When government regimes change, the people with the best noses for where things are headed are usually the bureaucrats. They spend years, even decades, watching politicians of all stripes come and go, and learn to read the tea leaves.
Right now, we are witnessing regime change in the extreme. We have a president who has threatened to eliminate huge agencies, like those in education and energy, and is preparing to carry out a major purge in the normally sacrosanct area of national intelligence. He has gone around the Defense Department (and the sitting President) to dress down military contractors. So you know bureaucrats everywhere in Washington have spent the last couple months watching very nervously for signs of what life will be like in their own particular bureaucracies, post-January 20.
It’s in this charged atmosphere that wily operatives within the dairy division of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have determined that their place in life is secure enough that they can renew at least part of their assault on raw milk. In just the last couple weeks, they have targeted a small Missouri farm that produces camel milk, accusing it of violating the federal prohibition against interstate sale of raw milk. In the process, the FDA has felt confident enough to declare that raw camel milk—until now a regulatory exception— is illegal to ship in interstate commerce.
Understand, the matter of regulating camel milk has lurked in the regulatory background for several years now. The FDA, along with state regulators in California and elsewhere, have been monitoring rapidly expanding production around the U.S., in response to exploding public demand, despite prices of $100 a gallon and more. Its primary appeal is that it appears in at least some cases to moderate the symptoms of autism in children.
Raw camel milk has not been regulated by the FDA or CDFA (California Department of Food and Agriculture) becuase it does not come from a hooved animal. Camels have pads on their feet and, as a direct result of this physical characteristic, appear to be outside the traditional raw milk laws or regs.
But in a December 19 warning letter to the small Missouri farm I mentioned, Hump-Back Dairys of Miller, MO, the FDA states that it has re-interpreted its own regulations regarding the definition of raw milk: “The term ‘milk product’ is defined as ‘[f]ood products made exclusively or principally from the lacteal secretion obtained from one or more healthy milk-producing animals, e.g., cows, goats, sheep, and water buffalo . . . .’ This definition clearly includes the commercial lacteal secretions from all healthy milk-producing animals. Although the definition refers to the examples of cows, goats, sheep, and water buffalo, that list is not exhaustive. The definition thus includes the commercial lacteal secretions from other animals as well, including camels.”
Presto, the FDA has ruled that camels are part of a list once limited to hooved animals.
So how might this FDA sleight of hand affect the national supply of raw camel milk, especially for parents of autistic children desperate for an ongoing supply? For now, the big picture seems unchanged.
According to one newspaper report, the owner of Hump-Back Dairys has agreed to discontinue shipping his camel milk outside of Missouri. But one of the largest distributors of raw camel milk, Desert Farms Inc., says it plans to continue its national distribution of raw camel milk, using milk from farms like Hump-Back Dairys. The owner, Walid Abdul-Wahab, says the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund has helped his company make its case to the FDA that raw camel milk isn’t subject to the same interstate-commerce restrictions as raw milk from hooved animals. Abdul-Wahab says he has farmer sources around the country supplying raw camel milk. Moreover, other farmers have begun supplying raw camel milk directly to food clubs around the country, in response to heightened demand.
But if the FDA is planning a truly major assault into this arena, then all supply sources could be in for some difficult times.
Now, why would the incoming Trump administration be expected to take notice of the FDA’s aggressiveness against raw camel milk? First, of all, Trump at one point last fall ranted against the “FDA food police,” accusing the agency of “inspection overkill.” (However, the criticism never made it to Trump’s web site, and was never mentioned again during the campaign.)
In addition, a number of raw milk proponents have said they are certain Trump and/or his family are avid raw milk drinkers, buying it via food clubs in Florida, but just not yet ready to go public. No real evidence has ever emerged on this matter, either.
Finally, Trump has indicated support for the theory that childhood vaccines lead to autism. But he has also said he supports vaccination—just would like to see them spread out some more.
So, does Trump care about raw milk and small farms, or not? The FDA is clearly betting he doesn’t care. I’ll tweet a link to my post to @realDonaldTrump, see if he takes notice. You might as well, too, if you’d like to test him out. Let’s see if the FDA bureaucrats have bet right on their venture into the political hurricanes swirling out there.