Raw Dairy Farmers Wait for the Other Shoe to Drop

It’s been a year since the criminal trial of Wisconsin raw milk farmer Vernon Hershberger, and his acquittal by a jury of all licensing charges. 


Things have been very quiet on the enforcement front since then….almost as quiet as the recent discussion on this blog. It’s almost as if someone flicked a light switch, and said, “Okay, lay off the farmers for now.” Aggressive enforcement in places like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maine, and California against small farms selling raw milk and other farm-raised food on a private basis suddenly ceased. 


Is it an indication the regulators and politicians who control them have had a change of heart, have decided to encourage and accept private food sales? Or an indication of a shift in tactics by Big Ag, and the regulators they control? 


I am inclined to go with the second option. I believe we are seeing a shift in tactics. The regulators and their corporate overseers came to the conclusion that going after small farms with buying clubs and herdshares wasn’t good public relations….in fact, it was disastrous public relations. 


I choose that option because the regulators and legislators have refrained from enacting legislation in any of the state hot spots that would back small-farm sales of raw milk. Indeed, the FDA and medical establishments have worked hard to sidetrack or defeat initiatives in all these states that would have suggested a desire for a real solution. 


What that means is that we haven’t seen the end of pressure on small farms, simply a change in tactics. It could be we’ll see a resumption of the enforcement under the guise of the Food Safety Modernization Act. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration went back to the drawing boards last year after massive opposition to its plans to implement highly restrictive “safety” measures affecting how farmers make compost and use water. 


In April, Newsweek ran a cover article about farmer suicides. The lengthy piece mainly speculated about the pressures of loneliness and droughts as the causes of a rising tide of farmer suicides, not only in the U.S., but around the world. The suicide rate for American farmers is nearly twice that of the general population. India has had more than 270,000 farmer suicides since 1995 and in France a farmer commits suicide every two days, according to Newsweek. 


What the article didn’t touch on to a significant extent was the impact of America’s expanding food oligarchy, and its spreading international tentacles, as a cause. Oligopolies (control of markets by just a few entities) eliminate competition so they can control markets. Controlling markets means paying low rates to suppliers and charging high rates to consumers, so as to maximize profits. 


In agriculture, the suppliers are farmers. The spread of oligopolies (run by oligarchs) in agriculture has had a devastating effect on dairy and meat farmers, in particular, because these are the areas of agriculture with the greatest amount of economic concentration. 


Farmers selling food privately via herdshares, food clubs, and farmers markets threatens these oligopolies by introducing competition into the equation. Oligarchs despise competition—it threatens their control of markets—and will do anything to get rid of it (short of competing based on who has the better products). Pushing the state and federal regulators to shut down small farms on the pretext of not having retail, food handling, and dairy licenses was an effort to send a message to small farms to stay away from selling privately. Of course, the opposite happened as more farmers learned about the opportunities for improved emotional and financial satisfaction via escaping the commodity system. 

So we wait for the other shoe to drop. 

ingvar's picture

You talking about that crippled nut upstairs, the one with only one foot and no leg to stand on? That guy?

David Gumpert's picture

Okay, Ingvar, maybe not the neatest way of communicating the other shoe dropping. 

ingvar's picture

David, your admonishment is hereby accepted with gratitude. Thanks.

Here’s hoping that the various mind-fogs wear off of our fellow citizens and that they will simply walk away from these clothing-optional emperors of our food and will crack the whip of their vote and put an end to this corruption of government for commercial ends with the end result that there will be nobody around to hear the second shoe of the goofballs on the next floor up.

Science is getting beat up pretty badly here as well. These clowns seemingly will grab anything on any pretext and pretzel it to maintain their income stream when this market was shaky from the start and now that the chickens are coming home to roost is simply gone away.

(By "pretzel" I mean three things: 1. lie outright, 2. omit relevant information, 3. shade the truth when in the neighborhood of saying something true.)

Mr. J. Ingvar Odegaard

Sylvia Gibson's picture

They are regrouping. Or maybe giving a reprieve so that those they oppose lets down their guard, then attack again. I doubt they stop until they reach their goals.

mark mcafee's picture

This post is made from deep Mexico where I am working at a Rotary International LIGA clinic. Being a pilot for LIGA has always been a grounding experience. All the trivial food fighting we do in our first world dysfunction is brought back into perspective.

As for my opinion about the other shoe dropping....great question. It is hard to know what is about to happen next. We all know that regulators that are stretched thin...tend to enforce by exception. In other words...no body gets sick and no body complains and generally no enforcement. I also know that here in CA the herd share micro dairy situation is really in limbo. With AB 2505 dying in committee, the delicate 2 year cease fire between CDFA and literally 500 cow shares is now without a mediated future. There is nothing pending...no litigation, no legislation....nothing. CDFA admitted in the Small Herd working group meetings that they had no idea what a Herd Share was in fact they are undefined under CA law. Yet...some if these herd shares operate with many more than 3 cows, the dairy definition limit. Does the constitution and private property rights protect these operations??? What re the standards for these small dairies? AB 2505 set standards and answered the questions about labeling and testing etc...now there is nothing. I just do not know how comfortable CDFA will be with just ignoring this huge food system. So far, several of the Herd Shares have gone ahead and self imposed all of AB2505 union themselves and then sought out RAWMI Listing to assure against state action. I am not sure about that level of assurance either. Just a whole lot of questions with nothing certain.

One thing that is certain...RAWMI is buried in applications from all over the USA and a bunch from Canada. Our biggest problem is not bring able to work through Listing quick enough to serve all of the interested famers. The 6 farmers we do have Listed are showing remarkable results month after month. We even have had some really great learning opportunities with discovery of interesting sources of high coliform...and it is not from fecal origins.

One thing for sure....RAWMI will stand behind its farmers as they go forward into this uncertainty. It is our goal that state agencies and hopefully the FDA will come to respect the work done by this community of Listed farmers and leave them alone as they may or may not enforce against others.

We are not going to be the exception that they need to come visit.

And that, my friends, is a wonderful introduction to the nascent raw milk oligarchy.

David Gumpert's picture

Pete, it's the existing food oligarchs who are prodding the regulators to find ways to keep the boot heel on the necks of small dairies. True oligopolies reign in the businesses of meat, cereal, dairy...and seeds. RAWMI has a long ways to go, a very long ways to go, so long a ways that it shouldn't distract from all the other priorities associated with survival and growth. 

A long way? Maybe or maybe not. The cards are all there for it to happen. We need to stop playing "don't look behind the man behind the curtain" and have a clear eyed view of what's going on here if we don't want to end up in some bad end game scenarios.

The Coming Raw Milk Oligarchy:

Step 1: "FDA will come to respect the work done by [RAWMI] and leave them alone as they... enforce against others." - Mark M.
Step 2: The FDA hears Mark's repeated denigration of small and independent farmers and his claims that RAWMI certificated raw milk is safe and all the others dirty.
Step 3: State/Federal laws are passed allowing raw milk sales only if you're a member of RAWMI.

Of course they accomplished this de facto with step 1 exactly as Mark hopes. And after step 3 is all the usual bad affects of monopolies, parasites, and control structures.

This very thing has happened many times before in many industries from ag to medicine to interior design. The state is as much or more interested in control as they are in protecting any given power group. If they can't stop raw milk they will seek to control and co-opt it. This is their fall-back position. And the more it looks like we're winning the more they'll work to make something like this happen.

David Gumpert's picture

Pete, interesting scenario you envision. Fortunately or unfortunately, it's all a lot more complicated than that. Just for your Step 1 to come about would require the approval of Big Dairy, and I don't see that happening any time soon. FDA isn't going to act without the dairy oligarchs going along, even if its bigwigs shifted. 

I think the other thing you aren't taking account of is that RAWMI, whether it views itself this way or not, is part of a political activist movement. It's a dispersed movement, with lots of activity and groups around the country. In my view, all this activism is essential for real change to come about. Indeed, I probably should have made more of it in my post--that it's the growing amount of activism, from Maine to California, which has been largely responsible for the backing off we've seen in enforcement activities. I sense this activism has caught the authorities by surprise. But it has helped embarrass them by exposing their heavy-handed tactics. 

I hope you're right David. I don't know what is going to happen. This is about looking at the lay of the land and how things could go bad and trying to avoid those.

But I don't think you're right about the 'approval of Big Dairy' part. Laws on raw milk sales are already loosening in many states despite intense pressure from the FDA and big dairy.

Whether this exact tact or something else, they'll come up with some sort of fall back position where raw milk is available but tightly regulated/controlled. This is the tact the dairy establishment in Canada fell back on when Michael Schmidt initially won his case. They were dead set against raw dairy but if it was going to be available they wanted it regulated and folded into the existing control structures.

I think they are all caught by surprise because they are used to consumers being sheep, easily herded around by the mass marketing and pronouncements from on high. And this raw milk thing is hitting a major blind spot for them. They can't even understand what motivates them because to understand that would require them to admitt to themselves that people are dumping their product because it tastes bad and makes people sick. And thats the last thing they can mentally handle.

Remember, when a movement can't be ignored to death or outright suppressed the next stage is to co-opt it. And those efforts to co-opt usually begin before the average person has heard of it. Based on the US Gov's past co-option efforts in things like the tea-party and occupy wall-street and the current level of media penetration on raw milk it is possible that the co-option efforts are already well under-way.

Sylvia Gibson's picture

Thank you Pete, I learned a new word.

mark mcafee's picture


If the use of the word nascent was intended to define the emerging efforts of the RAWMI community of farmers....your imagination has got the best of you. RAWMI is a farmers tool to circle the wagons and protect against the attack of oligarchs. RAWMI is an emerging community of like minded farmers that are developing a technology that will allow farmers to safely produce a healing whole and deliver it to humanity. If you think this is a nascent oligarchy...you are eating our young. Chill dude.

Of course you'd say that. But even if outright oligarchy is not your intent, it is a possible outcome of your work. But what is your goal here?

"It is our goal that state agencies and hopefully the FDA will come to respect the work done by this community of Listed farmers and leave them alone as they may or may not enforce against others. "

The state enforcing raw milk bans against all farmers EXCEPT those in RAWMI. That is de factor oligarchy though not de jure.

So who is eating whose young here really? It is you that has repeatedly denigrated small independent family farmers who don't want to bend the knee to the government. It is you who was been working with the government. It is you who has repeatedly stated it is only by RAWMI standards that raw milk is produced safely. And it is you who who hopes to set your organization up as immune to government enforcement while others hang in the wind.

Ora Moose's picture

Pete come on don't be shy and tell us what you really think. But don't stop there, also tell us what Mark should be doing instead....... What would you do different and how would you do it, or why aren't you? I'm sure he'd like to know I know I would. Fight them or join them. And here I used to believe I'm the most cynical person in the world. And ftr (for the record) I actually agree with most of what you say so don't get mad on me.

Is there an Olichat somewhere? Now that could be interesting.

Ora Moose's picture

"it is you who who hopes to set your organization up as immune to government enforcement while others hang in the wind."

Pete is this hyperbolde or do you actually believe it? I don't think Mark thinks he is beyond the law, on the opposite I thinks he is an easy target, realizes it and speaks out in public but becomes much more vulnerable that way. He is doing what many of us are calling for, because he can while we don't.

There's always something we call proof if you're so inclined. Dust in the wind is all I ever hoped to be.

"It is our goal that state agencies and hopefully the FDA will come to respect the work done by this community of Listed farmers and leave them alone as they may or may not enforce against others. "

Shelly-D.'s picture

Pete, I have a hypothetical question for you: What would prevent the scenario of all raw milk producers from being listed with RAWMI? RAWMI training is free. RAWMI listing is free. What is the downside?

Sylvia Gibson's picture

I do realized you directed your questions to Pete.

Being listed on rawmi is free? To be listed, aren't you required to have tests done? If so, then it is not free.

Shelly-D.'s picture

To play Devil's Advocate, Sylvia, shouldn't all raw milk farmers be testing anyway? Shouldn't all customers be asking to see test results when they choose a farm? And, if you have a "3 cow farm," testing once a month at your local lab is likely reasonable, and is ~$25/test too onerous for customers to absorb as far as price? (let's take $25 divided by number of litres per month, and all to the per litre price maybe?). And, I'd think that one could use one's test results as a form of "marketing" - posting them on the farm website or stapled to a bulletin board in your customers' pick-up area. There are folks who would pay extra for your product if they saw the test results right there. My neighbour who has a cowshare down the road isn't RAWMI listed and has no plans to be, but still tests monthly and emails test results out to her shareholders, and they seem to like it this way. Just a thought.. maybe testing isn't such a bad thing. :)

Sylvia Gibson's picture

Shelly, I guess it all depends on what one believes things should be. No, I do not believe all farmers should be testing their milk. I doubt that most consumers are interested in any test results, or even have knowledge on what the results mean. As for marketing, that is assuming that the farmer wants to market the milk.

I do believe that consumers should have basic knowledge about all aspects of where their food comes from and how it is processed. They do need to learn what to look for when seeking healthy foods. CAFOs milk are tested, and they are not impressive nor something I'd want to consume.

Sylvia Gibson's picture

Just to clarify;

I do believe that if a dairy wants to sell to the majority of the public in stores, like OP and Claravale, then yes, they should test and fall under whatever regulations for ALL dairies (their regulations should be no different than the ones for boiled dairy.)

But farmer John/Jane and their less than 50 head dairies or the small cow share,(who are not selling to the general public) no I don't believe they should have to test unless they want to.

Nothing is free in life, such things need to be paid for. And if all raw milk producers could be listed it would be of no value marketing wise. Just because it is free and reasonable now doesn't mean it will stay that way once in a monopolist position. In fact such a position all but guarantees it will turn into a bad actor.

This isn't an attack on RAWMI, I'm sure they're all wonderful people who mean well. But I'm learning from the lessons of history here. Almost if not every time an organization has come to a monopolist position in the food distribution chain, or becomes required training or certification, it abuses it position for power and/or profit; either against its own members or against outsiders who would wish to enter the industry.

And what of a raw milk producer disagrees with RAWMI's approach? Even though he produces safely he'd be shut out. Or what if a producer disagrees with the results of RAWMI's approach? Or with the politics or politicking of RAWMI. He'd be funding his enemies. [not that that is my issue with RAWMI, it just often happens]

Sylvia Gibson's picture

Your questions have gone unanswered.

Ora Moose's picture

Help, I've fallen and can't find my other shoe !! Good thing I only have one leg.

Does anyone here have a degree in Law of Unintended Consequences? And just what the heck is an omen.

Ora Moose's picture

crapola forgot the musig link again https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0zSB2WEtwU

Most doctors and pharmaceuticals make money by deceiving u doesn''t that just inspire trust? I'll take my dog any day.

mark mcafee's picture

Pete...just got back home. What great reality check.

One question for you?? What kind of power comes out of an under funded non profit with all volenteers dedicated to preventing illness associated with raw milk ?? There is no way that RAWMI can support the infrastructure of hundreds of Listed raw milk dairymen. RAWMI is out to prove a point and change history using hard data and testing results.

Join us or not...it does not matter. We are on a mission to prove a point and change history.

mark mcafee's picture

One more point...ignorance and lack of standards creates places like Foundation Farms, kids in ICUs and a black eye on all raw milk. Is that your idea of freedom. Freedom is not free....it is also not uneducated and or ignorant.

Shawna Barr's picture

Pete, we all contribute what we have to contribute to the pursuit of food freedom. For some of us, it is by actively taking on the "raw milk is inherently unsafe and standards don't matter" vs. "raw milk is inherently safe and standards don't matter" dichotomy with sanity, science, and information.

The activism is only a by-product of the larger benefit of RAWMI though. The greater benefit is the flow of information to farmers who seek to reliably and consistently produce high quality and low risk raw milk. RAWMI serves hundreds of raw milk farms with information through their trainings, with absolutely no strings attached. RAWMI listing is not a requirment to benefit from the information.

Sylvia, cost is not the limiting factor to RAWMI listing. Milk testing is not cost prohibitive to even the one-cow farm. The limiting factor is farmer's desire to pursue listing, and perhaps eventually, as the requests for listing grow, the organization's ability to assist each farm.

As far as the question of "should" every raw milk farmer be testing their milk, I'm not crazy about the word "should" but I do think that in most cases, raw milk farmers and their customers do benefit from milk testing. In most cases, the costs associated with creating and implementing a thorough and tested food safety plan will be a very good investment to the farmer. I receive frequent emails from raw-milk customers around the country asking me if I can refer them to a comparable raw-milk farm.

Sylvia Gibson's picture

As I said in regards to testing, I believe it is up to the farmer to do or not, unless they want to sell in stores. As to standards: Whose standards are right? Or who is to say one way is better than another way? You can have two dairies, one doing whatever protocols rawmi requires and the other doing whatever they've been doing for 10 or more years with no sicknesses from either. Who says that a farmer should be required to have SOPs written? Why would a small farmer be required to have a 'food safety plan' in writing? Or any of the other forms rawmi requires?

I've no doubt that the majority of farmers have their own set of unwritten standards and they've been working just fine. For anyone to imply that those farmers are ignorant and/or have no standards is no different than that dude that likes Russian Roulette with his raw milk.

I don't think any are against teaching safe practices, what kills it, is his attitude and verbiage that basically sends the message; his way or the highway.

Shelly-D.'s picture

I believe that the free market, consumer demand, should set the "requirements." But its obvious that consumer demand failed us re people buying from Foundation Farm, etc.. We tend to look with envy at Europe and its free trade in raw milk - but those farmers have strict protocols they must follow.

My own motivated self-interest comes from living in a place where raw milk sales are illegal (both federal and provincial law), it's a "health hazard" (provincial law), and it's illegal to "supply" raw milk to anyone other than a processing plant (provincial law) so even cowshares are illegal. RAWMI, or an organization like it, is our chance to break this deadlock. How we're going to deal with the Milk Marketing Boards, I don't know - but convincing the government that raw milk is not a health hazard and convincing them to repeal that law is going to require something organized like RAWMI.

Shelly-D.'s picture

The other shoe is dropping in Illinois - see http://midlifefarmwife.blogspot.ca/2014/06/raw-milk-mondayidph-moves-for... .

= Prohibition via over-regulation.

David Gumpert's picture

You're right, Shelly. The Illinois Dept of Public Health has apparently gotten orders from the FDA to do whatever it takes to eliminate the state's raw milk farmers....despite an absence of any illnesses. It will be up to the state's raw milk consumers to stand behind the farmers who are willing to defy the state, and test out the sanctity of private contracts.....much as Vernon Hershberger did in WI and Alvin Schlangen did in MN.  I believe IL farmers will get support from around the country. 


D. Smith's picture

Why not just haul out the free market strategies and let them play out? Not the fdA, no sir, not ever. Because it might work for the good of the people and that doesn't work for their agenda. Imagine it. Talk about a shoe dropping.