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.

2 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…”

  • Ken Conrad Ken Conrad

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

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