For years, we have all known that raw milk production and consumption has been oppressed and hobbled by regulators and the huge dairy processors that are politically and economically tied to the regulators. After all, the processors do not like raw milk. They do not make any money on raw milk simply because raw milk does not ever get processed. Raw milk bypasses the processors and directly connects the farmer to the consumer―economically, nutritionally and spiritually.
High quality raw milk is a horror story for processors because processing is a method to fake high quality using technology to cover-up CAFO filth; and in the processing, the most allergenic food in America is created. Compounding their challenges, more and more humans cannot consume processed milk because of lactose intolerance.
High quality raw milk cannot be outsourced from China and it cannot be faked. High quality raw milk can only come from high quality ethical farmers who care and invest in their systems and conditions from “Grass to the Glass.”
Processors and their friends in the FDA continuously use the Food Safety Card against raw milk. It is now time to establish a record of truth, a raw milk food safety record to demonstrate to the world that raw milk is a very safe food and can be reliably produced when standards are applied with care.
On March 25, 2010, Whole Foods Market discontinued raw milk in all of its stores nationally, including fifty-five California stores, eight stores in Pennsylvania and additional stores in Washington, Connecticut and other states. One of the leading reasons they gave for this action was the total lack of uniform national standards for raw milk. Raw milk in California was not the same as raw milk in Connecticut. Although we in the raw milk movement were not happy about Whole Foods cutting-off raw milk sales, their argument did have some validity.
Nationally, raw milk standards are literally a scattered chaotic mess, and the dairy processors, national brands and the FDA love it this way. Raw milk is illegal in some places and it is legal in other places. In some places, it can only be sold on the farm but with no signs to advertize.
Strangely it is legal to be sold in some places if fewer than 23 quarts per day are offered for sale and illegal if more than 23 quarts are sold. In some states it can be sold if you buy the cow or part of a cow. In Florida it can be bought as pet food. The U.S. raw milk situation has been intentionally configured to be a total mess.
For many years those of us in the raw milk movement saw this situation festering and brew- ing. We have heard farmers all over America saying, “Somebody help; somebody set some standards and lead us away from this chaos.” We waited and waited. Years passed and no one stood up to lead raw milk to a better place, a place of consistency, pride, safety and transparency, with high ethical standards that everyone, regardless of size or location, could achieve.
In this vacuum, The Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI) was finally born in late summer of 2011. The mission was to mentor and assist farmers and to establish “Common Standards” for raw milk production. This effort would assist consumers in their efforts to find and identify high quality, dedicated, committed raw milk producers and be able to see and understand their food safety efforts.
It has long been known that few consumers really know what to look for in their raw milk producer and farmer. The evidence of safe raw milk production is not easily seen from out in front of the barn gate or from the on-farm store. The evidence lies very deep in the practices of the farmer from “Grass to the Glass.” The evidence of a farmer’s hard work and efforts are found in the quality of the water source, the temperatures reached during cleaning, the feeds given to the cows, the bacteria counts of their finished products and so many more things that cannot be easily appreciated from the outside looking in.
At first, many raw milk farmers saw RAWMI as big brother coming to regulate raw milk producers and tell everyone what to do and how to do it. RAWMI was initially not welcomed and in fact it was shunned by many. RAWMI learned from this speed bump and made some modifications to its voice and its mission. Instead of being the “responsible voice of raw milk,” RAWMI became “a tool and resource for raw milk producers.” This worked―invitations to mentor and help farmers started to flow in.
After working for more than eight months, RAWMI completed a vetting process that included:
1. A review of the RAWMI Common Standards by members of the RAWMI executive advisory board.
2. A review by farmers nationally and internationally.
3. A review by the California Secretary of Agriculture Small Herd Working Group members, which included the Department of Public Health, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) state vet, and members of the County Health Department Medical Directors, as well as many small dairy operators.
The RAWMI Common Standards were officially published by the RAWMI directors in July 2012. The Common Standards are unique because they do not mandate how a farmer must produce raw milk. Instead, the Common Standards set the standard for how all raw milk should measure when produced properly using whatever production systems that the farmer may choose, depending on the size and location of the operations. Each farm and location is different and those differences are embraced by RAWMI. The Common Standards also go beyond any other standards and mandate that each farm develop and follow its own food safety plan to achieve success consistently. Each plan is different and reflects the farmer’s innovations, location, conditions and size.
In Oregon, twenty-three people were seriously sickened in February 2012 after consuming raw milk from a cow share operation. As a result of this outbreak, RAWMI was invited to provide training and additional assistance to more than fifty small Oregon raw milk dairy farmers who made the decision to stand together, embrace standards and improve raw milk production. The first RAWMI listed dairymen came out of this training and mentoring experience.
We are very proud to announce Champoeg Creamery and its owner Charlotte Smith as being the first “RAWMI listed” raw milk dairy operation in North America. Charlotte will be speaking about her RAWMI experience and the tools that RAWMI brings to her operations at the Santa Clara WAPF convention in November 2012.
It is hoped that more small dairy operations will follow her example and join RAWMI and become listed.
We have seen a national trend towards some raw milk producers “secretly hiding and being scared of transparency.” We do not blame producers who hide away from exposure. In many parts of the U.S. raw milk production is illegal and hiding is required.
However, it will be very difficult to advance raw milk food safety or establish a track record of safety and increase consumer access to raw milk, if raw milk producers do not come out of hiding. RAWMI is not about hiding; it is about standing up and leading the way forward with pride and hard work.
So many small dairy operators fear government and fear exposure and this is not without merit or good reason. RAWMI is a tool that can help farmers understand their own challenges and manage these challenges. RAWMI is a tool to allow transparency of the bacteria counts that each farmer should be so proud of. RAWMI is a way for consumers to be able to identify high quality sources of raw milk and know that a third party has audited their systems.
A RAWMI Listed Dairyman is connected to a broader brotherhood of like minded dairymen who challenge themselves every day to achieve excellence. These RAWMI listed dairymen act as mentors for one another and support each other in times of need. Most importantly, a RAWMI listed dairyman has a plan to help him avoid a time of need.
When the RAWMI listed seal is seen, consumers will know what they are buying and feeding their families.
Not everyone will embrace this new openness. Not everyone will want to stand up and establish a track record where there was none before. RAWMI is for pioneers who want to change the world and make it a healthier place for all to live, one baby, one family and one farmer at a time. RAWMI listed farmers will be a group of pioneers who will fear little because they will have done the hard work to assure excellence in their raw milk products.
The line to become RAWMI listed has formed and we now have many farmers interested and have submitted applications to follow Charlotte’s lead. A brave new world of transparency and openness has been established and now it is up to us to join and support RAWMI as we establish a track record and prove that raw milk is safe and healing.
Each RAWMI listed farmer will have their own portal at www.rawmilkinstitute.org to display three essential pieces of information about their operations. That information includes:
1. The farmer’s story and website.
2. A copy of their RAMP food safety plan showing the “Grass to Glass” efforts that they make to assure the very best raw milk possible.
3. Raw milk bacteria counts and testing results.
This type of transparency is something that consumers have been quietly demanding for years. It is also a way for the hard work and efforts of the farmer to be displayed and appreciated. When one hundred dairies are listed and showing their data, the FDA will have a pretty darn hard time denying the cold clean raw milk facts.
It is interesting that not all localities have embraced RAWMI. In California, for instance, the political climate for micro-dairies has been less than inviting. In fact the situation in California is dynamic and changing. In 2013, a bill will be introduced in California to legalize the sale of raw milk off the farm as long as the farmer has three or fewer cows and sells to the final consumer directly off of the farm.
The draft is not final, but the content has pretty much already been negotiated with all the powers in charge. This happened as a result of the efforts of the “CDFA Small Herd Working Group” and the engagement and work of CDFA, Department of Public Health and the state vet along with cow share owners and yes, RAWMI was at all seven of the meetings.
This is huge progress and signals a “cease fire” in the CDFA attack against the California family cow and local consumption and sale of raw milk. RAWMI has been a part of the development of the voluntary self-certification standards that were drawn up at the working group, but RAWMI still appears to be an outsider for some micro-dairies because of the distrust for political process that so many of the family cow operations have had with state regulators. Some would rather hide than engage. As time passes more and more of the California small dairies are changing their attitudes and RAWMI is becoming more of a resource as transparency and food safety become more essential in the relationship between farmer and consumer.
In other states this political dynamic appears to be a reflection of the local situation. In Oregon there is little or no hesitancy to engage and become transparent.
Food safety and testing are all new to most micro-dairies. Time and demonstrated RAWMI utility will change things. I can imagine a time when raw milk dairies will brag about their RAWMI testing numbers and RAWMI will become a place to read consumer raw milk testimonials that are FDA-banned at their own farmers’ websites. RAWMI portal data will become something you take to your bank or your insurance agent for access to lower premiums. RAWMI portal data will be a household reference point for consumers seeking to learn about their food sources. We should all work to accomplish this as a goal. It will be good for farmers, consumers, cows, the earth and America.
The evidence collected by RAWMI is irrefutable and everyone, even our government, will be able to review and see the facts for themselves. RAWMI is a market builder and teaching organization.
Market building and teaching are the two most effective tools that can be used against the highly corrupt pasteurized milk commodity systems that ignore consumer health, raw milk test data, CDC and NIH research science and farmer sustainability. After all, the processors love a farmer that sells them milk at below cost.
It has been said that things are cheaper if you can steal them. That is exactly the paradigm of thought that runs through the minds and checkbooks of modern day processors and their dairy farm-killing, allergy-causing, lactose intolerance-inflicting brand interests.
Raw milk has entered a new century and will become a food with a new earned respect because of the hard work of farmers and the direct support of their consumers. RAWMI is a tool to get this done.
If you would like to become RAWMI listed or you know a farmer that could be assisted by RAWMI, please contact us. We are a 501c3 non-profit that is at your Raw Milk service.
Visit www.rawmilkinstitute.org and donate your dollars to assure that this vision and its goals are accomplished. Our farmers need this support and our next generations need this food. A unified voice with common standards for safe clean raw milk is rapidly becoming reality and soon many farmers will be RAWMI listed and supported.
RAWMI is allied with Cow Share Canada and shares a similar vision and mission.
This article appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of Wise Traditions, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation.