For years, the public health, medical, regulator, and conventional dairy communities have marched in lockstep against raw milk. Collaborating with these forces of government and business have been the farmer communities, via their trade groups, the American Farm Bureau and the National Farmers Union.


But then something happened earlier this month, and the National Farmers Union, an organization that has long been representative of family farms, and is more than 100 years old, decided at long last that there was something to the raw milk thing, as in: Maybe there really is a sustainable business model for smaller dairies. Maybe the raw dairy market isn’t the mortal danger it’s been portrayed. Maybe we should help our members before they all disappear.


So as part of its new policy plank adopted at its recent national convention, it encouraged raw milk as a “viable market niche for dairies.” In effect, it was admitting at long last that the old dairy model of exclusively serving the conventional processed milk industry isn’t working for many dairies, and that they should explore other business opportunities, just like businesses everywhere. Except, of course, dairies have long not been treated like businesses everywhere. 


It dealt with the safety issue by warning against mixing milk sources: “Because of the possible risks of cross-contamination, we recommend that raw milk be bottled as the product of a single source and wherever possible at the physical location of that source. Single-source bottling will keep intact the chain of responsibility and greatly aid in tracking possible cases of contamination.” 


The organization also advocated “policies, practices and standards for responsible raw milk production…”


And finally the National Farmers Union pushed for “equal access to raw milk (and or raw dairy products) for human consumption for all consumers that choose to consume raw milk”–in other words, an end to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s prohibition on interstate sales of raw milk, in effect since 1987. 


Also to its credit, the National Farmers Union avoided the public-private aspect of raw milk availability–an issue that simmers in many of the discussions here. It didn’t get into the matter of state permits, inspections, and rules. Its advocacy of “policies, practices and standards” isn’t limited to a particular realm. The policies, practices, and standards could come from anywhere–the Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI), the Raw Milk Association of Colorado, the Farm-to-Consumer Foundation, or an individual farmer’s own protocol, among other options. 


In sum, then, the National Farmers Union’s decision was a breath of fresh air. Congrats to Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy Co. for his persistence in encouraging the organization to take the enlightened path.


When a united front against freedom and tolerance is broken, as that against raw milk has now been broken, it invariably is the first step in a domino effect.