The Raw Milk Freedom Riders were organized to shift the legal heat of the federal and state war against raw milk from farmers to consumers.
But events Thursday illustrated how difficult that task is going to be. Whereas the U.S. Food and Drug Administration answered a November 1 demonstration outside its headquarters with a pledge not to interfere with consumers bringing raw milk across state lines for their own personal use, the agency chose to send a different message for this demonstration.
The government is fixated on legally hampering raw dairy farmers rather than messing with consumers, per FDA answers to the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund court suit challenging the ban on interstate raw milk sales.
So as half a dozen mothers engaged in civil disobedience Thursday by transporting raw milk from Wisconsin to a Chicago park, where they accepted payment for some of the milk (see photo at left), and passed out the rest to the 200 or so demonstrators protesting the FDA’s crackdown, the FDA chose to go after a farmer. Almost as if it was sending its own message of defiance, the agency began the process of filing legal papers in federal district court, in its effort to convince a federal judge to issue a permanent injunction against Pennsylvania Amish farmer Daniel Allgyer, and thereby end his shipments of raw milk to members of a Maryland food club.
And seemingly as if on cue, Wisconsin’s attorney general filed criminal charges against the state’s most famous raw dairy farmer and resister, Vernon Hershberger. Apparently unable to get a local prosecutor to act, the state’s Attorney General designated a special prosecutor to file the four misdemeanor charges against Hershberger for allegedly violating state dairy laws and selling food without a retail license.
At the rally, speakers included Ontario dairy farmer Michael Schmidt, former Libertarian Party presidential candidate Michael Badnarik, Wisconsin activist Max Kane, Maryland activist Liz Reitzig, and yours truly. “Who owns your body?” Badnarik asked the crowd repeatedly. Schmidt bemoaned that the U.S. and Canada “first got rid of the native people, and now are getting rid of the farmers who grow the food, who comprise two per cent of the population.”
“We are here to stand up for our farmers,” exclaimed Reitzig. I warned the consumers in attendance that, “We are in for much tougher times” in laying claim to our food rights. “We will be tested in ways we can’t yet imagine. We may well be called on to put our own bodies on the line to protect farmers.”
It was inspiring to see 200 people turn out on a frigid day, and put themselves at risk of possible law enforcement activity. It was also inspiring to see both Schmidt and Badnarik returned to good health. Schmidt is about five weeks off a 37-day hunger strike, and says he is back to a regular diet, though he has significantly reduced his intake of carbohydrates. And Badnarik says he has fully recovered from a serious heart attack he suffered in December 2009, within hours after speaking at a rally in Viroqua, WI, in support of Max Kane at his contempt-of-court hearing. He says he has no memory of the rally, or the next nearly three weeks he spent in a coma.
Reitzig said the Raw Milk Freedom Riders have plans for more events to challenge the interstate ban on raw milk, but didn’t disclose the specifics.