Outraged raw milk proponents short-circuited the process in Illinois by overwhelming their legislators with calls. The public health sabotage effort in Illinois grew out of nothing more than the Big Dairy/FDA-inspired tendency Vonderplanitz identified that goes something like this: Well, Illinois has been quiet, it’s close to Wisconsin and Minnesota, where we’ve been pushing hard against raw milk, so let’s go do some damage in a neighboring Big Ag state to farmers and consumers there by getting rid of raw milk.
In the old days of fighting for raw milk in California back in the 1980s and 1990s, Vonderplanitz was accustomed to the regulators simply bringing in doctors and veterinarians to claim that raw milk was inherently unsafe. Kind of like what happened in Vermont last week, when the “experts” testified against a narrow piece of legislation that would allow Vermont’s two largest raw dairy producers to deliver product to customers at farmers markets.
Eileen Wolfe, a veterinarian testifying on behalf of the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association, went on and on at a Vermont House session about CDC data, Minnesota-study extrapolations (about 20,000-plus raw milk illnesses), etc., etc. As for data out of Europe on raw milk’s benefits, based on studies involving more than 23,000 children showing reductions in asthma and allergies, well, that was “anecdotal” and “not crystal clear.”
Even rabies, which has never been shown to be transmitted via raw milk, was a distinct possibility, in her obsessed mindset. “While transmission of rabies in milk has never been proven, such a scenario is impossible to disprove.” There you go. In the holy war logic, if it hasn’t been disproven, and it serves your argument, it must be true.
“Offering milk at farmers’ markets and/or allowing for home delivery have intrinsic dangers relative to storage and transportation because of several factors. First, essentially all milk is contaminated, to greater or lesser degrees, on the farm level.”
I testified at that same Vermont hearing, trying to provide a sense of objectivity and perspective; I used data and examples to point out that children get very sick from all manner of foods, and that serious illness from raw milk is statistically quite rare.
I wrote a few weeks ago that the legislative hearings on raw milk, even when they result in defeat, are important educational events for consumers everywhere. The fact that the dairy industry is resorting to the body-bag strategy is indicative of how seriously the industry takes this.
As a few individuals noted in comments following my previous post, the California hearing last Wednesday helped educate many people about the depth of the opposition that the dairy industry and medical establishment are able to muster against raw milk. The fact that they feel compelled to resort to the body-bag strategy shows quite clearly that we’re in the midst of an ever-more-bitter struggle.
Was Vonderplanitz correct that this struggle is never ending? Or might the dairy industry’s growing desperation indicate we're closer to a climactic ending than we realize? Stay tuned.