I had the good fortune to spend last week in the Florida sunshine, far from the igloo that is New England. It was an opportunity not just to luxuriate in the warmth of 80-degree sunshine, but also to do some catching up on recent food-related news developments. 


I could swear I saw some beach scenes like the one accompanying this post. I’m not sure why, but I continue to be amazed by the ongoing refusal by some in positions of power and responsibility in our food system to resist change, even as the change is hitting at their back sides, their front sides, even their own corporate pocketbooks. 


First, I read through Pete Kennedy’s assessment from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund of state legislative progress on raw milk, where he reviews legislation in 18 states, and concludes, “This has the potential to be the best legislative session for raw milk since FTCLDF has been in existence (since 2007).” Wyoming has already enacted a Food Freedom Act that allows the private sale of raw milk from farmer to consumer, and West Virginia’s legislature has lifted that state’s ban on the sale of raw milk….if the governor follows through and signs it into law. 


This is all in line with trends around the country that point to expanding raw milk consumption, and declining interest by law enforcement to support regulatory crackdowns on consumption. We have seen the trend express itself in Minnesota, Illinois, and California, among other places. State and local politicians are beginning to appreciate as well that supporting food integrity and rights attracts votes. 


We are also seeing signs that raw dairy producers appreciate the importance of taking responsibility for producing the safest possible products. We see this via expanding interest in dairy farmer education on raw milk safety, including continuing education efforts in Pennsylvania, California, Maine, and possibly New York. Most recently, a small group of farmers with herd shares in California have organized something called the California Herd Share Association, which encourages small providers of raw milk to commit to safety standards and education. 


“Addressing food safety concerns in a proactive and science-based manner takes the teeth out of the anti-raw milk arguments that would threaten our freedom to produce and consume the foods of our choice,” the organization states.  “When raw milk producers admit that risk exists and articulate and execute a well-defined plan to manage that risk, the fight over raw milk freedom largely goes away.”


These shifts on raw milk foretell huge changes about consumer tastes and preferences that we see all around us, ranging from moves away from traditional fast food and toward local food of all types, including even locally-produced beers. 


To the forces of Big Ag and Big Food, these trends toward safe locally-produced food are huge threats. They much prefer to keep their heads in the sand than to think about ways of adjusting their reasons for being. A perfect example came in a report by NPR last week on raw milk legislation in Illinois, Robert Tauxe, a high-ranking scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, got lots of air time to pronounce that no matter how raw milk is distributed, “None of it is safe.”  Yes, it’s all tainted. People are dropping like flies. Not a word of encouragement to those working hard, and successfully, to produce safe raw milk, and how the CDC might help in education efforts. Just the same old fear mongering, apparently assuming that if he says it louder, people will react differently than they have for the last decade. 


The same mentality of simply continuing on with the worn out models can also be seen at the Big Food companies, many of which are oligopolies. In a Wall Street Journal interview, Coca Cola’s CEO argued that the way for his company to reverse several years of downward sales of its fizzy sugar water is to market and sell harder. The WSJ’s headlines say it all: “What Is Coke CEO’s Solution for Lost Fizz? More Soda…Despite changing consumer tastes, Muhtar Kent pushes strategy to sell more soda.” 


There’s an amazing shift in food tastes, regulation, and acquisition going on at the local level around the U.S. It will continue to unpleasantly surprise the bungling centrally-oriented cheap-food guys. Even as their world practically crumbles around them, don’t expect to see many heads come out of the sand.