Raw Deal for Raw Milk Seller?
submitted by Equal Exchange
You may have heard that a raw-milk seller called Rawesome in Venice, California, was the target of a police raid yesterday. The story got huge traction when, on the Forbes blog American Times, E. D. Kaine misread the initial report from Natural News and reported that the raid was "a multi-agency SWAT team hit." But it's important to note that Kaine apparently misread the initial scoop from Natural News who reported it was a "SWAT-style" raid. Big difference there, E.D.
Here's what really happened. From LA Weekly:
[A]gents from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the California Franchise Tax Board, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and all kinds of police descended on the Venice shop Rawesome to make arrests (video via Venice311).
Was it a showy arrest? A violent abuse of power? Not really. Watch the video. Bored cops muttering, "Step back."
Not much to see here, but I think it's important to mention a couple things on behalf of small farmers, co-op groceries, and consumers who rely on raw milk sales in California.
First, this raid was not an "unjustified crackdown on unpasteurized milk."
Why? Because, unlike Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and roughly half the other states in the US, in California, selling raw milk is LEGAL. Furthermore, California's law is exactly the law that states like mine (Minnesota) should adopt. Here, no retail sales are allowed. There, stores can sell raw milk if they have a license to do so. That way, food safety standards can be controlled, product can be traced more easily if something goes wrong, and small dairies can have access to a potentially lucrative niche market.
So keep in mind: The reason the multi-agency raid went down was this: Rawesome was selling raw milk WITHOUT a license. In fact, this is their second set of arrests. Rawesome was raided back on June 10, 2010, for retailing raw food without a license, but continued to break the law.
As for California dairy farmers, there are plenty who produce and sell raw milk legally. But the owner of Healthy Family Farms, who supplied Rawesome with raw milk, has operated "since 2007 without the required licensing for milk production, prosecutors allege." Meanwhile, farms like Claraville and Organic Pastures play by the rules.
And so do grocery co-ops. P6-member Davis Food Co-op in Davis, CA, sells raw milk every single day of the week. Doug Walter of Davis Food Co-op (DFC) assures P6, "Yes, we are engaged in a legal activity. We sell [raw milk] because our customers want it." He mentioned Claraville and Organic Pastures as the two raw cow milk brands that DFC sells, and he points them out to customers frequently, "because they have protocols in their operations to protect the safety of their milk."
So this raid isn't a crackdown on raw foods. Davis Food Co-op, Mollie Stone's and New Leaf Market all must have licenses to sell raw milk in California. And they pay a tax on their sales, too (hence the presence of agents from the California Franchise Tax board at the Rawesome raid).
As for you Minnesotans who can't buy raw milk at P6-member co-op Seward in Minneapolis? Well, you can still buy raw milk cheese anyway -- try the Organic Raw Cheddar from Pastureland, our Hall of Fame inductee this month.
Photo courtesy Stefan Kühn (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons