New Age Dawning for Raw Milk? But Who Will Milk the Cows (and Pick the Veggies and Wash the Dishes)?

My friend Rifat Sonsino trying his hand(s) at milking a cow recently during a visit to a farm. I know for a fact he doesn’t want to do this for a living.

Many signs are pointing to a possible golden age for raw milk. With just a few exceptions, government assaults on American raw dairies appear to be receding, while state legislative initiatives broadening the availability of raw milk are popping up in states around the country.

From Hawaii to Massachusetts, including Montana, Illinois, and Iowa, legislators have put forth proposals to liberalize the availability of raw milk. (For details, go to Food Safety News, and do a search for “raw milk legislation.”)

So what’s going on? Are bureaucrats at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in hiding, avoiding provocative actions against raw dairy producers until they know more about who their new leaders in the Trump administration will be? Or are state legislators becoming less afraid to reduce regulation of small food producers, including producers of raw milk? Or is the new spate of raw milk legislative proposals merely a continuation of a trend well under way over the last ten years, of breaking down prohibitions against raw milk, and expanding availability?

I’m not sure we’ll have a clear answer any time soon. We know from past experience that just because legislation broadening raw milk availability is introduced and passes a committee or two, is no guarantee of passage—the Big Ag lobby has shown itself very capable of de-railing whatever legislation it wants. But one thing that is clear is that the spate of proposals to ease raw milk availability is being accompanied by big changes in the agricultural labor situation.

For any number of agricultural products, from avocados to nuts to oranges to spinach and lettuce, to dairy products, undocumented immigrants are a  major component of the harvesting and distribution. What will happen to American agriculture when a significant part of its work force disappears as many thousands, perhaps millions, of immigrants, are sent packing to Mexico and other countries in Latin America?

Predictions run the gamut, from projections of a collapse in the food system to arguments that little of major consequence will occur (aside from farm worker wages going up and food prices following suit).  For now, though, many in the food industry are very worried.

I find myself wondering if the immigrant expulsion isn’t simply a back-handed way for Trump to begin producing all those new jobs he promised during the campaign. Take all those menial food harvesting jobs, along with restaurant dish washing and hotel chambermaid and lawn maintenance jobs and turn them over to real American citizens. I guess you could make the pro argument in economic terms, except for the fact that such menial jobs have gone to immigrants for a simple reason: the wages tend to be lower than what American citizens will accept.

Will the dearth of bodies for those jobs force the wages up to a level American citizens will accept? Perhaps.

It turns out we’re not just debating some complete unknown—there is some history to inform in this realm. The last time such a seemingly logical process was tried, it failed miserably. It seems that America took a similar tack in the late 1920s, also to rid ourselves of perceived job poachers, in favor of “Americans first.” Here’s a description of the episode, and how it helped lead us into the Great Depression, from John Mauldin, a very astute and popular investment analyst, and Trump sympathizer:

“While I don’t think (please God) we are anywhere close to implementing a policy as draconian as Herbert Hoover’s was in the late 1920s, it would behoove us to remember his Mexican Repatriation, by which somewhere between 500,000 and 2 million American residents of Mexican ancestry were forcibly returned to Mexico. Many of these deportees were actually US citizens. And this was done without due process. I kid you not. By the way, this program was continued by Franklin D. Roosevelt for another four years. This program is a dark blot on American history, one that I think was even worse than the Japanese internment camps of World War II. The expulsion was carried out in the name of ‘protecting American jobs’ and putting America first; and then it was followed up with policies that were designed to make America productive again, including the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which was a contributing factor in the Great Depression…..

“America decided that the global production playing field was tilted against American interests and needed to be leveled. I don’t think anybody today would want to go back to the 1930s. Nobody wants another Great Depression. Again, let me remind you that FDR did not repeal Smoot-Hawley and continued many of Hoover’s destructive policies . There is plenty of bipartisan blame and shame to go around here.”

I know a lot of people here want me to simply write about raw milk trends, pure and simple. No screwing around with “politics” (as if all the pro-raw-milk legislative proposals aren’t “politics”).  The problem is that the struggle for raw milk (and other food) rights is tied in to other issues of rights. As I have pointed out, raw dairies have long operated in a gray area of the law, much like many immigrants. In my view, we shouldn’t arbitrarily throw out immigrants any more than we should arbitrarily shut down raw dairies, based on narrow and rigid determinations of the law. Our legislators should be figuring out reasonable compromises on immigration, to the benefits of both immigrants and the American economy, just as they should be helping craft compromises that allow for freedom of access to the foods of our choice.

14 comments to New Age Dawning for Raw Milk? But Who Will Milk the Cows (and Pick the Veggies and Wash the Dishes)?

  • Ken Conrad Ken Conrad

    The influx of migrant workers into the US and Canada is designed longstanding cheap food policies.

    Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) for example, “brings in 30,000 labourers annually from Mexico, Jamaica and other Caribbean countries to reap and sow its crops… As one Ontario greenhouse owner states, “SAWP is the lifeblood of our industry””.

    And why is SAWP the lifeblood of the labour intensive agriculture industry?

    Because as I stated at the beginning, farmers and those they employ are kept under the yoke of national and international cheap food policies. As such migrant workers (in Canada that is), “are exempt from labour laws that govern minimum wage, overtime and rest periods”, yet the migrant workers “are required to pay employment insurance and pension-plan premiums, as well as income tax”.

    Canada’s SAWP as stated in the above article, “allows workers to come into Canada on an eight-month contract and return to Canada annually, but does not permit family members to accompany them. Other farm workers come via the agricultural stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker program that allows migrants to stay in Canada for up to four years, then requires them to leave for at least two years, meaning they have to abandon their housing and social ties. Both programs require workers to stay with one employer and neither gives workers immigrant status, or a path to Canadian citizenship”.

    Indeed, as Dr. Jenna Hennebry, director of the International Migrant Research Centre at Wilfrid Laurier University states, “These workers live in conditions most Canadians would not accept, often with no access to phone or transportation…”

    • David Gumpert David Gumpert

      Ken, I think you’ll find that much more significant factors in reducing food prices have been chemical fertilizers, automation, and, for meat, CAFOs and other such “manufacturing” techniques. The cheap migrant labor tends to be employed in picking fruit like cherries, citrus, and apples, along with lettuce, veggies, nuts and such, and milking cows. The growers are in competition with each other, as well as with imported crops picked by cheap labor.

      If you’ve sold or bought dairy, you know that consumers are very price conscious. It’s their demands, and the forces of competition, that drive farmers to the lowest-priced labor.

  • Ken Conrad Ken Conrad

    Correction…The influx of migrant workers into the US and Canada is designed (to prop up) longstanding cheap food policies.

  • JHeckman

    Include New Jersey in the list of states trying to legalize raw milk sales:

  • Gary Ogden

    David: Thanks for the history lesson! I had no idea that this had taken place. Manufacturing jobs will never come back, as humans are rapidly being replaced by robots, even in China. In food production, though, low-wage workers will always be necessary. I read a recent report that the largest garlic grower in Gilroy had raised the hourly rate from $10 to $15. They didn’t do this because they’re nice guys, but in an attempt to retain workers. Good news about raw milk legislation. On the other hand, in 30 states forced vaccination bills have been introduced at the same time that the most recent science has clearly shown how the aluminum adjuvants (in most pediatric vaccines) are the driver of the autism and auto-immune epidemic (J B Handley has an excellent article on this). Soon enough there won’t be workers to do any of the things we need them for, if pharma takes full control of the “public health” system. The new FDA guy sounds dangerous, but hopefully Dr. Price at HHS will drain the cesspool at CDC.

  • Bob

    I don’t think that even if the wages go up for picking lettuce, mowing lawns, cutting up animals, washing dishes, etc. that most Americans would take the jobs. It’s grueling work that many now eschew.

  • Cat

    In Europe, where we do not have access to low salaried labour, we have milking robots. But they are very expensive. However, the milking robots make it possible for family farmers to keep their dairy, and get a less strenous life, where it is not 16 hour days 7 days a week. I have worked on large scale dairies in California and Washington. Sometimes I had American students helping me. They were quiet worthless, and could not survive many hours in those hard working conditions. Americans are not willing to get their hands dirty, roughened, sun scorched, and backs bent. Americans have grown too soft for that. Therefore I think that the current administration will be forced to back down from their nationalistic egocentric plans.

  • Joe C.

    The illegal, undocumented workers are simply here illegally and breaking the law by being here. In addition, they are breaking the law by working illegally as well. They are not paying taxes. As a result, they should face consequences for breaking the law. That is simple justice and equally. Equality is being equally subject to the law. It is NOT showing favoritism to illegal, undocumented workers. Yes, their wages may be cheaper, but they are not paying taxes. Trump plans to lower taxes. That should help balance things so the farmers can hire people legally at a higher wage and their profits not get crushed paying a higher salary. That can help with creating more equality in the workforce and help raise wages. To put it another way, Americans won’t compete with illegals for their jobs here when the illegals are gone.

  • blesse'd are the cheese makers

    Once upon a time there was a young chick who was sitting by an oak tree when an acorn fell from the tree, striking the young chick on the top of his head. The young chick looked up and perceived this event as a sign that the sky was falling. The young chick, whose name was Chicken Little, decided that he must run to the castle to tell the King that the sky is falling.

    Chicken Little rallies many of his unemployed animal friends and together, they embark upon a journey to the castle to see the King. (As a side note, Chicken Little and all of his friends were progressive Democrats. They decided to call themselves the snowflake gang).

    On the road to the castle, Chicken Little and the snowflake gang happened upon a fox, who was sitting on a nearby rock. The fox inquires as to the reason for the snowflake gang’s journey to see the King. Chicken Little informs the fox that they are headed to the castle to hold up signs, shout out slogans, and jump up and down in fits of uncontrolled emotion in attempt to tell the King that the sky is falling.

    Henny Penny, one of the members of the snowflake gang, who was also a chicken, told the fox that he was going to the castle to hold up a sign indicating that he thought of himself as a duck and that he had a right to be a duck. Another one of the snowflake gang told the fox that something needed to be done to stop the sky from falling and that if a chicken wants to call himself a duck, dress like a duck and quack like a duck, that the King should mandate that the rest of the people call the chicken a duck.

    Upon telling the fox that they were all on their way to see the King to inform the King that the sky is falling and to otherwise protest about life in general, including a protest that a chicken had a right to call himself a duck, the fox invited Chicken Little and his group into the fox’s lair for refreshment.

    Chicken Little and his group enter the fox’s lair. The fox closes the entry way behind them and promptly eats the entire group.

  • Just handing everyone in America, no matter where they came from, a Guaranteed Basic Income which is high enough to live comfortably on would solve ALL contentions over jobs AND force employers to pay their workers REAL money. Tax THE RICH to fund it. They have the $$.

  • brad

    i live in N California and know white people who have given up trying to pick grapes and pears – and yes, even walnuts, our 3 main crops in this county. They actually tried in an effort to earn some $$$ (these illegals don’t get minimum wage in effect here) AND to learn about food, farming, growing, nature…

    The illegals stated that they would have no labor force if the farmers hired white workers. The Mexicans would boycott and sabotage that vineyard or operation. The labor force for ag has almost always been economically desperate – look at Grapes of Wrath as the hottest years ever recorded (Dust Bowl/Drought in the 30s) uprooted thousands and provided a labor pool in other areas…

    It would just be much more intelligent from every non-“elitist” corporate consolidation type of individual, to get into permaculture, small crop/gardening, and orchards/tree guilds. Then you aren’t trying to milk a thousand cows – you can do your own cows or goats. You don’t need to pick for thousands of people – but you can pick for your family and dozens of others without getting out of scale – and if you do manage to (or decide to) build on your successes and increase your production, you can generally get local people who are desperate to learn about growing their own foods.

    Maybe we are ahead of the curve again out here in Calif – but we have interns and woofers who desperately want to learn what you can teach them in exchange for very little. That means you can double or triple your production relatively easily if you chose.

    Small scale and local – it is the only way the planet is going to survive.

  • Gordon S Watson

    go read the facts about saint Cezar Chavez, and educate you-self about the difference between how he really acted, versus the myth. Senor Chavez was happy to have “undocumented workers” deported by the US feds. when it served his purposes of personal aggrandizement. Every one of the usual thug tactics of the commies, was carried out by his brother and others so Cesar Chavez and his white race-traitor pals could disclaim involvement.

    40 million unborn children were murdered over the last 40 years by artificial abortion. If those people were here, now, … we would have no problem with non-whites invading America

    until one acknowledges that there’s a race war going for the territory of the US of A, you cannot begin to address the issue of invasion of the 3rd world.

  • Cathy Raymond

    “the wages tend to be lower than what American citizens will accept”.

    That’s ok then, the labor rate will increase. Too bad they’ve been taking advantage of folks willingness to accept less.

    Remember this?

    If prices get too high, folks will start growing their own food or finding a farmer. Right? Yeah for our team!

    Also, it’s my understanding that folks can come with special work visas. I worked for a landscaping company, and they got seasonal labor from Mexico as well…all documented.

  • Sue Diederich

    Well damn if American kids might have to join the workforce as they have on most family owned farms almost forever. Who would want Dean’s FRESH milk anyway???

    As for the migrant workers, you are correct in that they are mainly here for plant-based harvests, but even there, there is much work to be done. And, there won’t necessarily be that many fewer, as they tend to come in legally for the work season, and leave when their VISA expires.

    Given the actual number of deportations as well as detentions, one would think that people would have been vilifying Obama and Billy Boy Clinton rather than Trump – I guess it depends on whose numbers one chooses to believe. Read 10 different sources, get 30 different numbers. I work in a store (one location of a huge multi-national corporation) with MANY nationalities of immigrants, the largest number of whom are from Mexico.

    Despite being “a huge concern” many of us have gotten close in the past few years, and we all talk. Not one bothered with the so-called “Day Without Immigrants”, many voted for and continue to support the current administration, none fear deportation, detention or anything else. Stop watching MSNBC and start talking to your neighbors and co-workers folks. And this for the suburbs of one of the top 3 most notorious “sanctuary cities” in the nation – Chicago. Go figure.

    The (any) movement toward healthier food options must be accompanied by something our fellow countrymen have completely forgotten how to do – self-motivation. We must be willing to do the work as well as pay a fair price. Both ideas are largely missing from the American lexicon – and it’s been getting worse with each ensuing decade since the end of WWII.

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