One morning in the spring of 2010, two black SUVs rolled down the long dirt lane to Dan Allgyer’s dairy farm in Kinzers. Federal Food and Drug Administration agents emerged. Samples of raw milk were confiscated from a cooler.
One year later, the FDA asked a court to bar Allgyer from selling unpasteurized milk outside Pennsylvania and command him to pay the government’s legal and investigation costs. In December, the FDA petitioned U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Stengel to promptly enforce the ban. No action has been taken on the summary judgment request, Stengel’s office said. Allgyer is Amish and has not spoken publicly about the situation.
However, in a court filing, he argued that the FDA is pursuing a “quasi-criminal,” rather than a civil, matter because the threatened sanctions and impacts on his business are “severe.” He contends that the agency violated his due process rights and the privacy rights of buying club members. FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey said she couldn’t comment on the case because it remains open.
Liz Reitzig, a Maryland woman who purchases Allgyer’s milk through a Washington, D.C.-area buying club, Grassfed on The Hill, said the FDA is cracking down on local Plain sect dairymen in a deliberate effort to squeeze out raw milk producers.
“There’s been plenty of other farmers targeted,” said Reitzig, who declined to identify them. “As far as I know Dan’s gotten the most extreme treatment,” she added. The government injunction “has the potential to shut down his farm.”
The feds warn that raw, unpasteurized milk exposes consumers to E. coli and other potentially deadly bacteria that have sparked 143 illness outbreaks since 1987. Pure-food advocates claim that heating up, or pasteurizing, milk kills essential nutrients. They contend also that the effort to restrict raw dairy commerce is part of a larger war on small independent farmers, who are competing with large milk producers in a tight market. Several recent clashes have been reported.
In a raid last August, regulators arrested the owners of Rawesome Foods, a buying co-op in Los Angeles, for making and distributing raw milk and cheese without proper permits. Last winter, the government shut down a New York City buying club supplied by Amish and Mennonite raw-milk farmers from Lancaster County.
Reitzig and other mothers from Washington, D.C., and California, meanwhile, called attention to the issue last fall by organizing two “Raw Milk Freedom Rides.” Ralliers delivered illegally transported milk Nov. 1 to the FDA headquarters in Silver Spring, Md.
On Dec. 8, they held a cookie-and-Wisconsin-raw-milk party at a downtown Chicago park. FDA officials said in a statement that the agency would not prosecute anyone taking the beverage across state lines “solely for his or her own personal consumption.”
GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul weighed in on the issue last May with a bill to lift the 25-year-old U.S. ban on interstate sale and distribution of raw milk. Ten states, including Pennsylvania, have deemed retail raw milk sales legal, according to the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. Sales for human consumption are illegal in 11 other states, including Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia.
But the federal ban pits regulators against farmers –– who can generate two to four times more income from raw dairy products –– and pure-food adherents, who say they should have the right to buy raw milk along with raw meat, raw fruit and raw vegetables.
Jonathan Emord, a Washington, D.C., food-and-drug law attorney who represents Grassfed on The Hill, said the FDA began documenting Allgyer’s transactions in Maryland in an undercover “sting” operation in 2009. No contaminants were found, according to Emord, who said government agents approached the Allgyer farm before sunup while he was milking.
The FDA “chose the most draconian way to proceed” instead of merely telling Allgyer to put a warning sticker on his milk, Emord said. “In a rational world,” he added, “we don’t drop thermonuclear bombs on the heads of Amish farmers [who] may sell to 1,000 consumers over the course of a year.
“It’s a way to send a signal to Amish farmers,” Emord said. Allgyer faces the prospect of selling all or part of his herd to pay for the government prosecution against him, Emord said. Grassfed on The Hill members are now driving to Pennsylvania to buy raw milk. “It’s about fundamental freedoms and food freedoms,” Reitzig said.
“I’m a mom; I’m just going to a farm to get milk for my children.”