Let’s see, if I was going to be involved in a real-life conspiracy to alter government behavior, what would I want to do? For starters, I might arrange for Mark McAfee to become head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Then, I might work on getting Michelle Obama to push her husband to veto the new Food Safety Modernization Act. For kickers I might influence the judge in charge of the federal suit by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund to invalidate the ban on interstate shipments of raw milk.

A fantasy choice to lead the FDA? Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy Co. But connive to establish a set of standards for raw milk producers? I don’t think so. That’s why I had to chuckle at some of the comments by Barney Google and lola granola. I appreciate their sincerity in arguing that this is such a touchy issue it requires secret planning–I just wish I had the conspiratorial power ascribed to me (and others) and, more important, that something significant was being accomplished. As Mark McAfee correctly points out, nothing formal is anywhere near being accomplished on the standards-setting side. Just a bunch of informal emails with ideas and discussion. A lot of sincere people without much power, trying things out.

I wish things were further along, but developing serious standards and figuring out how to implement them–for example, whether they should be voluntary or part of some organizational agenda–is a big project. Maybe Barney Google and lola granola want to get involved, since there’s a crying need for serious leadership.

I’m not necessarily big on any new regulatory overhang. I just think that, as several commenters suggest, we have a new reality, what with new federal safety legislation about to go into effect and judges showing very little inclination to listen to explanations like those from Max Kane and Aajonus Vonderplanitz–compelling as they may be–about the role of bacteria in building immune function, or otherwise countering the regulatory agenda.

A quick review of recent history makes one trend clear: nearly every time there’s an outbreak linked to raw milk in one state or another, the authorities use it as an excuse to bring a chokehold on local raw dairies. Consider:

  • Raw milk producers enjoyed a long period of relative peace in Minnesota. Yes, there was a court action a few years ago involving Michael Hartmann over meat production, but essentially he was producing, selling, and delivering milk for at least ten years…until illnesses were linked to his milk. Then all hell broke loose, as regulators went after not only Hartmann, but all kinds of other people associated not just with raw milk, but with a wider variety of nutrient-dense foods.
  • Regulatory controls were easing in Colorado, until a couple of outbreaks there were linked to raw milk in the last two years, and suddenly the regulators began pushing back.
  • Wisconsin had had a peace of sorts for raw milk sales, until an outbreak of 30 illnesses was linked to the Zinniker farm in 2009. A regulatory crackdown that had already begun only intensified, and it isn’t over yet.
  • Connecticut has allowed retail sales of raw milk for many years. Illnesses at Town Dairy prompted the state ag authorities to try in 2009 to prohibit retail sales, and only a concerted consumer effort involving legislators beat back the effort.
  • California was peaceful for raw milk production for a number of years until 2006, when six illnesses were linked to Organic Pastures Dairy Co.  Then there was a year of unsuccessful battle over SB201, designed to beat back new regulations that grew out of the illnesses.
  • Ohio was peaceful as well, until illnesses were linked to Carol Schmittmeyer in 2006. The state’s effort to crack down on herdshares was only countered by a victory in state court by Gary Cox representing Schmittmeyer.

Sure, there have been regulatory crackdowns in states like New York and Pennsylvania, where there were no illnesses to speak of; there’s nothing approaching a perfect correlation here. But the weight of evidence is such that I can say with much confidence that raw milk producers and consumers would be a lot better off if the events listed above hadn’t happened.

How do we keep them from happening? As Bill Anderson points out, some farmers do a better job of controlling milk quality than others. A good way to further education is via standards, and Mark McAfee even provides some interesting starting points. I’m not saying that’s the only way, but it seems to me the most direct and effective approach.

People can talk about about our God-given rights and being free men (and I do as well), but when illnesses happen, and state and federal regulators go crazy, lots of real people get hurt. Farmers lose revenues big time, and sometimes are even forced out of business. Consumers have their dairy supplies interrupted.

On the other side of the equation, an absence of illnesses makes it more difficult for the regulators to come after raw milk. When they’ve done so in Massachusetts, they’ve stimulated an outcry, and big-time pushback. No official victory, but signs the regulators may be more careful.

We can fight among ourselves with conspiracy theories, or we can fight the common enemy. The best way to fight the common enemy, given that the legal and regulatory climate is ever more tenuous, is to counter with good health outcomes and effective public relations. It’s much more difficult to succeed in the public relations arena in a place like Minnesota, when there’s convincing evidence that a farmer’s raw milk has sickened a dozen people, than it is in Massachusetts, where there hasn’t been a documented case of illness in well over a decade.  ?