By David Gumpert
Editor’s Note: David Gumpert, author of the Raw Milk Revolution—the Emerging Battle over America’s Food Rights, delivered the keynote address at the recent Wise Traditions 2009 Conference, held in Schaumburg, Illinois. Creator of The Complete Patient blog, Gumpert is an award-winning author on business subjects who writes for Business Week and major daily newspapers.
In following the raw milk story and writing my book Raw Milk Revolution, it seemed to me as though I was in two different worlds. First, there is “this world,” that is, people who welcome and respect nutrient-dense foods. Then there is the “other world,” those who disparage nutrient-dense foods. The only problem is, that other world consists of medical, public health and government health and agricultural regulators, who are very powerful people.
Know Your Enemy
It is essential to know the mind of your enemy, to get inside their mind, gain insights into what is really going on. Learn their attitudes and approaches, to find out what they thinking.
Many regulators grew up drinking raw milk. Bill Chirdon [a Pennsylvania dairy regulator] and even Bill Marler [trial attorney specializing in food-borne illness cases] grew up on raw milk. If raw milk was good enough for them, why don’t they think it is good enough for us?
The gulf between these two sides was evident in my extended conversation with a public health official. Regulators are private, they like to do their work out of the public view—kind of like the police, they want to be out of public view so they can be as strict or lax as they want. He talked about the pros and cons of raw milk with me and finally said, “It might be all right for adults, but our real concern is about the children.” I told him of the studies showing that raw milk helps with asthma, allergies, even autism. The regulator’s response was, “Why don’t parents just buy medication for the child, why does it have to be raw milk?” I originally assumed that regulators did their “crack downs” out of a sense of duty. But I found that they truly believe in what they are doing. In 2006, Lewis Jones, of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, was going after a number of small dairies. Consumer affidavits showed the department officials were not even sure that people were sickened by raw milk. When confronted with this revelation Jones said, “Raw milk drinkers will never admit they got sick on raw milk.”
This same regulator said he would never take the risk of giving his son raw milk to help with his autism. If medical science couldn’t help his son, there was nothing else that could be done—that was the impression the conversation left me with.
Regulators are arrogant about their beliefs. At the American Veterinary Association meeting last July, I was one of two people who came and presented the pro-raw milk side. I pointed out that raw milk did not present a public health crisis, using statistics showing a very small number of people have actually been sickened.
But raw milk farmers are scofflaws and criminals, according to the mindset of the regulators. The fact that a federal judge practically threw out the settlement of a federal criminal case involving illnesses at Dee Creek Dairy in Washington state meant nothing to them.
Regulators are angry, they don’t like raw milk advocates like the Weston A. Price Foundation and what we stand for.
I attended the International Industry for Food Protection meeting where John Sheehan, FDA Dairy Food Safety regulator, was scheduled to be the speaker. He canceled when he found out that I, Sally Fallon Morell, and Michael Schmidt were attending. When I later met John Sheehan at another event, he refused to speak to me.
Food is food is food, is what they want us to believe. We are a thorn in their side.
We are bringing up unpleasant ideas that they don’t want to think about.
William Marler, the personal injury lawyer who has mounted several lawsuits against raw milk, has now admitted that raw milk sold only directly from farms might be acceptable. Yet, he thinks we are willing “to accept a few dead people to get our milk!”
A War Going On
We have a war going on. The FDA is leading the war. They are adamantly opposed to our having raw milk.
The battle over raw milk is a proxy battle. Food safety people want all food “treated” before we eat it. Raw milk is the first skirmish.
In Georgia, Illinois, Wisconsin new raw milk battles have erupted. There is a full fledged campaign against raw dairy in Wisconsin. Two FDA officials have identified twenty milk clubs in Illinois. They want to go after one milk club at a time, even suspending the dairies’ licenses.
It all reminds me of a book I read recently called Family Properties. The book is about the author’s father who was a lawyer involved in Chicago racial politics. During the period of discrimination against blacks, her father had been defending people involved in race riots. Her father was tailed by the authorities. It was determined that he wasn’t a communist, yet the FBI kept her father under surveillance the rest of his life. The government tends to need enemies. The Soviet Union, terrorists, and “nutritionally dense food” advocates are the enemy.
What We Can Do
Still, there is plenty that we can do. I have five suggestions:
- Keep shining the light of exposure on what is happening. Continue the process of education. Fight back with videos, blogs, Facebook postings. For example, farmer Scott Trautman in Wisconsin was cut off from selling milk, so he is using blogs and Facebook to get the word out.
- Monitor the regulators. They monitor the real milk site. They watch what we are doing on the Internet. We need to turn the tables and monitor the regulators.
- Support the organizations that are fighting for food freedom, like the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and the Weston A. Price Foundation.
- Be a stickler for safety, and let your supplier know you worry about safety. Each outbreak of illness from raw milk is ammunition to the regulators, and they use it to maximum advantage.
- Keep consuming raw milk! Our nation’s capitalist orientation is in our favor—buying raw milk means that the demand will be a powerful change agent.
The Awards Banquet closed with a thank you to David from Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation. She credited him for his hard work covering the raw milk issue from both sides. She then gave us her reaction to his keynote: “There is no force on earth greater than the informed consumer!”
For the latest developments on raw milk issues, go to www.thecompletepatient.com. Those who have not joined the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund are encouraged to do so. Membership applications are available online at www.farmtoconsumer.org or by calling (703) 208-FARM (3276); the mailing address is 8116 Arlington Blvd, Suite 263, Falls Church, VA 22042.
David E. Gumpert is author of The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights (September, 2009, Chelsea Green Publishing Co.). He writes a popular blog, The Complete Patient (www.thecompletepatient.com), which over the last two years has aggressively covered the health and regulatory issues surrounding the availability and legality of raw milk, as well as the implementation of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).
David is also author or co-author of six books on various aspects of business, including the best-selling How to Really Create a Successful Business Plan. He also co-authored the book Inge: A Girl’s Journey Through Nazi Europe, the story of his family’s experiences during the Holocaust, which was selected as a finalist by the Independent Publisher Book Awards for 2005. Prior to his book-writing and entrepreneurship career, he spent nine years as a staff reporter with The Wall Street Journal and seven years as small business editor of the Harvard Business Review. He was also a senior editor of Inc. Magazine.