The Tuesday “Raw Milk Freedom Riders–Milk and Cookies Rally” is shaping up as a national event. There are car caravans coming from Minnesota and Illinois, as well as protesters flying in from Wisconsin, Michigan, and California, among many other places.
That is as it should be, since the event is about protesting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s prohibition on interstate shipment of raw milk, and the effective criminalization of parents and other consumers who routinely buy it in one state and drive back home to another state.
There is no doubt that Michael Schmidt’s hunger strike, about to enter its second month, has had a huge impact and is encouraging participation. If he can do what he’s doing, and even plan to be the keynote speaker at the rally in front of the Maryland headquarters of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration…well, it shouldn’t be such a big deal for ordinary individuals who value access to nutrient-dense foods to be present as well. (In other words, you still have time to arrange to be present for a very important event.)
While the event is in part a protest, in part defiance, and in part a tribute to Schmidt’s courage, it is also symbolically an effort to push for collaboration with authorities and development of common ground around food rights and food safety. In that sense, it fits in with the current negotiations over herd shares in California described by Mark McAfee and the Raw Milk Institute Initiative (RAWMI) that’s been debated extensively here…along with Michael Schmidt’s campaign in Canada.
Each of these initiatives is really about ensuring that safe raw dairy products are available to whomever chooses to obtain them. Yes, these initiatives are about rights and freedom, but I don’t think it’s essential to expect regulatory officials to necessarily adopt that language as a precedent to developing accommodations.
Optimist that I am, I keep thinking that it’s not out of the realm of possibility to expect that an accommodations could even be reached with the FDA. Yes, easy as it is to forget, that regulatory symbol of negativity and arrogance is made up of real people, many of them highly professional and even caring.
The “Raw Milk Freedom Riders–Milk and Cookies Rally” will be defying the federal prohibition on interstate raw milk transport, but only as a symbolic act of desperation. Unwilling to tolerate being branded as criminals–via FDA raids, undercover investigations, and court actions– event organizers like Liz Reitzig and Karine Bouis-Towe have been completely transparent in their intentions and actions. The FDA and local law enforcement agencies have been alerted, way in advance, as to the order and location of events for Tuesday.
Implicit in those actions is an invitation for open and serious discussion about how to develop a new path of accommodation. After years of total negativity, even violent regulatory enforcement, it’s difficult to imagine the FDA being a force for positive change. Michael Schmidt has been fighting the authorities in Canada for 17 years, and is now fighting day-to-day for a simple meeting with his provincial leader. Some American farmers are going on ten years.
But maybe authorities are beginning to see the light–that there’s little to gain in fighting the rapidly growing numbers of people who their food rights seriously, and in fact, there may be lots of pain.
I’ve been reading Joel Salatin’s book Folks, This Ain’t Normal, and it makes two intriguing points about what he calls “an unmistaken Food Inquisition in America.”
1. The major force behind the current over-regulated environment isn’t Big Ag, but overly zealous consumer advocates. “And that is why every time, every time, every time–should I say it once more?–every time the public asks for government oversight, it eventuates in the biggest players getting more power and the smaller players being kicked in the teeth,” argues Salatin.
2. Contrary to the belief of many that Prohibition was a failure, it actually set important precedents now being used against food rights. Salatin argues: “In my opinion probably the single biggest blow to America’s food system came with Prohibition, because it forever gave the government control over what we could and could not consume. In that action, the die was cast. Until then, freedom of food choice was a foregone conclusion in our culture. But once well-intentioned, righteously indignant people decided it was okay for the bureaucrats to crawl between my lips and my throat, criminalizing any other substance du jour was acceptable. This conditioned the nation to accept more and more restrictions until today you can hardly spit without a license.”
There’s lots more in the book questioning some of the crazy food production practices that now pass for conventional wisdom…and it’s all presented in insightful and entertaining fashion.
And if you want to know even more about how pathetic the food safety regulatory system can (has) become, just read the story of how a local public health inspector nearly ruined a farm-to-fork feast…and how important it is to question the inspectors, and demand your basic constitutional rights. A good case of Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund to the rescue.