When an inspector from the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness slapped a quarantine on 76 half gallons of raw milk about to be picked up by members of a local buying club ten days ago, the action seemed to come out of the blue.

But John Moody, the club’s co-administrator, wasn’t in the least bit surprised. “I have been preparing for this for five years,” he says. “It’s only a matter of time till something happens that involves a showdown with the state. It’s not a maybe, it’s a certainty. I’ve always told this to my members.”

This past Friday, a week after the quarantine was implemented, a health inspector showed up again, this time to issue a “withdrawal” of the quarantine. Victory. The first known official withdrawal of a public effort to block raw milk distribution and consumption.

In an email forwarded to Moody from Louisville city officials, Matt Zahn, interim director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, stated: “After lengthy discussion…the Kentucky state health deparment feels that it does not have a legal basis to support quarantining milk from a ‘cow sharer’ group. While they continue to believe (as we do) that raw, unpasteurized milk represents a health hazard, they have reversed their previous guidance and instructed us to release the milk from quarantine.” 

John Moody, co-administrator of Louiisville food club. (Photo by Cathy RaymondBut Moody isn’t basking in the glory. Quite the contrary–he’s preparing for more trouble. Indeed, the email from Zahn of Louisville public health, concludes: “The sale of raw milk remains illegal. I have asked the state health department for a statement clarifying their stance on cow sharer situations in order to avoid local confusion in the future.” In other words, we’ll be back.  

So Moody advises other food clubs to similarly prepare, and stay prepared. Here are five suggestions he offers as guidance for food clubs and herdshares everywhere:

1. Be prepared to fight back. Moody wasn’t sure exactly what the state’s attack would entail, so he couldn’t know in advance how he would fight back. But he knew that resistance was essential, and the first step he came up with was the idea of asking members to officially break the quarantine by taking their milk, and signing an official note so informing public health officials. That led to blog articles and radio interviews, which raised awareness. “You never waste a crisis,” says Moody.

2. Go after state and local legislators…directly. Don’t waste time on petitions or email letter-writing campaigns. “I have never seen a petition accomplish anything,” he says. “And letters go to staffers, who are meant to insulate legislators.” What buying club members need to is “call your legislator.” But don’t call the office. “You wait till the weekend and you call their home numbers.”

3. Prepare food club members to communicate a focused message. It’s important for members who call legislators to “frame the issue carefully.” That means giving members talking points to focus on when they reach legislators, so the message is consistent and focused. The focusing enabled the Louisville buying club to get probably 80% or more of its members feeling comfortable enough to make those personal calls.

4. Develop a united front. Moody says he had worked hard for a number of years to develop alliances with other farming and food organizations. When this crisis hit, they were ready to help out, and had their own members calling legislators, for a kind of echo effect. The result of all the calls was pressure on public health officials to retreat, and retreat is what the Louisville agency did this past Friday.

5. Stay on the move. Moody has no illusions that the latest battle with Louisville officials will mean a cessation of hostilities. “We’re basically at war. We need to play the field as if we’re at war.” For the buying club, that means preparing to move on to new quarters, if necessary, and always being prepared to pick up and re-locate.

Moody says his food club benefited from the new political atmosphere in Kentucky growing out of the election of Tea Party candidate Rand Paul as a U.S. senator. The defeat of the Republican candidate has made state Republican legislators much more open to countering abuse of property rights and privacy.

“This has been a great opening round,” says Moody. “It’s the first case ever in which we’ve gotten them to leave us alone, …on paper.” Until the next time, which is certain to come.
One question that no one seems able to answer is why the E.coli sickening consumers in Europe is so resistant to antibiotics. I’ve assumed it’s the result of over-use of antibiotics on farms around the world. Mike Adams, a health writer, offers another theory–that the E.coli was intentionally manipulated by someone or some group to create fear, and encourage broader sanitation of our food system. Interesting reading.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration continually argues that “scientific evidence” shows raw milk to be inherently unsafe. Yet when you look for examples of the evidence, it’s difficult to come by. The same holds true in the FDA’s latest filing in U.S. District Court seeking dismissal of the suit filed by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund challenging the interstate ban on raw milk sales.(I quoted from this response recently about the argument against any claim for food rights, but didn’t have a copy then I could link to.)
If you read through the section beginning on p. 29, “The Administrative Record Contains Ample Evidence
Documenting the Dangers of Raw Milk,” that evidence is primarily statistics from 1923 to 1949, along with two scientific papers linking salmonella outbreaks in California to raw milk. Yes, there are lots of people and organizations and agencies quoted saying the evidence shows raw milk to be a public health threats–many more quotes than data.
And there’s no way to change the situation, the FDA argues. A follow-on section is headed, “FDA Reasonably Concluded That Careful Production of Raw Milk Does Not Eliminate the Public Health Threat.”