On July 15, inspectors from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) raided a truck owned by Jenny Samuelson, manager of the private buyers’ club, My Family Co-op, seizing around five thousand dollars worth of food, including raw milk, raw cream, raw butter, eggs and meat. MDARD stated it raided the truck because Samuelson was selling meat, eggs, and other foods without a food establishment license and because Michigan law prohibited the sale or distribution of raw cream and raw butter. The department indicated that Samuelson could legally distribute raw milk to co-op members through a contract she had made on behalf of the members with Hill High Dairy, but refused to release the raw milk from the seizure.
In order to get the use of her truck back (all the seized food had remained on the truck), Samuelson agreed to get rid of the milk, cream, butter and eggs. On July 21, over thirty-five hundred dollars worth of good food was dumped on the grounds of the Hill High Dairy Farm in Standish. Samuelson did not have to destroy the meat, and the seizure order on that product was lifted by MDARD. Samuelson applied for a food establishment permit; but on August 8, Byron Beerbower, the compliance manager of the MDARD’s Food and Dairy Division, informed her in a letter that while the department would not fine her for selling food without a license once she obtained a food establishment license, she would not be able to distribute raw milk out of the same truck that carries eggs, meat, and other foods. The restriction made it unaffordable for Samuelson, who was delivering food to six hundred families, to be able to operate under the terms of the license.
In 2012, after meeting for six years and discussing among other topics risks, benefits and consumer choice regarding fluid raw milk, the Michigan Fresh Unprocessed Whole Milk Group presented a report to MDARD Director Jamie Clover Adams recommending that raw milk be allowed to be distributed through herd share agreements without regulation. Several months after receiving the report, the MDARD Food and Dairy Division adopted the recommendation but also included a statement in the policy that read, “Products such as butter, yogurt, cheeses, etc. made from FUW (Fresh Unprocessed Whole) milk were not included in the workgroup’s discussions and are not considered by MDARD to be part of a herd share operation and therefore are subject to applicable MDARD laws and regulation.” Under applicable law and regulation, the sale or distribution of products like raw butter, cream and yogurt are all illegal.
The demand for raw milk and other nutrient-dense foods continues to grow in Michigan. MDARD would do well to revise its policy on the distribution of raw dairy products through herd share contracts; there is considerable anger in the wake of the raid about the department’s prohibition on raw milk products that goes well beyond the members of My Family Co-Op. The MDARD policy of prohibiting the delivery of raw milk with other food products to private food club members also needs to change. Keeping the same policy will only make criminals out of increasing numbers of otherwise law abiding citizens—a sure sign of bad law.