Last March, I described how agents from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration paid evening visits to the homes of two Organic Pastures Dairy Co. employees to question them about interstate sales of raw milk. The visits were follow-ups to mysterious subpoenas the women received to testify before a federal grand jury on the subject. Shortly after that, the subpoenas were cancelled, and it seemed as if, perhaps, the feds had decided to move onto more constructive pursuits, like keeping poisonous Chinese food products out of our food system.

No such luck. Pretty much whenever state and federal agents appear to have been embarrassed by their heavy-handed tactics in trying to intimidate raw milk producers, the government operatives don’t give up. They just re-group, bring on more agents and lawyers, and throw even more resources against the raw milk tide sweeping the country (all the while claiming they don’t have the resources to do anything about the tainted Chinese products and tainted factory farm products).

In California, the night-time police visits to citizens’ homes have partially morphed into a 16-page civil suit filed Thursday in federal court in California: “United States of America, Plaintiff, v. Organic Pastures Dairy Company LLC, corporation and Mark McAfee, individual.” (Mark is pictured above, with his wife, Blaine.)

Pretty amazing. I used to be awed by the implied power in such cases of the U.S. government going after an ordinary citizen, but now that I know a little more, I’m just impressed by the overall dysfunction it represents.

It turns out OPDC has been negotiating with the U.S. attorney’s office in California pretty much since last spring, and had negotiated a settlement of possible criminal charges several weeks ago, in which it admitted it had been selling raw milk in interstate commerce, and agreed to refrain from doing so for the next two years, at which time the government will evaluate its compliance.

The civil suit, then, seems to be about cracking down further on OPDC in connection with real pet food sales and with colostrum sales outside California, though a reading of the suit suggests it’s bigger than that—really, a major broadside against consumption of raw milk in the U.S. The government technically charges OPDC and Mark with selling unpasteurized dairy products across state lines. In so doing, says the government, OPDC is guilty of selling “misbranded” products and “new drugs” that haven’t undergone FDA testing.

You can read the suit further for the government’s explanations of what it means by “misbranded” and “new drugs.”

In the meantime, four things that especially stand out about the civil suit:

1. The government’s attempt to label raw milk as inherently dangerous: “Raw milk and raw milk products contain a wide variety of harmful bacterial including, but not limited to, listeria monocytogenes, e. coli, salmonella, campylobacter, and brucella, all of which may cause illness and possibly death.” Note it doesn’t say raw milk “may” contain such harmful bacteria. It is saying that raw milk does contain these pathogens, but that you “may” become ill or die. These are lawyers writing this thing, so there’s no chance they misstated their intent. And without citing any source, the suit says, “Between 2000 and 2005, there were nineteen events of illness associated with raw milk and raw milk products that involved 473 persons, many of them children and pregnant women. These events resulted in seven deaths, including three infant mortalities.”

2. The suit, by seeking a permanent injunction, makes it sound as if Mark is continuing to ship raw milk to states outside California to be used by consumers. Mark insists that he discontinued selling raw milk in other states in connection with the criminal case settleent, except under special circumstances where he can verify that it will be used as pet food. Such circumstances include sales to zoos and veterinarians. The FDA’s suit suggests that there would be nothing wrong if Mark’s milk were shipped to other states only as pet food.

3. The suit makes no distinction between sales of raw dairy products and raw colostrum. There is a distinction in the marketplace, where colostrum has long been sold by multiple producers as a nutritional supplement, with FDA’s knowledge. Mark says he continues to sell colostrum in other states, based on its classification as a supplement.

4. The suit indicates that even if OPDC makes no medical claims for raw milk helping combat certain illnesses, it violates federal law simply by linking to sites that may make such claims, or publish studies to that effect. The suit says OPDC’s website “contains numerous hyperlinks to other websites…(including one) that contains numerous claims that raw milk and raw milk products can cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent various diseases…” Since when is it a violation of federal law for a seller of any products to provide links on its web site to other sites containing research or data or articles? I thought we still had the protection of freedom of speech.

Mark says he can’t wait for the suit go to trial. “With this, raw milk has officially gained the attention of the FDA, and now I can get John Sheehan (FDA’s chief dairy person) on a subpoena and make him answer questions and perhaps even get him under oath in a deposition. This will be great fun.” Besides, he says, it’s all a big boost for OPDC’s sales. The FDA is OPDC’s best marketing tool, and it’s free.

I think the government apparatchiks keep thinking they can harass Mark McAfee out of business, and then this whole raw milk movement will dissipate and stop becoming so popular and such a thorn in their factory food paradigm. Governments make this mistake all the time. South Africa did it with Nelson Mandella. The Soviet Union with Alexandr Solzhnetsyn. They don’t seem to understand the dynamics of martyrdom. They’re picking on the wrong guy—someone who will stand up to them.

Maybe it’s time we had a trial. Get this whole sad mess out into the open–kind of a modern-day equivalent of the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 in Tennessee over the teaching of evolution. As Mark puts it, “The resulting court exposure will bring the media like flies to fresh organic manure.” And drive raw milk demand up further still.