I’ve had some trouble writing this post. I keep starting it, and then someone posts an intriguing comment that takes me off in yet another direction, and I start over again.

I started off wanting to relate the Obama Administration’s response to a petition seeking an end to the federal ban on raw milk, to the debate over the Raw Milk Institute.  

There’s no surprise in the administration’s actual response, that Obama supports pasteurization of all milk, and opposes raw milk. We can assume he doesn’t pay much attention to this specific issue, but the reality is that his aides don’t issue positions he opposes. He said he was against raw dairy when he was a senator, and so he continues to say the same thing now.

What’s discouraging is that the White House adviser who wrote the response was cynical enough to suggest, “We…understand the importance of letting consumers make their own food choices.”

These words were just fluff to the adviser, and his boss. They, of course, “understand” nothing of the sort. In their world, they can’t allow true choice because they know best, they are the repositories of “science.”

I wanted to point out that as much as these autocratic opponents of true “food choices” want the issue to disappear, it won’t. It will inevitably expand, as ever more people learn about not only the ever-expanding restrictions on our liberties, but the costs in human health.

It seems to me that one important way it will expand is that it will wend its way through the courts, likely on a number of fronts (an appeal of the Wisconsin Craig/Zinniker case, the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund case against the FDA, the Dan Allgyer case, among others).

It seems to me that RAWMI is a way to reply to the fear mongering the regulators throw out there, as a way to demonstrate that raw milk providers are self policing. Sally O’Boyle’s immediate reaction was similar to mine: “When I first heard about RAWMI and its attempts to be a private regulatory ‘agency’ for dairy farmers, I immediately called to join up, to be trained as an inspector for KY. I would so much rather have a private agency inspecting my milk than a gov agency, bought and paid for by corporate interests.”  

But what should this RAWMI we refer to look like? Should it even exist at all?

Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy Co. expresses surprise about the depth of opposition to RAWMI. “I did not know about farmers that absolutely want no help or assistance to develop consumer friendly programs to show the work they do for safety. I did not know that many Cow Share operators reject any kind of exposure and demand absolute secrecy.”

But I wonder, is his surprise that this segment of farmers exists? Is he surprised by the depth of their concerns? Or is he surprised that they “demand absolute secrecy”? Or does he mean “privacy” instead of “secrecy”?  

So strong are the feelings, on both sides, that they are difficult to articulate. That leads to frustration. Gayle Loiselle,a plaintiff in the Craig/Zinniker cases in Wisconsin, sums it up when she says, “We need to organize and educate within our communities about the far reaching dangers of highly processed mass produced food and the benefits of sustainably produced nutrient dense food. And not waste our energy arguing over who is more right…that is exactly what the opposition is hoping for.”

Yes, all this was a lot easier when all we had to do was rail against the state and federal regulators at demonstrations, or express our cynicism during the Raw Milk Symposium. But now that we are looking at creating a new safety-oriented entity that is at once “consumer friendly” and “transparent,” as Mark McAfee puts it, the situation is much more challenging. Partly because we each have a different vision of what all these qualities mean.

Tim Wightman rightfully raises the fundamental question many of us would just as soon not think about: What should RAWMI (or a similar organization) actually do? He’s not sure exactly what it is, but knows what it isn’t. “To supplant wisdom with testing is not the answer and is the very reason we got in this mess in the first place. Balance is the key, in our soils, in our understanding and in our approach to the forces we must align ourselves with. To relegate that balance to testing alone is to ignore the other 75% of what it takes to create a quality product, and takes responsibility away to gaining wisdom and the relationships it forges.”

And then there are a good number of clear-thinking people who have serious problems with the idea of the Raw Milk Institute (or any such additional institutional entity) being a part of the food scene to begin with. Doreen Hannes fears “monopoly,” “control,” and diminished overall dairy quality–all the result of some kind of repeat of the setting of costly organic standards, which resulted in giving the biggest advantages to the biggest players.

Dave Milano worries about my perceived “monitoring void.” He suggests that “the need for third-party controllers resulted from invented systems that created voids between people and the products and services they use. Controls are emphatically not necessary and not desirable when a product or service is natural and uncomplicated, and when face-to-face contact can occur between the provider and consumer.”

And then there is the anger that comes out. Much of it is directed at McAfee. Some is way over the top, overly personal, though I prefer to think of it as indicative of the huge amount of emotion people have invested in this issue.
And some of it is directed at this blog, and me, for not regulating or censoring the commentary more.
As Deborah Peterson says, “This blog has turned into such a negative, ugly blog which has lost its focus in its intent. That is what is sad.”

I think there is something to that, though it is worth noting that things have actually gotten uglier a number of times in the past. Still, I am especially sensitive to the rising number of complaints over the years that those using pseudonyms are more prone to engage in personal attacks on others, especially on those who do use their real names.

In the big picture, though, Doreen Hannes has captured the dynamic real well, articulated the explanation that has eluded me for answering those who demand (ever more frequently), “Get rid of the jerks.”:

“To everyone that wants David to control the commenters, that is a very tough thing to do from an ideological standpoint. How can you be for freedom and cut some people off from expressing themselves?…It would be too time consuming to monitor all comments and then David would find himself having to explain why he wasn’t allowing x or y to be posted. So, while I personally detest many things that are said and the spirit they appear to be given in….and while I rarely comment here myself because of the continued personal vendettas and even outright silliness of some of the commenters, I think David just needs to let it be. Spit out the bones and take the meat. It is evident who is worth discussing things with and who is not. Let’s all just self police on the comments.

I still think much of it comes back to our difficulty confronting all that RAWMI implies. Maybe the solution is something akin to what Maurice Kaehler suggests, which is a return to more simplicity in our thinking. “How about everyone milking the cows twice a day, keeping your numbers down, taking care of your customers and starting an association based on a 4-H model where info about research, technology and practices are shared. The bison farmers have been doing this for years.”

I prefer to be more optimistic than to go along with his predicted “split” in the food rights movement. “For some people and farms too much is at stake as the cart is before the horse.” Getting the cart in the right place can’t be that difficult, can it?


There’s a rally tomorrow (Wednesday) in Sauk, WI, to support dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger when he makes his first court appearance in connection with criminal misdemeanor charges. The charges were filed a year-and-a-half after Hershberger cut the tape placed on his coolers by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to prevent him from distributing raw dairy products to members of his food club.

The rally will be at noon, on the Sauk County Courthouse Steps, 515 Oak St.

Not sure if the timing is good or bad, but this blog is getting a new look. It is a look intended to highlight more effectively the commentary that takes place here, as well as to make topic searching easier, and just be easier on the eyes.

As you might imagine, moving this blog, and its six years worth of content, from one locale to another, is no trivial matter. Along with that challenge has come the challenge of making sure the new site operates smoothly.

All this by way of saying that, if you are registered with this site, you will sometime in the next few weeks be receiving an email from me announcing the switchover. The email will provide a link to the new site, so you can set up your password there (either the one you are currently using, or a new one). Your user name will remain unchanged.