Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
The Food Lawyer
It has been a pretty tough week to be a fan of raw milk.
This past week a federal court permanently enjoined a Pennsylvania dairy from using a herd-share arrangement to distribute raw milk between state lines. The judge in the case called herd-sharing a “subterfuge” for a sale, and as such the transaction was prohibited under federal regulation. The court determined that the FDA prohibition against the interstate distribution is worded broadly enough that public health officials can prohibit the transfer of raw milk from one person to another regardless of the underlying economic transaction. Sales are obviously prohibited, but so are outright gifts of raw milk made across state lines (technically). Now that this precedent has been established, this interpretation of FDA regulation is very likely to be adopted by other judges across the country as these herd share cases make their way through the courts.
What we are witnessing is the decline of the cow share agreement as a means to distribute raw milk. Courts in New York, Virginia, and Maryland have levied fines against dairies distributing through share agreements, in the process outlawing the scheme as a means to circumvent raw milk regulations. In fact, herd share agreements only seem to work when they are explicitly allowed by state statute, such as in Colorado and Tennessee. Now that even federal courts have started to weigh in on the herd share idea, I would have to say that at this point, the cow share model provides an unreliable revenue stream.
I say this as someone who understands and appreciates the economic appeal of raw milk. It is, relatively, an easy product to make, and customers drive 50 miles round-trip to buy it every week at $8.00 per gallon. Raw milk, in theory, is the greatest revenue source a small, diversified farm can have.
I can even understand the appeal to freedom some farmers and homesteaders make regarding their ability to profit from their own land in a natural, responsible way, and with the consent of other consuming adults.
Even if the regulators went away overnight and selling raw milk became unregulated, farmers would still face the problem presented by civil liability for food-borne illness caused by raw milk products. Also out in the last week or so, the Center for Disease Control published the results of an epic 15 year, nationwide study of dairy related illness and determined that raw milk was 150 times more likely to result in an illness that pasteurized product. This can either mean that raw milk is inherently dangerous and volatile (which is likely not the case) or that its proponents do not take the steps necessary to handle the product responsibly. Either way, the study shows that the raw milk trade is far more risky than the pasteurized business. The increased risk of selling raw milk means that the small dairies which sell it are less capable of handling the very personal economic catastrophes that befall them in the wake of an outbreak.
As a case in point, Food Safety News is now reporting on a Campylobacter outbreak attributed to a raw milk dairy which has to date sickened 80 consumers. The source? A small family owned dairy called Your Family Cow. It shall fall upon the resources of this single farm to compensate the 80 people who have been made sick so far from the product. That is a lot of risk for a 4th generation farm to bear.
Regardless of how you feel about raw milk, you’d have to admit that the risks of the business are unbelievably high. Is it worth it? There has got to be a better way to make a living than this, and I would love to hear the thoughts of this community.
If You would like to read more about our food laws, visit www.jasonfoscolo.com, the Food Law Blog of Jason Foscolo LLC
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