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Big Dairies and Massachusetts Officials Trying to Take Away the Right of Consumers to Buy Raw Milk

I'd like to personally thank the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for articulating its food-rights policy. I know, I don't usually have nice things to say about the FDA, but I'm feeling appreciative because the agency has made it so much easier to explain the food-rights struggle to large numbers of people. Just to re-cap, the agency's position, as articulated in its response to the suit filed by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (described in my previous post),  is three-fold:

-There's no absolute right to any raw unprocessed food, unless the FDA says it's okay;

-There's no right to good health, except as approved by the FDA.

-There's no right for citizens to contract privately for their food.

More Americans appear to be getting the message. The outcry in California against SB 201 in 2008 was a first sign. Then, of course, the people's will was thwarted by Gov. Schwarzenegger's veto. Over the past six months, we've had the popular push in Wisconsin, a state where the regulators have gone bonkers to eliminate raw milk, to pressure legislators to approve making it available from the farm; the proposed law now sits on the desk of a governor who has indicated he hears the consumer outrage (but is certainly subject to the not-so-gentle whispers from Big Dairy and the FDA).

And now, just within the last few weeks, we see a firestorm building in Massachusetts over a seemingly small but arbitrary decision by a regulator to restrict consumer access to milk. Unlike Wisconsin, which never officially sanctioned raw milk sales, Massachusetts has long allowed sales from dairy farms, and delivery to consumers by any of a half dozen or more buying clubs.

Everything was working fine in Massachusetts-more dairy farmers producing ever more raw milk and in the process creating a revival for the state's moribund dairy industry. No hint of illnesses in over a decade.

The Massachusetts Department of Agriculture seemed to be doing its job of supporting state agriculture by encouraging raw-milk-producing dairy farmers rather than fighting them, like the regulators in neighboring New York state. Late last year, MDAR publicly supported dairy farmer Doug Stephans in his fight with state and local public health authorities and helped him gain approval to sell raw milk from his Framingham, MA, dairy.

But then something happened early this year to change MDAR's approach. The agency sent cease-and-desist letters to four buying clubs that had been quietly and efficiently delivering raw milk to consumers who didn't want to burn the gasoline or were unable because they don't have cars or even are disabled, to travel the hour or two hours to dairy farms in central Massachusetts and pick up their milk. (The buying clubs essentially enter into contracts with individual consumers to pick up and deliver their milk.) The letters weren't well received by the owners of the buying clubs, and they began mobilizing support from their customers and legislators to challenge MDAR. They argued that Massachusetts laws and regulations don't specifically prohibit the buying clubs, making the cease-and-desist letters so much paper.

MDAR seems to have agreed, because two weeks ago it proposed a new regulation to prohibit the buying clubs. The regulation would make Massachusetts the first state in the country to explicitly ban raw milk buying clubs.