A group of Maryland moms served raw milk and cookies in front of the Food and Drug Administration headquarters on Tuesday, urging the agency to drop its longstanding ban on selling unpasteurized milk across state lines.
The group of about 15 mothers and other supporters – calling themselves the “Raw Milk Freedom Riders” – purchased raw milk from a Pennsylvania farm and caravanned to Silver Spring to protest the ban.
The mothers were protesting a 1987 regulation issued by the FDA that prohibits the transportation of raw milk across state lines in order to sell it.
The FDA said the ban is necessary because consuming raw milk can lead to illnesses from foodborne pathogens like listeria, E. coli and salmonella.
“While the perceived nutritional and health benefits of raw milk consumption have not been scientifically substantiated, the health risks are clear,” the agency said in a statement, attributing 143 illness outbreaks to raw milk since 1987.
But raw milk tastes better than pasteurized milk and has health benefits for children, said Liz Reitzig, a mother and co-founder of the Farm Food Freedom Coalition, which sponsored the protest.
“The (FDA) is undermining our authority as parents,” she said.
While the interstate sale of raw milk is illegal, the sale of it within each state varies. According to the FDA, 20 states prohibit raw milk sales, while 30 allow it in some form. The sale of raw milk is legal in Pennsylvania, but not in Maryland.
At FDA headquarters on Tuesday, protesters welcomed the caravan with chants like “Hey, hey, FDA! Raw milk is here to stay!”
As police looked on, protesters maintained that transporting milk from Pennsylvania to Maryland and serving it for free was illegal. They held signs that said, “I drink raw milk. Arrest me!”
An FDA spokesperson said the agency defines “interstate commerce” to include both the sale of raw milk and giving it away for free. But there were no arrests made Tuesday.
The protesters gathered around Sally Fallon Morell, the president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a non-profit nutrition organization, who spoke about the importance of raw milk was to children’s health.
“Our children need this milk,” Fallon Morell said. “We can’t go on with another generation eating industrial foods.”
Joel Salatin, a leading advocate of sustainable farming and the owner of Virginia’s Polyface Farms, told protesters that individuals – not the government – should be able to choose to drink raw milk.
“If we’re going to have freedom, we’re going to have to have the risk of making bad decisions,” he said.
Click for a photo gallery of the protests.