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The Government’s Continuing War on Raw Milk

When the current phase of a nearly century-long government campaign to convince American consumers to abandon raw milk launched in 2006, heavy-handed intimidation tactics were the order of the day.

Kentucky farmer Gary Oakes was questioned so intensively by agents from the Ohio Department of Agriculture and U.S. Food and Drug Administration while delivering milk to consumers in a Cinciannati parking lot that spring that he was hospitalized three times for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Michigan farmer Richard Hebron had more than $8,000 of dairy products confiscated in a "sting" operation outside Ann Arbor on Columbus Day weekend of 2006; for five months afterwards, he was threatened with criminal prosecution that might have landed him in jail, before finally being let off with a small fine. And Mennonite farmer Mark Nolt endured three raids on his raw dairy-including confiscation of expensive milk and cheese-making equipment-by state police, FDA, and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture agents during 2007 and 2008.

The fact that the heavy-handed intimidation operations against raw dairies have abated over the last couple years shouldn't be mistaken for a letup in the federal and state campaign against raw milk, though. Rather, there has been a shift in tactics.

Those earlier assaults on owners of small farms generated enough unfavorable publicity that federal and state authorities have opted for a less distasteful approach. The emphasis now is on ever-closer regulatory oversight of raw milk sellers and distributors, as well as court actions.

A major target over the last year has been private buying groups. These groups of anywhere from a few dozen to hundreds of consumers have organized in states where raw milk either is banned for general sale, or else available only from dairy farms. They have grown out of the exploding popularity of raw milk and the resulting demand by consumers to be able to conveniently obtain raw milk without traveling hours to a farm. In many states, they have long been tolerated ... until now.