Running a raw milk food club is tough enough under the best of circumstances, because you’re always in a gray area of the law. Well, just try running a raw milk food club if you’re in another gray area of the law—you’re a Muslim immigrant.

Trying to fight back in that situation is like trying to fight the raw milk battles with one hand tied behind your back….while standing on one foot. It’s nearly impossible. 

Once you appreciate the difficulties, you’ll understand the problems confronting Udder Milk, a raw milk distributor based in New York state that describes itself both as “a co-op” and a “private membership association.”  

It seems to have operated over the last dozen years pretty much without drawing the attention of regulators, delivering raw milk and other raw dairy products to food club members in the New York City metropolitan area, including New Jersey. Its members have been happy with the products and the delivery arrangements, even posting reviews on Yelp. 

Last fall, it suddenly began drawing a huge amount of public attention when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control began warning people away from Udder Milk, allegedly because a New Jersey woman had become ill with antibiotic-resistant brucella.  

These warnings turned into near hysteria when the CDC advised all Udder Milk members to seek out medical treatment, including antibiotic treatment; Food Safety News, for one, ran any number of articles picking up on warnings. 

Then, in December, the Udder Milk hysteria seemed to suddenly dissipate when Pennsylvania public health officials issued an advisory to raw milk producers suggesting that a brucella vaccine could well have been the source of the illness of the NJ woman, along with a brucella case in Texas.

The news out of Pennsylvania might have reassured raw milk producers and food club operators, but it didn’t dissuade New York officials from coming down hard on Udder Milk. Early this year, there was a legal action by the NY Department of Agriculture and Markets that resulted in Udder Milk being fined $3,000 for illegal distribution. There was a related legal action in which NY Ag and Markets demanded the names of all farmers supplying Udder Milk and all members of its co-op. Udder Milk paid the fine, but refused to supply the names of either farmers or members. NY Ag and Markets continued to push its demands in court. 

In the spring, Udder Milk launched a GoFundMe campaign that netted it $8,421 of its $11,000 goal, to help pay legal fees for the ongoing case. 

However, throughout this entire smear and enforcement campaign, Udder Milk has refused public comment to any media, including to this blog. Why would its owners hesitate, when publicity would most likely encourage its raw milk drinkers to protest to their legislators and/or to regulators? Legislators and regulators hate that kind of protest, since it comes from law-abiding citizens pissed off that they are being thwarted from the most basic of human functions: obtaining wholesome local foods of their choice. 

The reason Udder Milk’s owners hesitated is simple, and disturbing. Its owners are Muslims. Our president hasn’t exactly been cordial to Muslims, demanding even before he was elected that Muslims be banned from entering the U.S. He continued pursuing his objections to Muslims in court cases, which wound up with the U.S. Supreme Court backing him on being able to restrict emigration from specific Muslim countries. 

I had been in touch with the Udder Milk owners and lawyer, and had encouraged them to go public. But they resisted, until now. 

A lawyer for Udder Milk says he would love to countersue NY Ag and Markets, seeking evidence about the woman who allegedly became ill from brucella. “We want a deposition of that person. We want phone calls and faxes of what was going on with her.” 

He would also like to challenge the state’s targeting of Udder Milk on a pure food rights basis. “We have a right to bear arms, but we don’e have a right to feed ourselves?” 

The problem he anticipates with a big public challenge to NY Ag and Markets? Udder Milk’s owners “are Muslim. They are the perfect culprits…These are exactly the people (the administration) is looking for. They are driving around with headscarves and selling milk. The credible people are losing.” 

So it’s taken me months to finally convince the Udder Milk owners to go public. And even so, they don’t want their names or their lawyer’s name used. They remain terrified, based on the mounting pressure against immigrants and Muslims (and other minorities) in the U.S. 

If you were born in the U.S. and are a citizen, you probably can’t imagine the terror that even naturalized citizens and immigrants with green cards are feeling in today’s U.S. Just a few weeks ago, the Trump administration launched a formal effort to revoke citizenship from those who are determined to have “lied” to obtain citizenship. Failed to report a traffic violation? It could cost you your naturalization citizenship. 

In the meantime, the screws are tightening on Udder Milk to provide names of farmers they obtain milk from and individual names and contact info of their food club members, even though the New Jersey brucella illness clearly wasn’t a function of something it did wrong in handling milk.

This case bears a striking resemblance to that of raw milk distributor Max Kane nearly ten years earlier. He was quick to defend himself aggressively, and not hide in corner like the owners of Udder Milk, after Wisconsin authorities demanded he provide the names of farmers supplying raw milk for his distribution service. And while he lost his case, he felt free to mobilize support without worrying about being deported or otherwise attacked on grounds aside from the legal case at hand.  It’s a different time.

A key means for fighting back against endless encroachments on food rights is to use the courts and the legislatures to keep the regulators from overstepping their boundaries. The rule of law. We won’t get help from a tyrannical dictator whom we hope will show us some measure of mercy. 

A number of readers have taken me to task for seeming to abandon the problems associated with raw milk regulation and food rights, in favor of partisan politics.. 

I’ve had difficulty explaining how raw milk regulation intersects with partisan politics…until now. I think the problems over the last year of Udder Milk illustrate more starkly than I could ever explain how  the politics of food can’t ever be assessed in isolation from the politics of the rest of life. 

The bottom line: We can’t all be free as long as some of us are official scapegoats for hate-filled politicians. It just can’t be done.