Why are armed government agencies constantly raiding peaceful family farms for producing milk? How did the war on raw milk get to where it is today, and what is the solution to procuring one of nature’s greatest foods?
Milk, Whiskey and War!
Cattle have been domesticated for 10,500 years, and Europeans started drinking raw milk around 7,500 years ago. For thousands of years the consumption of fresh nutrient dense raw milk was never a problem, until recent history. With burgeoning large scale industry, came the need for more workers. Industrialized communities drew workers from farms and the countryside into the cities. These healthy people wanted their raw milk.
As the Industrial Revolution exploded, by 1810 thirsty workers staffed factories and mills throughout the east coast. Whiskey and milk were the beverages of choice. As cities grew, so did the demand for both!
The 1812 war all but halted imported distilled spirits from Europe. To quench the common folk’s soaring thirst for alcohol, distilleries opened up in most major cities. That is when a cut-throat entrepreneur came up with the disastrous idea to inhumanely confine cows adjacent to distilleries and feed them with the hot nasty swill left over from the spirit-making process. The only way to get the cows to eat this filthy slop was to cut off all food and water and feed them salt to induce thirst. They were force-fed cold swill until they grew accustomed to it, and then weaned onto hot slop straight from the stills.
The torturous conditions of the cows confined to cramped filthy pens combined with their diet produced a pale, bluish milk so horrific in quality, it couldn’t be used for making butter or cheese. Mix in sick workers with filthy hands, diseased animals, and unsanitary milk pails and you have a concoction for disaster.
At this time, basic science regarding germs and microbes was decades away and a substantial percent of the people that drank “swill milk” became deathly ill, with many dying. Contaminated milk was fed to babies by unwitting mothers, and this is where raw milk erroneously got its bad it reputation. In 1870 (New York city alone) infant mortality rose exponentially to around 20%. The infant death rate stayed there for several more years as big business profited off of swill milk with no regard for human life.
The following historical events are rarely told, and extremely important. The unacceptable rise in infant deaths lead to two choices—Higher quality farming practices in city dairies, or disguising infected product from unhealthy animals.
Instead of addressing the filthy urban dairy conditions, big business sought to mask the taint using additives such as Plaster of Paris, chalk, sugar, eggs, starch, flour and color pigments to alter the swill milks watery, pale-bluish and foul tasting natural state. They even had the audacity to label it as “Pure Country Milk.”
Infant mortality languished for years until two men from different mindsets, were brought together due to milk related deaths of their children. The first, Dr. Henry Coit from New Jersey, urged the creation of a Medical Milk Commission to oversee and certify raw milk production for cleanliness. In 1893 he was able to do so.
Coit tirelessly worked with key dairy experts. He and his unpaid team of physicians were then able to enlist dairy farmers who were willing to meet the strict Medical Milk Commission standards of hygiene while producing fresh clean certified raw milk. Milk was once again safe and available for public consumption. However, it cost up to four times the price of uncertified milk.
The second, New York philanthropist, Nathan Straus. Straus had an entirely different view. He believed that only pasteurized milk could be safe. Straus had made a fortune as co-owner of Macy's department stores and spent decades using his wealth to promote pasteurization across America and Europe. Using unlimited finances, he set up and subsidized the first of many low-cost ”pasteurized milk depots" in New York City.
Straus had incredible influence beyond his wealth to promote pasteurization over healthy and humane farming practices. Straus was Parks Commissioner from 1889 until 1893, and in 1898 he was president of the Health Board as well as Commissioner of the Department of Health. Sterilizing diseased milk started to gain traction over healthy farming practices…
Greed and profit seduced government and medical professionals with corporate dollars and lies into controlling and promoting cheap mass-confinement production over healthy humane farming practices. This basically stopped the supply of nutrient-dense healthy raw milk from reaching the people.
It has only been in recent years that consumer demand and pushback against government backed, chemical-laden, and low nutrition processed foods has grown. The fight is for access to healthy, nutrient dense real foods. Consumers are now demanding their rights to choose healthy foods from the producers of their choice!
Corruption in the Swill Milk Industry
Early 1800’s. America’s largest cities kept thorough records of all deaths. New York City from 1814 to 1840 reported that deaths from children under five increased from 32% to 50% percent. Other major city records were similar. By the mid to late 1800’s, distillery dairies were rampant in many US cities. Tragically, these dairies caused and contributed to the high infant mortality rate including deaths from tuberculosis.
Most of these distillery dairies operated without oversight. In 1858 respected illustrator and journalist, Frank Leslie, published a scathing exposé on distillery dairies in his newspaper. Three days after Leslie’s exposé hit the newsstands, rather than shut down or change how distillery dairies operated, New York mayor Daniel Tieman uselessly ordered the City Police Department to crack down on milkmen with expired milk cart licenses. Leslie’s accurate portrayal of swill dairies did little to improve conditions beyond surface action.
The corrupt swill milk industry was not willing to give up their deadly but lucrative product. They hired lobbyists who convinced New York politicians to speak in favor of swill milk and block proposed legislation. A New York City official even taunted Leslie about corruption in the city legislature, "They dare not ban swill milk!’ Don't you know that every one of those cows has a vote?" A result of this government corruption--Swill milk was responsible for almost one quarter of all childhood mortality in Manhattan until 1891.
In 1894 Nathan Straus opened four depots throughout New York offering sales of sterilized milk, raw milk, modified milk and coal side by side. The milk was from a farm in Delaware County, NY. His first aim was to obtain as pure a milk supply as possible, and for this purpose the dairy was inspected by a veterinarian of the New York Board of Health, and was approved by Straus himself.
During this time, Straus sold raw milk alongside sterilized milk and there seems to be no documentation of raw milk illnesses from any of Straus’ milk depots. This supports Henry Coit’s teachings in the safe method of sanitary raw milk production and transportation standards. Nathan Strauss, the world’s biggest promoter of sterilized milk knew that a clean dairy meant having healthy milk—raw or sterilized.
With all of these claims that sterilized milk saved the day, it is more likely that sanitary farming practices and advancements in distribution were the real reason for fewer milk borne illnesses.
“The most important source of contamination is undoubtedly the dairy, where dirty and ignorant methods are almost universally employed, not only during the milking but in the subsequent care of the milk. Delay in transportation affords time for the multiplication of the germs which have entered the milk. It is evident that this danger may be met in one of two ways: best by a reformation in dairy methods and the manner of transportation, but failing in this, by sterilization.” By Rowland Godfrey Freeman - Medical Record - August 4, 1894, Vol. 46 - pg. 133
Dr. Coit’s Certified Raw Milk program and Straus’ sterilized milk peacefully co-existed for over four decades until the truce ended in 1944 when a concerted media smear-campaign was launched with a series of fraudulent magazine article attacks dedicated to striking fear into raw milk consumers.
By the end of World War II, 3.7 million of America's farms had milk cows with the majority selling raw milk to their families, neighbors and local distributors. For years, farmers resisted the relentless pressure to pasteurize their milk. In order to increase profits, government and big corporate interests had to shut down small farms. The weapon of choice… assassination of raw milk farmers through the use of “fake news.” In 1944, 1945 and 1946 a series of dishonest articles were published in popular magazines designed to destroy the good reputation of raw milk. And it worked, until now.
The coup de grâce in the assassination campaign on raw milk began with a 1944 article in Ladies' Home Journal titled, "Undulant Fever.” This article was written without accurate documentation and falsely claimed that tens of thousands of people in the US suffered from raw milk related fevers and illnesses. A year later Coronet magazine published an article full of lies titled “Raw Milk Can Kill You.” The malicious Coronet article, written by Lieutenant Commander Harold J. Harris was then similarly repeated in articles published in The Progressive and a year later in The Reader’s Digest.
Harris’ original Coronet article claimed that a fictitious town called Crossroads had an epidemic of undulant fever. Harris wrote, “Crossroads, U.S.A., is in one of those states in the Midwest area called the bread basket and milk bowl of America. What happened to Crossroads might happen to your town - to your city - might happen almost anywhere in America.”
Harris goes on to give lurid details of undulant fever allegedly caused by raw milk. Harris writes about a false epidemic that, "spread rapidly as it struck one out of every four persons in Crossroads.” And another lie is presented as fact in his article when he claims that, “Despite the efforts of the two doctors and the State health department, one out of every four patients died.”
To add even more frightening fuel to this Fake News firestorm, Harris’ lies were widely spread by respected newspapers throughout the United States. Much like fake news articles that go viral in today’s social media, lack of fact checking and blind trust in media took its toll. Raw milk's reputation was forever tarnished and the public demanded action.
Sadly, after the damage was done, the truth came out when Harris admitted in an interview with J. Howard Brown of Johns Hopkins University that there was no town of Crossroads, the outbreak was fictitious and represented no actual occurrence. His article was entirely fabricated, a lie…
Why would Lieutenant Commander Harris lie about something that had the potential to affect millions of people adversely? This raw milk assassination not only gave big corporations huge profits, it gave them control over people's freedom of choice. A devastating side effect of the milk sterilization movement was the death of hundreds of thousands of America’s small farms.
During Ronald Reagan's administration, a judge put the nail in the coffin for raw milk choice when, at the behest of Ralph Nadar, a court case and ruling allowed the FDA to ban the interstate transportation of raw milk for human consumption.
Government agencies, influenced by big business, continually use draconian measures to harass and attack our local farmers. Our bureaucracies use 75 year old lies-- bolstered by modern regulations--as a way of suppressing access to our choice of healthy foods.
Mothers, through government sanctioned warning labels, can legally smoke and drink through pregnancies. They can legally feed their children soda pop and fast food three meals a day. But, it is against the law for a farmer they know and trust to provide the milk they choose for their children. This is about choice--our choice to choose what is best for our families without the risk of government aggression and harassment to criminalize this normal, peaceful human interaction.
Draconian Attacks Upon Peaceful Farmers
Dozens of raw milk farmers across the country suffer from the brutal enforcement of outdated and oppressive regulations. Millions of consumers suffer daily for not being able to secure the foods they seek from the producers of their choice, and/or from the artificially inflated prices of a scarce black-market product.
Our farmers, and the people they serve, are modern victims of gross misuse of abusive powers. Our small farms and farmers are increasingly being shut down, are facing overwhelming charges, and are spending valuable time and resources defending themselves. All at the hands of government agencies.
How do we keep the government from raiding, fining and shutting down the farms that we depend on to feed our families?
The Solution—A Beginning
Part of the key to consumer choice lies in making sure that our laws and regulations align with our values. If we value a direct relationship with the producers of our food, our regulations should not interfere with that relationship. Sadly, the FDA uses fake news and outdated regulations to keep our farmers suspended in anticipation of when or where the next attack will come.
Farmers and consumers coming together creates a voice strong enough and loud enough take back our choices. To begin this, the FDA is considering a rule change, via a citizen’s petition, where they will not enforce against raw milk farmers who carry a specific label on their products.
Raw Milk Citizen petition explained
Citizen’s Petition For Exemption of Raw Milk Interstate Transportation Ban--When the Milk is Labeled as Indicated
Advocates for direct farm-to-consumer food rights, the Real Food Consumer Coalition (RFCC), filed a citizen’s petition with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This petition, when accepted by the FDA, will eliminate an important layer of FDA regulatory burden against raw milk farmers—the agency’s ban on interstate transportation or sale of raw milk--if they provide warning labels and a recipe for pasteurization on raw milk products.
The warning labels are similar to labels currently required in many states. The recipe for pasteurization is included so that individual consumers can make their own choices about how to best handle the milk.
This petition asks the FDA to accept such labeling for raw milk products, as an alternative to its extreme prosecution of Amish farmers and others who for centuries have produced and consumed raw milk products.
Emord and Associates, a Washington DC law firm with extensive experience in food regulation, filed the Citizen’s Petition with the FDA on April 26, 2017. The FDA legally has 180 days to respond.
While we await the answer to the petition, attorneys for any farmers cited, during this waiting time for non-compliance with CFR1240.61, can file a motion of stay of enforcement for their clients pending the response to this petition. This option will work for many farmers, but we must give farmers and consumers the strength of a legal change as well. These changes, once implemented, will go a long way to giving farmers peace-of-mind while they produce the food that consumers are asking for so desperately. United We Will Succeed!
We ask that you join with us, join our efforts to free our farmers from the burden of a history of lies and deceit. Government interference in our peaceful transactions for food—something that should not be criminalized to begin with—must stop. And it can stop with us. The time for that to happen is now.
Raw milk consumers want a clean, safe product they can trust.
December 24, 2018
Farmers want to meet the growing demand for raw milk that Americans are increasingly consuming. The CDC and state agencies say they want to help keep people healthy. Until now, federal and state agencies' operating procedure has been to ignore the consumer-driven growth in the raw milk industry. Until now, agencies have attempted to squash access via threats, scare tactics, and intimidation against farmers rather than working with farmers on best practices and problem-solving. Given the recent RB51 vaccine episode, is a dramatic change taking shape?
In the past, if there was ever a suspected illness allegedly linked to raw milk, the CDC, FDA, and state agencies took an aggressive approach to immediately shut down a farm whether or not there was any actual evidence that an illness came from that farm. FDA and state agencies attacked farms for simply producing raw milk whether or not there was any indication of illness. Often, putting the farm entirely out of business and leaving lasting trauma on the family and never clearing farmer’s names when agency reports were inaccurate or mis-leading. It has been a few years (possibly coinciding with the Real Food Consumer Coalitions’ (RFCC) citizen petition to the FDA) since there has been loud and aggressive enforcement. However, these years have still seen enforcement action in other areas including "cease and desist letters" and economic sanctions against dairy farmers more generally.
Recently, the New York Department of Health identified a possible case of illness associated with RB51--a strain of bacteria found in the bovine brucella vaccine. On rare occasion, a vaccinated cow can shed some of this bacteria in the milk. This bacteria can go on to cause illness in some individuals.
The New York Health Department identified the possible source based on voluntary testimony from an ill person's family. Once the Pennsylvania farm was identified, a new approach proceeded. Miller's Biodiversity Farm in Quarryville, PA, as is protocol, was immediately quarantined, but only for the raw cattle milk and products produced with that.
Dr. David Wolfgang, VMD, MPH, Director of Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services with the PDA offered to help in identifying wether or not the bacteria strain came from that particular farm and, if so, which animal. Dr. Wolfgang’s team, with the assistance of RFCC (a consumer and farmer-facing group asked to help by the farmer) began on-farm testing immediately.
This type of unity ensures that consumers are getting the cleanest, safest raw milk possible from a farm they know. It also illustrates that state agencies are gaining an understanding that raw milk consumption is not a quick-lived fad and is a lasting demand. And it demonstrates to state and federal agencies that the best way to guarantee a clean, safe food supply is to work with farmers on safety and problem-solving rather than on draconian enforcement practices of laws that are useless to all those working to solve the challenges.
The way this recent RB51 vaccine related issue has been handled (to date) gives hope that a new day is dawning where farmers do not need to live in fear of regulatory agencies shutting down or economically destroying their farms. Rather, there will be cooperation to provide what everyone says they want--a clean, safe food supply with transparency and best practices at the forefront.
This recent challenge provides an exciting opportunity for raw milk farmers, consumers, and government agencies alike. RFCC looks forward to working with all involved to continue this hopefully new trend of agencies working in partnership with farmers who embrace transparency, as opposed to further emboldening an underground market that has no oversight whatsoever.
New updates will be posted as information comes in.
Organized by the Real Food Consumer Coalition (RFCC) and partnering groups, A Taste of Small Farm America is an annual grassroots lobby day and legislative reception focused on removing the barriers of access for direct farmer-to-consumer sales.
This event celebrates the abundance of the land and the fruits of our labors. An innovator in the meeting of politics and food, it is a farmers market-style event, including a small-bites reception for our legislators, staffers, and event attendees. This event connects small farmers and consumers with our legislators providing a face and voice to “small farms” and “local foods.”
This year it was held on Wednesday, September 26, 2018 on Capitol Hill, Washington DC conducting meetings with Congressional Representatives and Senators all day and then celebrating our farmers, consumers and lawmakers hard work with a Local Foods Reception in the Senate Dirksen building.
Are you thinking about joining us next year? Please let us know if you would like to attend. Sign up to get updates or to be notified about our lobby and advocacy training calls. Looking forward to seeing you there!
If you are unable to make it, but would like to support our efforts, please consider making a donation here.
RFCC's mission is to unite communities in preserving access to healthy, safe food
produced by farmers working to restore natural ecosystems.
"We envision farmers—both rural and urban—peacefully feeding and nourishing
their communities from the gifts of the land and, in turn, consumers supporting our
farmers, the land and each other through these inherent connections."
- Liz Reitzig, Founder
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