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Raw Deal for Raw Milk: FDA Eases Regs for Big Food, but Makes Life Hard for Small Farmers

We were furious when the Trump administration’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reversed Obama’s decision to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that causes neurological damage, especially in children.

We were equally dismayed when Trump’s U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed rolling back animal welfare standards for organic  production.

But as long as Trump has his scissors out, there is at least one piece of “red tape” we wish he would cut: The U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) ban on raw milk.

The Real Food Consumer Coalition has drafted a legal petition asking the FDA to let raw milk dairy farmers distribute unpasteurized milk in interstate commerce, as long as it bears a warning label and instructions for safe handling. 

We’re asking our networks to support Real Food’s petition by asking the FDA  to lift its ban on raw milk. 

Rollbacks for big corporations, but no relief for small farmers

So far, most of Trump’s regulatory rollbacks have benefited major corporations at the expense of food safety, children’s health and organic integrity.

Trump let DowDupont, which donated $1 million to his inauguration, continue to sell the insecticide chlorpyrifos even though it damages children’s developing brains and reduces I.Q.s. He also blocked tougher animal welfare rules for organic poultry.

Instead of continuing to kiss up to the corporations, Trump should consider lifting unnecessary regulatory burdens on family famers, starting with the FDA’s ban on raw milk.

There are only seven states— Montana, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Louisiana, Iowa and Delaware—where raw milk is expressly illegal. Still, FDA regulations make raw milk contraband whenever it crosses state lines.

Even though the threat of federal prosecution has pushed most farmers away from raw milk sales, 3 percent of the public (approximately 9.4 million people) still regularly consume unpasteurized milk.

Despite its tiny market share, raw milk can be a big contributor the economy. One economic study  found that if Wisconsin had just 100 raw milk dairy farms that each served 50 families, those farms would pump $10 million into the state’s economy. 

A boost like that is exactly what rural economies need as U.S. dairy farmers continue going out of business at an unsustainable rate. In 1950, there were about 3.5 million  farms with milking cows. By 2016, there were only 41,809. Between 2015 and 2016, 1725 dairy farms went under.

Dairy farmers are suffering because the companies that send their milk to the grocery store refuse to pay them what it costs them to produce the milk. On the West Coast, cooperatives created to sell dairy products have been accused by their members of pocketing millions of dollars in an elaborate accounting scheme.  

Meanwhile, farmers in the Northeast have filed a lawsuit against their coop, Dairy Farmers of America, and Dean Foods, the nation’s largest milk processor, alleging the companies conspired to monopolize the market and drive down prices, knowing their member farmers would have nowhere else to sell their milk.

Milk prices are so bad this year—farmers are getting the same price they got 20 years ago—that at least one milk processor sent farmers phone numbers for suicide prevention hotlines and other mental health services along with the latest market forecasts.

Organic dairy farmers get paid better, but they’re also facing prices below the cost of production. (Selling raw milk direct to consumers was a good way for organic dairy farmers to weather price fluctuations until Organic Valley banned the practice.) 

Economists at the Economic Research Service have found that farmers who market goods directly to consumers are more likely to stay in business  than those who market only through traditional channels.

Why drink raw milk?

There is plenty of scientific evidence of the nutritional superiority of raw milk, and its safety. But nothing tells the story of raw milk better than the testimonials of people whose health improved after they switched to raw milk. (Many of these raw milk success stories involve raw milk kefir, which you can make at home with certified organic kefir grains.)

In addition to modern testimonials, there are medical books written in the early 1900s with hundreds of case studies: “Milk Diet as a Remedy for Chronic Disease,” by Charles Sanford Porter, M.D. (1916) and “The Miracle of Milk: How to Use the Milk Diet Scientifically at Home,” by Bernarr Macfadden (1923). Some of the illnesses that raw milk drinkers have experienced relief from include:

• Lactose Intolerance

• Crohn’s Disease

• Asthma

• Allergies

• Psoriasis

• Urinary Tract Infections

• Acne

• Migraines

• Lyme Disease

• Cancer

Raw milk may prove to be the key to understanding the “farm effect.” About half of Americans have evidence of allergic sensitization, which increases the risk of allergic disease. Yet only 7.2 percent of Amish children are sensitized to tree pollens and other allergens, making the Amish among the least allergic populations in the developed world. What could account for the difference? 

Only 3 percent of Americans drink raw milk—but 80 percent of the Amish drink raw milk. 

In Europe, the consumption of unpasteurized milk also correlates with protection against allergic disease. European children who consume raw milk have more T-cells, which help the immune system restrain itself when facing substances that are not true threats. A healthy population of these and other “suppressor” cells is important in preventing allergies and asthma. The higher the quantity of those cells, the less likely is a diagnosis of asthma.

The “farm effect” seems to be a “raw milk effect” protecting children by favorably stimulating their immune systems, particularly early in life. 

We think it’s high time the FDA acknowledge the health benefits of raw milk and start allowing raw milk dairy farmers to distribute unpasteurized milk in interstate commerce, as long as it bears a warning label and instructions for safe handling. 

Want to help? Ask the FDA to lift its ban on raw milk.

Trump claims to care about farmers and rural America. Here’s his chance to prove it. By allowing farmers to sell raw milk direct to consumers, Trump and the FDA could help keep America’s dairy farmers in business.

Alexis Baden-Mayer is political director for the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). Sign up here for news and alerts from OCA.