By Tom McNaughton
A growing number of people who understand the benefits of eating real food want to buy raw milk, but can’t—at least not legally in many states. Some manage to find it anyway. To get an idea of the effort this requires, check out this blog post:
“Just as promised, I found the milk in the fridge. ‘Nelson’ was printed neatly on the glass with indelible ink on an otherwise unlabeled jar. No one was around except for a dog, which surveyed my intentions and went back to guarding the cows. I left the money on the counter and departed with my contraband.
“This was actually the least secretive element in my quest to find raw milk. Getting here had required everything short of a secret handshake.
“After delicately putting the word out that I was looking, I was interviewed by a local gatekeeper who gave me the name of someone else who would send me in the right direction. In order to get that far, I had to prove my bona fides. The gatekeeper wanted to know my experience with raw milk, an attempt to ascertain whether I was a state health official operating a sting.”
You’d almost think some of these state regulators have confused raw milk with heroin. In fact, it’s probably easier to score heroin.
In Tennessee, raw milk seems to be semilegal. Some farmers sell it openly at the farmers’ market, but the farmer we prefer can’t—because his farm is forty miles away. But if we request it ahead of time by sending an email, he can legally sell it to us.
When I heard that explanation, I tried several times to make sense of it, then stopped when I thought my head was about to explode. Apparently, if the farmer drives a cooler full of raw milk cheese forty miles and then sells it to just anybody who wanders buy, the cheese will feel slutty and throw a temper-tantrum that results in an explosion of salmonella bacteria. However, if I request the cheese ahead of time, the cheese views it as an arranged marriage and is happy.
Curious about which states have outlawed raw milk, I checked the state-by-state listings on a Weston A. Price site, The Campaign For Real Milk. Perusing the state laws confirmed one of my most deeply-held and cherished beliefs: governments are inherently stupid. Here are a few examples:
Even though state law permits the sale of raw milk if the farmer obtains a retail raw milk license, in practice the Idaho Dept. of Agriculture balks at giving a license to anyone to sell raw milk. Until very recently, there had not been a retail raw milk licensee in the state for fifteen years.
That’s an interesting way of handling it. Maybe California could use that technique to reduce traffic congestion:
“Sure, it’s legal to drive here, but you need a license.”
“Okay, where do I get a license?”
“Sorry, we don’t actually issue any.”
“But. . . I need to drive!”
“Then you’d better get a license.”
Raw milk sales are legal on the farm if the farmer complies with the following conditions:
- No advertising the sale of raw milk.
- Customers must bring their own individual containers.
- The customer must put the milk from your container into their container.
Okay, I see. . . the farmer has raw milk in a container. If I take it home in that container, the milk will be contaminated. But if the milk is poured from his container into a plastic milk jug that’s been sitting in my “to be recycled” bin for the past three weeks, the contamination goes away and the milk is now safe. . . but only if I do the pouring, and only if I didn’t find the farmer in the Yellow Pages.
Raw milk sales are illegal with one exception: An individual with a written recommendation from a physician may purchase raw goat milk.
“So why do I feel so terrible, doctor?”
“According to your labs, you have a rare intestinal disorder. It’s called capralactinecessitis.”
“Oh my gosh! Can it be treated?”
“Yes, but only if you drink milk that would kill a healthy person. I’ll write a prescription.”
Raw milk sales are legal on the farm and in retail stores. Raw milk and raw milk products must have a label on the product containing the words “not pasteurized.” Farmers do not have to obtain a permit to sell raw milk if their sales are only on the farm and they do not advertise.
No, that’s not particularly stupid. I listed Maine because—Stephen King-style horrors! —raw milk is sold there, both on farms and in stores. If the stuff is as dangerous as the detractors say it is (assuming you don’t neutralize the contaminants by pouring the milk into your own container), wouldn’t the population of Maine be dwindling by now? Wouldn’t we have heard about it on the news?
Raw milk sales are illegal. Michigan was the first state to pass mandatory pasteurization laws—the year was 1948—and has some of the strictest milk laws on the books. Farmers may not even sell raw milk from the farm. In 2002, at hearings on the revision of the Michigan State Dairy Code, the industry attempted to amend the code to make it illegal for dairy farmers, their family members, their farm workers, and even their farm animals to drink the farm’s raw milk.
“Open the door! Police! I said open the door! Okay, guys, kick it in.”
“Drop the bottle, lady! I said drop it! Starsky, grab the kid; he’s got a milk moustache!”
“So, what’re you in for, kid?”
“Well, I was milking Daisy and I took a sip.”
The Department of Agriculture prohibits the sale of raw dairy with the exception of “milk, cream, skim milk, goat milk, or sheep milk occasionally secured or purchased for personal use by any consumer at the place or farm where the milk is produced.” The farmer cannot advertise and customers must bring their own containers. The state interprets “occasionally secured or purchased for personal use” to mean that farmers cannot sell raw milk to regular customers on a routine basis. So you can buy raw milk from a farm as long you don’t decide you like it and go back on a regular basis. Great, we’ll have people showing up at farms wearing Groucho Marx glasses to avoid detection. See, here’s the thing: if the raw milk makes you sick, you won’t be going back. That’s why I only tried vegetarian chili once.
Raw milk sales are legal but, in practice, there are no raw milk sales in the state. In order for a farmer to obtain a permit from the state dairy commission to produce and distribute raw milk, the county milk commission must first certify the farm for the production of raw milk or a raw milk product. There has never been a county milk commission in existence at any time, so to this point, there has been a de facto prohibition of raw milk sales.
Most of us who saw “Brazil” took it as a warning. Apparently some government folks took it as an inspiration.
Raw milk sales are illegal. To obtain other unpasteurized dairy products, residents travel to Pennsylvania and New York, which both allow raw milk.
“Waddaya want me to do with this jamook, boss?”
“Bury him in Pennsylvania, but transfer him to your own duffel bag so he don’t rot. And pick up a gallon of raw milk while you’re out there.”
Raw milk sales are legal on the farm and in retail stores. Raw milk for retail producers must have a permit and can only sell to stores if they have their own packaging operation with labeling and bottling machines. For Pete’s sake, didn’t the Pennsylvania regulators learn anything from the Great Raw Milk Massacre in Illinois?! You can’t let the farmers bottle this stuff themselves! You’ve got to make the consumers pour the milk into their own jugs, or all hell will break loose.
Raw milk sales are illegal with one exception: An individual may purchase raw goat milk from a producer if that person has a written, signed prescription from a physician. So that lady from Kentucky with capralactinecessitis can live in at least one other state and still receive treatment. Lucky break.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2010.
Tom McNaughton is a standup comic and the creator and producer of Fat Head; visit his blog at www.fathead-movie.com.