No, It’s not About Raw Milk. It’s About Control, Choice and Local Food


I’m not a journalist. I’m not a farmer. I’m not even a gourmet cook. And I most definitely am not a purist. I’m just someone who wants to make a difference in how we are feeding ourselves in this country, someone who wants to see farms thrive and families eat healthier and food systems be secure and sustainable.

That makes me a lowly layman, ignorant yet trying to get a small handle on the big issues…and to convey the bit of information I can glean on to you, because I suspect you are like me: you care but you don’t know the details about food production in our country. (Ugh, I even hate that phrase, “food production.” Even that sounds industrial and impersonal, corporate and cold.) And we all must because the way we are currently feeding ourselves is not sustainable.

I explained my naivete that way when I spoke to David Gumpert, author of “The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights.” He was kind enough to spend time on the phone with me even when I told him point blank I’m not writing a review of the book nor am I any kind of food journalist or expert. I am only a layman learning about these issues and hoping to make other ordinary, everyday people like me more aware of them by talking to him and reading his book then writing about what I learned, in laymen’s terms.

I wasn’t even prepared for my talk with him. I hadn’t read up on raw milk and I hadn’t started his book yet. I was just confused and curious. My biggest question was the one I asked first: “Why milk?” Because I wanted to know, why does raw milk lead to the SWAT team raids and the horrific treatment of well-meaning farmers? Why is raw milk illegal in most states when all kinds of other foods have made people sick, like spinach and cantaloupe?

Why milk?

David explained in part it’s because milk is an emotional issue. We feel differently about milk than we do other foods because it’s the first food we consume, and we forever associate it with our first months of life, the cuddling that comes with feeding and nurturing.

OK, that’s it in part, but surely there must be more to it than that, right? For raw milk to be so vilified and the issue to be so volatile, to the point that dairy farmers are treated worse than drug lords?

His reply? “Welcome to the new world of food safety.”


David told me a lot on the phone, and I learn more as I am reading his book. I’m not going to condense all of the detailed information he has compiled into one measly blog post, nor could I explain all of the complexities that are going on with food safety and food rights and traditional vs. industrial agriculture. So I am picking out a few salient points that I hope get you thinking, if not about raw milk, at least about government oversight and the consequences of our industrialized food system…and the resulting lack of bothchoice and control.

Up until 1947, raw milk was perfectly legal. Then that year, Michigan became the first state to require pasteurization, and other states all fell into line. In the early part of the century, circumstances were such that milk did need to be pasteurized in certain cases (crowded cities with unsanitary conditions). But all milk all over all of the time? That wasn’t necessary but today, raw milk is legal in only eight states! Eight out of 50! Why? Misinformation. Fear. Overzealous food safety. And a bit of Big Brother “government knows best” oversight.

On page xxvii of his book (and for the record, even just the introduction is compelling, quotable reading!), David says, “It’s this issue of rights versus protection that is arousing the most serious passion around raw milk and, increasingly, other foods.”

Whether or not you want to drink raw milk is irrelevant here, and I’m not going to espouse the benefits of raw milk, because that’s not my point. What matters is the right to buy and consume the food of your choosing, whether that’s pasteurized, homogenized milk from the grocery store or raw milk from the local farmer. How is that different from me wanting to buy corn from the local farm versus the trucked in stuff from the grocery store?

By vilifying raw milk and milk producers, we are in effect saying the industrial way is better. But wait, industrial agriculture has contributed to food borne illnesses because of the conditions of feedlots and heavy doses of antibiotics. There are very few illnesses that result from raw milk in comparison. In fact, one tragic story in the book tells of a family sickened by pasteurized milk, but the health officials didn’t bother to figure that out. Instead, they made life a living hell for the dairy farmer who had supplied raw milk to the family.

In another case, a dairy farmer almost died from the stress caused by the government and police attack and raid, and he had never had his milk associated with any illness. No, he had a neighbor who didn’t like the sound of the cows mooing…even though the poor man’s farm was zoned for, guess what? Farming! That was all the government needed to start setting up the sting operation that put this farmer in the hospital multiple times, ringing up tens of thousands of dollars in medical and legal bills. (I admit to crying while reading this story on pages 12 to 15.)

It’s interesting that the government can’t even see the benefit of raw milk as a local food, let alone recognize that it doesn’t pose the health threat they claim. Nor the more sustainable farming methods used by small dairy farmers as opposed to be huge industrial ones. You could even argue that raw milk is better for the environment for those very reasons!

I was tempted to point out the hypocrisy of keeping raw milk illegal for “health” reasons when the Standard American Diet (SAD!!) of processed junk food is making us fat, sick and diabetic…and no one thinks that’s illegal. But then I realized it still comes down to our choices. I don’t want junk food to be illegal. I don’t want raw milk to be illegal. I only want people to be educated and to have a choice about and control over what they are eating and whom they are buying their food from. And I don’t want government subsidies going to the producers making the products that make us fat and sick.

It’s milk right now, and it’s not getting any better. David suggested eggs might be next on the list, so look out backyard chicken farmers selling eggs to your neighbors. Could be the SWAT team will show up at your house next…bypassing the meth lab down the street to take down you, the real evil doer who dares to provide local food.

by Sharon Long


4 responses to “No, It’s not About Raw Milk. It’s About Control, Choice and Local Food

  1. Thank you for that, Sharon!

    At this moment, Michael Schmidt is dying for his devotion to the food freedom issue. The government of Ontario and the Grey-Bruce Health Authority refuse even to meet with him to begin a constructive dialogue. He is now in his 35th day of a hunger strike. Shame on Ontario! Shame on Grey-Bruce!

    You can help. Sign his petition:

    Then flood Premiere Dalton McGuinty’s in box with requests that he meet with Michael — at least on humanitarian grounds, as, many hunger strikers start dying around 30 days in:

    (or via his on-line feedback form: )

    While you’re at it, send an email to the head of the Grey-Bruce Health Authority that is behind the persecution of Michael Schmidt, Dr. Lynn:

    If you write one or more letters, please forward them to Kim Hartke (, who will then publish them on Michael’s blog, which itself is a wonderful source of food freedom info beyond raw milk: .

    “But I don’t drink milk,” you might exclaim, or even “I’m vegan, and don’t believe animals should be milked.”

    Well, remember what Pastor Martin Niemoller* wrote in the days of Nazi Germany? It may be milk they’re after today, but it may be your bean sprouts tomorrow. This is not someone else’s problem! This is a problem for ANYONE who wants control over what they eat.

    Please join me in signing the petition and writing Michael’s persecutors!

    Jan Steinman

    * “In Germany they first came for the Communists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me — and by that time no one was left to speak up.” — Pastor Martin Niemoller

    • Michael Schmidt ended his fast on day 37, after Premier McGuinty finally agreed to meet with him to begin a constructive dialogue.

      McGuinty said his government was not going to back off on the current regulations, and that the raw milk movement should focus its efforts on changing legislation instead.

      On November 23, there will be protests across the country on this issue! Perhaps you can join in on one of them, below. Please feel free to copy and paste this in any venue that could be helpful — we want to fill the streets with food freedom fighters on the 23rd!



      Five years after the November 23rd armed raid of an organic raw dairy farm in Ontario, food freedom advocates across Canada are rallying to gain public support for legislative changes to allow limited distribution of safe, carefully produced raw dairy products.

      “The glass of raw milk has become the symbol of the food rights movement,” said Michael Schmidt, the target of the 2006 pre-dawn raid involving nearly two dozen armed law enforcement officers. “Our message and our method is to bring down barriers in order to open dialogue,” Schmidt said in a speech at the Wise Traditions conference recently held in Dallas, Texas.

      Schmidt recently ended a 37-day hunger strike when Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty agreed to meet with him to begin a dialogue to change raw milk laws, which Schmidt and thousands of his supporters identify as limiting Canadians’ freedom of food choice.

      Canada is the only G8 nation that bans the distribution of unpasteurized milk. Government health officials cite the low probability of possible contamination with pathogenic bacteria as justification.

      However, in an analysis of US Center for Disease Control data, Dr. Ted Beals notes that there is an average of only 42 cases of illness per year attributed to raw milk in the US, compared to an estimated 48 million food borne illness from all causes. In government actions against raw milk, over 90% result in no harmful pathogens found, according to the Weston A. Price Foundation, a food-rights advocacy group.

      Dr. Beals notes that US CDC data show that “3.04 percent of the population consumes raw milk, or about 9.4 million people.” Beals concludes that consumers are 35,000 times more likely to become ill from other food products than from the raw milk that they drink. With nearly 33,000 traffic fatalities in the US each year, a US raw milk drinker is about 780 times more likely to die in an accident on the way to pick up their milk than they are to be sickened from drinking it.

      Raw dairy advocates cite multiple benefits of their food choice, such as supporting local agriculture and community-based initiatives, lower carbon emissions based on improved animal management practices such as grass feed instead of grain and greatly lower antibiotic use, and numerous health and nutritional benefits.

      Government health officials generally downplay raw dairy health benefits, although recent peer-reviewed research at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute show that children who drink raw milk have a 41% lower risk of asthma and a 50% lower risk of allergies, compared to children who drank pasteurized milk, as reported in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

      Raw milk advocates assert their right to seek out food of their choice from local farmers, without government interference. In a recent editorial, the National Post agrees: “Ottawa has let the price of Canadian milk, cheese, eggs and chicken rise well above world prices… to appease powerful farmers whose incomes are guaranteed because their production levels are regulated by bureaucrats… it is more important than ever to dismantle this old protectionist model.”

      Novemer 23rd rallies are being held in Victoria and Vancouver in BC, Toronto, Kemtville, and Ottawa in Ontario, Saskatoon and Regina in Saskatchewan, Montreal in Quebec, Wolfville in Nova Scotia, and St. John, Newfondland.


      For more information contact one of the people at the rally nearest you in the list below

      ***** November 23rd in BC – Nadine Ijaz and Jan Steinman are doing a rally at the legislature building in Victoria. They may be milking a cow and a goat. They will also be bringing milk across the border to drink at the rally. You can reach Nadine at and Jan at

      ***** November 23rd in BC –Alice Jongerden and Jackie Ingram will be doing a rally in Vancouver at this address Olympic Cauldron, 1055 Canada Place Vancouver. Nearest Skytrain Waterfront. Plenty of buses and the Seabus also drops you pretty much outside there, about a 4 min. walk. Alice can be reached at

      ***** November 23rd in Ontario – at 11 a.m. we are having a rally at Queens Park in Toronto – Michael is to bring a cow to milk (provided he is well). If he can’t we will find another farmer to do it. Organizers are Margo McIntosh at and Charlotte VanGenechten at

      ***** November 16th in Ontario – Jacqueline Fennell Conklin is doing a rally at OMAFRA inKemptville. She can be reached at

      ***** November 23rd in Ontario – at 11 a.m. Jacqueline Fennell Conklin is organizing a rally in Ottawa at the Health Canada Bldg. at Tunney’s Pasture.

      ***** November 23rd in Alberta is being organized by Charlene Bishop a raw milk activist. She can be contacted at

      ***** November 23rd in Saskatoon Saskatchewan is being organized by Carol MacRitchie Bird of the Weston A. Price Foundation. There will be a rally at 12 noon in front of city hall in Saskatoon. Carolcan be reached at

      ***** November 23rd in Regina – Katy Helliwell is organizing a rally in fronto of the legislature building. She will be serving milk and cookies and is planning a couple of speakers Katy can be reached at:

      ***** November 23rd in Montreal -Bobby Gregoire President of Slow Food Montreal will be publishing a letter to Quebec media on November 23rd to support the freedom of choice for consumers and they will be talking about the fight of Michael Schmidt. He can be contacted at

      ***** November 13 in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. The East Coast will be represented by Nova Scotia with both Shirley Sharfe, a Weston A. Price Chapter Leader and Michael Howell of Slow Food. You can contact Shirley at Michael has indicated that they are doing a screening of Milk Wars at the Slow Food Film Festival in Wolfville on November 13th at 1. You can see the details at this link You can contactMichael at Shirley will be doing a short talk giving information about Michael and his situation.

      ***** November 23 in St. John Newfoundland – Carol-Ann Galego will be organizing an event in St. John’s NL at the Dynamis Health Centre. I will be showing “The Milk Wars” and informing people about Cow Share Canada. Donations will be made to the Canadian Constitution Foundation. Contact info is Carol-Ann Galego at

  2. Pingback: It’s not About Raw Milk. « Hellion's Hilltop Farm·

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