I feel a little like the delivery guy who meant to leave off some plain Chinese food at the local luncheon club meeting, but inadvertently dropped off the super-spicy version, and then quickly departed, leaving the attendees to figure out how to cool off. I posted Scott Trautman’s personal account of how he’s creating a new raw milk brand, and inspection standards to go with it, and then I left town.

I spent the weekend in coastal Maine, speaking at the Common Ground Country Fair (some 59,000 attendees, though not all at my talk), among a few other activities. Being so far downeast, I had only spotty access to the Internet, and each time I got onto the blog, it was as if I could hear people gasping for cold water to cool off that spicy Chinese food.
I’ve given up trying to predict exactly how different posts might go over, but I guess I saw myself leaving some fairly mild food to chew on. I certainly didn’t think this post would be especially controversial. If there were a lot of opinions, I figured they’d be about the specifics of Trautman’s proposal–whether the three-pronged holistic inspection approach made sense or not.

One thing I want to make clear is that I asked Trautman to write the post after he described the approach during a recent conversation. I thought it was one of those situations where the person who developed the approach would do better than I would describing it, since there was a lot of personal experience behind the vision.

While the resulting blog discussion was, shall we say, animated, reading it over now I’d say it was a productive discussion in a number of ways, certainly not “very sad,” as Concerned Person characterized it. What’s sad is the failure of the public health and regulatory communities to publicly acknowledge that their current approach to dealing with raw milk isn’t working–in fact, is creating ever more demand, while creating huge amounts of public resentment by focusing obsessively on reducing supply…or to engage in any kind of meaningful public discussion about the issues, with the exception of such individuals who appear on-and-off on this blog, like Milky Way and Regulator.

The fact that the discussion of the Trautman post was so animated obviously suggests it aroused passionate feelings. Should raw milk producers establish their own safety standards? If yes, should such standards be voluntary or become part of the government regulatory agenda? Should tiny raw dairies adhere to the same standards as larger ones…or to any explicit standards? Does the absence of standards of the sort Trautman proposed leave a vacuum for more heavy-handed government regulation?

Actually, Trautman’s post didn’t explicitly raise such issues. He didn’t even indicate how the standards he came up with might be used. I interpreted the approach to be a kind of personal branding the entrepreneurial Trautman was experimenting with, in hopes that other farmers might join him in a formal or informal way, to provide competition to Wisconsin’s Grade A standards. If the approach caught on, the Wisconsin Fresh Milk standards could serve as a kind of alternative to Wisconsin Grade A standards–not in a regulatory sense, but for the purpose of reassuring consumers who want to know what kinds of safeguards are in place for their raw milk.

But I’m not sure the answers to these questions matter as much as what I perceived to be a number of simmering unstated issues. In my experience, in any emotional argument, there are always unstated issues that don’t get clearly articulated. Among the unstated issues here:

* Who speaks for raw dairy farmers? I sensed indignation by some that Scott Trautman would be so presumptuous as to think he could be the voice, or even a voice. That feeling comes across in  accusations of him having too big an ego for his own good, and that he’s seeking somehow to build a giant commercial operation.

* Why can’t raw dairy farmers be more united? I sensed in Trautman’s arguments berating others for talking rather than acting possibly some residual resentment that the raw dairy community hasn’t stuck together better in the face of the crackdown in Wisconsin…which has had the effect of leaving him and a few other resisters out there more alone than they should be.

* Is the “rights” argument a diversion? Trautman several times expresses frustration that too many people are talking when they should be acting. They’re debating rights when they should be developing responsible standards and other approaches for satisfying consumer and public health worries. I would disagree here; I am convinced the rights issue is a huge issue, and based on my experience this past weekend in Maine, getting bigger every day. (More on that in upcoming posts.) Moreover, the rights issue isn’t a simple one to either articulate or to organize around, since standing up for certain rights against a government determined to deny you those rights risks confrontation…and most people are rightfully worried about confrontations with police, judges, and other authorities. Developing safety standards is definitely an easier task.

There are other unstated issues, I am sure. But just because there are strong feelings doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be discussed. I think some of the personal accusations and questioning of motives could be toned down. But the fact that Trautman’s post made some people uncomfortable isn’t a bad thing…in fact, it’s probably a good thing.


On the subject of rights, Canadian raw dairy farmer Michael Schmidt plans to defy British Columbia authorities by publicly serving raw milk in front of the provincial public health headquarters tomorrow.

On his Facebook page, he states, “This is to publicly celebrate the change over from Alice Jongerden to Michael Schmidt. Today was a day of trying to track down those Government agents and directors who try to shut down our cow share operation. Nobody seems to want to take responsibility for their action.”

The Lone Ranger has defintely arrived in town.