Every week for the last five years, Eric Wagoner, a Georgia farmer, has been delivering raw milk to members of a buyers club he organized. Because he is bringing the milk from dairies in neighboring South Carolina, he is meticulous about the process he follows. Members of the buyers club place their orders directly with the South Carolina farms, and each gallon of milk is assigned to a specific consumer. “We don’t even bring a single extra gallon back with us,” he tells me. “Each gallon has to have a name tied to it.”
The acquisition of South Carolina raw milk by Georgia consumers is necessary because Georgia only allows the sale of raw milk for animal consumption, while South Carolina allows the sale of raw milk from farms to consumers.
When Eric arrived today at anold farmers market in Athens with 100-plus gallons of milk for club members, three agents from the Georgia Department of Agriculture were waiting for him.
“They told me it’s illegal to cross state lines to sell or distribute raw milk, and distribute is the key word. They taped all my coolers shut and put a ‘stop sale’ notice on them. They said they’re going to come to my farm Monday morning and destroy the milk. Unless we get the authorities to stop it. I think this load is lost, but perhaps we can do something in coming weeks.”
Eric says he spoke with head of the dairy division at the Georgia Department of Agriculture (Peggy Gates). “She was very gruff with me. She told me it’s against Georgia law to sell or distribute raw milk. She wouldn’t listen to me that it was South Carolina milk. Right now they have told me no raw milk can be distributed in Georgia. They used the words, ‘imminent health hazard.’ Until I can get someone to look at us long enough to realize we aren’t doing anything wrong… we are done.”
Not surprisingly, many of the people who bought the milk are upset. “A number get it for health reasons. The only thing I can tell them is to drive to South Carolina and pick it up themselves. It’s about an hour and 15 minutes.”
According to Pete Kennedy, head of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, today’s raid has all the earmarks of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration around it. “I don’t think Georgia would be enforcing a federal law without encouragement from FDA. (Georgia authorities) have been aware of this for a long time. Why take action now? It’s not a violation of Georgia law. You can consume raw milk in Georgia. It’s not a violation of South Carolina law.” Federal law prohibits the sale of raw milk across state lines. But the sale had already been made, in South Carolina. The sold milk was simply being delivered to its owners.
I think this all follows on from the planned crackdown on buying clubs in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois that I reported on a few weeks ago. The FDA is not only obsessed with raw milk, but increasingly, with private sale vehicles consumers have organized, like herd shares and buying clubs. Dairy czar John Sheehan and his minions see them as little more than legal concoctions designed to get around federal and state efforts to limit raw milk consumption.
One other development on the raw milk front: Pete Kennedy reports that a number of raw dairies in Texas are taking their names off the realmilk.com web site, based on recent visits they’ve had from local health department regulators. Certainly understandable. Obsessed FDA and state regulators comb the site looking for targets to go after. Why make their jobs any easier?
It seems safe to say that federal and state regulators remain obsessed with raw milk, despite an absence of any data suggesting it presents a public health hazard.
I’ll be speaking Sunday about my book, The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights, at a fund-raising event sponsored by the Northeast Organic Farming Association. It’s still possible to register—if you’re in the central Massachusetts area, try to come by.