How Uncertain Legislative Battles Over Raw Milk Mask the New Realities of the Marketplace
It’s only Thursday, and I find myself planning my food club order, to be entered Sunday and delivered late next week. Actually, I’ve been planning it for several days already. How many dozen eggs should I order? How much kefir? How many beef livers? How much raw milk?
Sometimes I am resentful that I have to plan so far in advance, when many of my friends and neighbors satisfy all their needs on demand, at the local supermarket, or at box stores. But, then I remind myself that I am accessing food of much higher quality and nutritional benefit than I could ever find in the public markets (at least in Massachusetts).
A couple of pieces of legislation that might have made such foods more easily available via deliveries and cow shares have stalled in the Massachusetts legislature….again. But I am coming to realize that isn’t unusual and, more important, it’s not necessarily a terrible negative.
I am grateful that I can access high-quality nutrient-dense food from farmers and other producers I know and respect. Regardless of what happens legislatively, I expect I and my co-members will continue to access such foods, not only because we value the foods, but because we value the farmers producing the foods.
Raw milk opponents, and their corporate backers, tend to get wrapped up in keeping score as they try to block legislation to expand availability of raw dairy. They take joy in defeating this or that legislative initiative, and think they have deprived people of food people highly value.
Well, I’ve got news for them. The tenor of the struggle over raw milk has shifted, and it is less about notches in the belt, and more about educating politicians and the public at large, as well as enjoying the expanding relationships with producers that more are discovering comes along with raw milk.
There’s a story at the Weston A. Price Foundation web site suggesting some raw milk drinkers in Georgia are worried about proposed legislation that would allow raw milk retail sales. As it is, raw milk sales are illegal except for pet food, but many people ignore the limitation and buy raw milk directly from farmers for themselves, not their pets. People appreciate the relationships they have with dairy farmers, and they worry the new legislation could mean all kinds of new regulations around retail selling of raw milk—regulations that could rock their boat.
Similarly, Liz Reitzig provides an upbeat account of the defeat of legislation in Maryland--yet again-- that would have allowed herdshares there. She is upbeat because, even though the legislation never made it to a legislative committee vote, the raw milk flows for those in Maryland who want it, and many more people in the FDA’s home state are aware of the real issues around raw milk. It would have been nice to have the legislature following along with the reality of what’s happening on the ground, especially for Maryland farmers who feel hamstrung by the prohibition on any kind of raw milk sales in the state, and it still may, next year or the year after.
In California, it’s a similar situation. Legislation is pending to allow herdshare arrangements for the more than 1,000 home dairies are distributing raw milk via herdshare arrangements. While those doing it would like to gain legal clarity via the legislation, it’s not as if the milk is going to stop flowing if the legislature delays or the governor demurs. No, raw milk is going to be widely available in California straight from the farm, along with at retail. There is no way the authorities could stop it, and the longer they allow it to flow unimpeded, the more difficult it ever would be to separate people from their food.
The message in all these legislative tales, different as they might be in their details, is that the word is getting around and ever more people are becoming educated about raw milk. People who want access are finding access. The legislative process continues to expand, on a stop-and-start basis, and in so doing, becomes as much an educational process as a law-making process.
And acceptance of raw milk expands. Just in the last few days, a coalition of 19 House members in Washington have introduced bipartisan legislation to weaken or eliminate the federal ban on interstate sales of raw milk, according to the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. It wasn’t that long ago when Rep. Ron Paul had difficulty getting even a single co-sponsor of his legislation to eliminate the federal ban on raw milk.
This new federal initiative, like many at the state level, may well die. But make no mistake about it. The nature of the game is changing, becoming less black and white. More and more people are living according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture advisory, “Know your farmer, know your food.” The longer the game stays uncertain, and the market for raw milk continues to expand, and the more people learn from their friends and neighbors about the real pros and cons, the more it becomes a fact of life.
Big picture, this new reality is much different than the raw milk opponents envisioned a decade ago. Remember, back in 2000, raw milk was facing a very uncertain future around the U.S. The largest raw dairy in the country, Alta Deena, had stopped producing the raw milk that supplied much of the West, and raw dairies and commercial dairies were dropping like flies in the Midwest and East. Today, we see, in many areas of the country, thriving raw dairies. It’s a quiet marketplace, but it is a growing and expanding marketplace, and it is creating new facts on the ground.
I don’t want to seem to be diminishing what those working on behalf of new legislation are doing. Quite the contrary. Those efforts are more important than ever. What’s essential to appreciate is that everyone working on behalf of legislative change isn’t fighting an all-or-none battle. Each legislative proposal to legalize wider access to raw milk is also part of an educational process, part of an effort to broaden direct farm-to-consumer relationships, part of an effort to encourage sustainability, part of an effort to inform about the dangers of factory food. New legislation will certainly clarify things in certain areas, but it is ever less central to how people are living their lives.