Regulation of raw milk is nearly entirely a state matter. You have fifty states, and fifty different variations of laws and regulations; only when it is sold or shipped across state lines does the federal government have any jurisdiction.
Regardless of the specifics of state laws, conflict over raw milk seems to appear, and re-appear, nearly randomly around the country. We have seen the state of Maine turn raw milk into a national matter by going after a two-cow dairy. We have seen Wisconsin and Minnesota prosecute farmers criminally for making raw milk available privately. California threw a farmer and food club owner into jail for selling unlicensed raw milk.
The reason the issue keeps coming up is that the big dairy companies, led by Dean Foods and a handful of other processors, push the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to continually work to eliminate the availability of raw milk across the land, or at the least, drive it underground, outside of easy access by mass markets. That’s because they hate competition. These agencies work hand in hand with state and local regulators, and regularly foment crackdowns on dairies that sell raw milk, on an individual basis, if need be.
It is in that context that Foxboroughs campaign against Lawtons Family Farm must be viewed. It isnt an isolated local situation, but rather, part of a national mosaic of corporate-driven regulatory shame. Foxborough, home of the New England Patriots, is salivating to take over regulation of Lawton’s Family Farm, the last remaining dairy of any kind in the Boston area’s Norfolk County. The town has eased up on its original proposal put forth last month that would have required weekly milk testing, but it still clearly seeks authority over Lawton’s so it can slowly harass the dairy out of business, and put another failed dairy on the FDA and CDC scorecard. If its proposed regulations pass, Foxborough would become the first regulatory agency to be able to demand, at its whim, the names of a raw dairy’s customers. It would also be the first to require specific liability insurance coverage ($3 million) for a raw dairy.
People on both sides of the struggle are watching Foxborough, MA, very closely. I have heard from individuals with an axe to grind on both sides of the raw milk issue. One public health person has been in touch with me several times to contest my statement, made in previous posts, that Massachusetts hasnt had any illnesses from raw milk sold by permitted dairies since the state took over regulation of raw milk back in 1993. This individual, who asks not to be identified, points to CDC data showing that Massachusetts had two illnesses from campylobacter in raw milk back in 2010. But the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources is adamant that the state’s permitted dairies have a clean record going back to 1993. “We have no confirmed illnesses due to the consumption of raw milk,” a spokesperson tells me. So any illnesses presumably involved a non-permitted dairy. The larger message is that the anti-raw-milk crowd is on the lookout for any and all ammunition to discredit raw milk in Massachusetts as the current battleground.
On the other side, several raw milk advocates sent me a link to a 2009 article in a Foxborough newspaper questioning the qualifications of the towns chief health agent, Pauline Clifford. The article says she didnt have the required bachelors degree, among other educational gaps. The article also says her chief backer for the job, over a number of otherwise qualified candidates, was the Board of Health member currently pushing hardest for town regulation of raw milk, Eric Arvedon.
A Foxborough official told me today that Clifford now has the certifications she needs. But she admitted that Clifford never did obtain a bachelors degree. When I asked Clifford whether she had any training in inspecting dairies, she said she didnt. I have the food inspectors license,” which is geared toward inspection of retail establishments like restaurants.
What does it take to qualify as a state dairy inspector? Well, Terri Lawton, who worked for two years as a state dairy inspector, knows all about it–she grew up on a dairy farm and has a bachelors degree in dairy science from Perdue University.
So heres the crazy situation that has come down in Foxborough: if it puts itself into the dairy regulation business next Monday, the states two full-time dairy inspectors will hand over responsibility for regulating Lawtons to an individual who knows nothing about raw milk safety, and will be regulating a dairy run by an experienced dairy inspector. What is wrong with this picture?
Lots is wrong, and that’s why people who care about both food rights and food safety need to show up at 7:30 pm next Monday and let Foxborough officials know why they are misguided. The hearing has been moved from town offices, which couldn’t handle the crush of people who showed up a few weeks back, to a middle school auditorium; it is the Ahern School auditorium, 111 Mechanic St., Foxboro.
Just to show how completely screwed up the situation is, the Foxborough Board of Health will vote first next Monday on whether to ban entirely the sale of raw milk in the town. It’s not clear if a vote for banning raw milk would have a grandfather clause that would allow Lawton’s to keep operating. But the fact that such a vote would even be tried in a town that has long allowed the sale of raw milk, without incident, shows how serious the anti-raw-milk forces are.
(For those who can’t attend the meeting, but want to make their views known, you can send emails detailing your concerns to the following town officials: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org,;
If you are looking for additional evidence of a shift in eating habits, consider this: Sales of diet sodas are plunging. The Wall Street Journal reports sales of diet sodas dropped nearly 7 per cent in the 52 weeks ending in late November, and quotes the head of PepsiCo as saying, “We are seeing a fundamental shift in consumer habits and behaviors.”