Sally Fallon has long been the whipping girl of raw milk opponents, portrayed as uncaring of victims of illness from raw dairy and an advocate of crazy safety ideas, like the one that the good bacteria in raw milk from grass-fed cows kills off pathogens.
When the head of the Weston A. Price Foundation had the temerity a couple years back to suggest that food safety investigators look into the possibility that tainted water rather than raw milk might have been responsible for a Pennsylvania man’s serious illness from campylobacter, lawyer Bill Marler practically pushed for tarring and feathering. “Denying (illnesses) does not alter reality,” he proclaimed on his blog. “Ms. Fallon Morrell, have you no shame?”
I thought of those and other such accusations against Sally Fallon as I listened to her describe her milk and cheese production methods at her 95-acre Maryland farm, the P.A. Bowen Farmstead, yesterday. She was hosting the fifth anniversary celebration of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which she was instrumental in establishing. She and husband Geoffrey Morrell purchased the farm a couple years ago, and they have been busy since then restoring it and turning it into a world class cheese production facility. The center pieces are the ten Jersey cows that provide the milk for the blue cheese, cheddar, and “dreamy creamy” cheeses.
What struck me as Fallon went through a video of the milking and cheese making process was her emphasis on safety. Actually, that is initially apparent just by looking around. The milk parlor is so clean one could eat off the floor. The ten Jersey cows grazing in a shady pasture are immaculate.
The cows are milked only once a day, which she says results in a richer milk, highly suitable for cheese. than if they were milked more. They are coddled, with a brushing-massaging machine and the playing of Mozart music as they are being milked. She showed how the milk is immediately tested for mastitis via something called the California Mastitis Test that indicates elevated somatic cell counts. By showing sub-clinical mastitis–signs of mastitis before they become visible via symptoms–Fallon is able to take quick action to deal with a cow, and to segregate its milk by using it only to feed calves.
She noted that she sends her milk off for lab pathogen and other testing once a month, even though Maryland regulations require only annual testing. She is setting up the farm to do in-house listeria testing, since listeria can be a problem in raw cheese production facilities.
While Fallon and family consume the milk, strict Maryland laws make it illegal to sell or even privately distribute raw milk. (For a look at the farm and facilities, there is a slide show on YouTube.)
Why all the emphasis on testing? In actuality, the Weston A. Price Foundation has long been an advocate of strict safety standards, and Fallon has been a big booster of the Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI) launched by Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy Co. (despite statements indicating skepticism about whether raw milk was the culprit in certain outbreaks). But there is something else at work as well, according to Fallon. Given the growing federal intrusion into food safety via the Food Safety Modernization Act passed last year, “We want to have records in case the feds do” begin involving themselves in raw dairy testing and safety requirements, she said.
By the way, I bought some of the blue and cheddar cheeses on sale at the farm store, and can attest that they are wonderful. And kudos to Fallon and others, including Cathy Raymond and Maureen Diaz, for not wilting in the 104-degree heat yesterday. Everyone looked as if they had just run a marathon once they walked across the road from the parking area to the farm, but not only did the picnic lunch come off without a hitch, even the ice cream survived. About 140 people celebrated the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund’s fifth anniversary, and heard Pete Kennedy, the organization’s president, describe how the organization is not only representing raw milk producers, but taking on other kinds of cases as well, like the Food Sovereignty case in Maine and a zoning case in Michigan in which a farmer is being challenged in his farming under zoning laws.
So if Bill Marler and his pals at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are looking for raw dairy models of safety and sanitation, I think I know of one in rural Maryland. Don’t worry. They really don’t want to know about success models.