Six years ago, a prosecutor summed up the government’s case against a Missouri cheesemaking family: “This is not about the state’s goal to put this dairy out of business. This case is not a campaign against raw milk cheese or the raw milk movement. It is not about the defendant being subject to unfair laws. It is about protecting the health and lives of every Missourian and citizens across the nation….This cheese can potentially kill those who consume it….Our hard evidence will show there is very harmful bacteria in this cheese.”

The prosecutor was making such a dire argument about bacteria possibly killing us, despite the fact that no bacteria from the farm she was accusing had ever made anyone sick, in more than a decade of producing raw-milk cheese.

On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told a congressional hearing that it’s possible some terrorists have already entered the country while a court stay holding up an executive order to ban immigration from seven majority Muslim countries has been in place. No one will know until they act — or, as Kelly put it, “until the boom.”

The Homeland Securities secretary was making his warning despite the fact that no refugees or others from the seven countries targeted by the ban had been involved in an American terrorist incident, and despite the fact, by his own admission, there was no specific evidence of trouble from one of the countries .

Listening to the arguments in favor of the immigrant ban over the last week, I have felt a lot like I did listening to the arguments against raw dairy products over the years. Lots of hysteria, but little hard evidence to back it up.

I know, the White House issued a list of several hundred terrorist incidents around the world. To me, it sounded a lot like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issuing its list of illness outbreaks. For raw milk, it and the FDA have cited dozens of illnesses from around the country, and the CDC also likes to wheel out its study indicating there are 48 million annual illnesses from tainted food every year.

So I’m having a difficult time understanding why, on the one hand, there is such disbelief among food rights supporters when the government warns that they may die from living organisms in raw milk products, and, on the other hand, such immediate acceptance when the government warns they may die from living organisms who come as refugees to the U.S. The raw dairy consumers feel little fear about the unseen potentially dangerous organisms in raw milk, certain that the good organisms in their body will probably overwhelm the bad ones. Even if they don’t, the odds of illness are very low, they feel.

It seems as if a similar scenario plays out with refugees. The U.S. has for decades been a melting pot, a beacon to refugees from around the world. One of America’s great economic and cultural strengths is that people from all kinds of backgrounds and all kinds of foreign cultures, blend together. Go to many workplaces and schools, and you will find people with all kinds of last names, all different races, all manner of customs. The good and experienced organisms help the new and uncertain ones fit in.

Does that mean a refugee from the Middle East or Africa will never again be involved in a terrorist incident here, after the horror of 9-11? Of course not.  Steps have been taken to reduce the risk, but there is no way to eliminate that risk, just as there is no way to eliminate the risk that you’ll get very sick from listeria or E.coli O157H7. Yet there seems to be zero tolerance for the refugee organisms, and endless tolerance for the risk of the bacteria organisms.

I’ve had a hard time understanding the huge amount of hostility to refugees, from readers of this blog. We, more than anyone, know that trying to keep our food and immediate environment sterile is a recipe for health disaster, has spawned all kinds of chronic auto-immune disease. Trying to keep our country similarly sterile has the same kinds of negative impacts, by fostering suspicion and hostility.

But there is one piece of advice that rings true, from Cheesemaker: “At the end of the day, we’re all in this thing together whether you like it or not.” I agree. We have to find ways to continue welcoming people from all over the world into our communities, with vetting and other precautions, just as we continue welcoming unseen living organisms into our microbiome communities.


In a related human organism case, the government continues its assault on salve maker Sam Girod. Yesterday, in a five-minute hearing, a judge agreed to add a count to his list of accusations in connection with him not showing up for a hearing last summer. The new count could add another 10 years to the 58 the Kentucky Amish business owner faces, according to Sally O’Boyle, a food activist, who was at the hearing. More info here.