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The Criminalization of Raw Milk

A Mennonite Farmer is Hauled Away

by LINN COHEN-COLE

On April 25, 2008, in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, Mark Nolt, a Wenger Mennonite (Horse and Buggy Mennonite) dairyman, threatened for months with arrest for selling raw milk without a permit was removed from his property by state troopers.  

Jonas Stoltzfus, a friend, fellow farmer, and Church of the Brethen, was asked by Mr. Nolt to speak for him, and said of the raid yesterday – "Six state troopers and a man with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture trespassed onto his property, and stole $20-25,000 of his product and equipment."   

Mr. Stoltzfus explained that Mr. Nolt did not have a permit because "he chose to turn his permit back in because it did not cover all the products he was selling.  He felt he was being dishonest selling stuff that was not covered by the permit.  He is a man of great integrity."  

"According to reports from neighbors and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, several officials of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture participated in the raid, and while Mark was being transported by police car to the courthouse, PDA officials confiscated $20,000 to $25,000 worth of dairy products and production equipment. Neighbors reported the farm had been closed and that a large group of officials had gathered, with videos prohibited."

"Mr. Nolt was told that people had gotten sick from eating his food, but no one ever came forward and no proof was ever offered."

"This is a Gestapo raid," Jonas Stotlzfus said, "complete with state troopers, raiding a hard-working farmer selling milk to friends and customers.  And his customers ARE his friends."  Mr. Nolt 

Mr. Stoltzfus said of Mr. Nolt, "he is not going to stop [selling raw milk] til he is ready to stop.  He is the equivalent of that little black lady in Alabama who wouldn’t go to the back of the bus.  He is doing the same thing, he won’t go to the back of bus."  Mr. Stoltzfus said "she got arrested for that and so did Mr. Nolt.  He ignored [the threat] and kept on selling.  He is a courageous man."  Mr. Stoltzfuz said "Mark believes it is his right to sell, according to the constitution, just like it was Rosa Park’s right to sit wherever she wanted on the bus.  Same deal.  There is nothing in the constitution to prevent Mr. Nolt from buying and selling, especially to his friends," Mr. Stoltzfus said.  

Stoltzfus commented that Mr Sheridan of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (Stoltzfus does not have the spelling and believes he is with the licensing division) used to work for Dean Foods and Hershey Foods, big corporate operations, and that Sheridan was "jealous that farmers make a better product" and called the raid by Mr. Sheridan "a vendetta."

This case is similar to that involving Meadowsweet Dairy LLC in New York, in that both Pennsylvania and New York allow raw milk sales, but adamantly oppose the sale of other raw dairy products. 

Mr. Nolt was doing things the way his community has for generations, selling milk straight from his cows to those he knows.  

Mr. Nolt contends that the regulations have not been approved by the legislature and shouldn’t apply to him because he is selling directly to consumers, via private contracts that are outside the purview of the state, making a privilege out of a right he believes he has – the right to private contracts.”

The permitting issue, ostensibly for food safety, is contradicted by a look both at raw milk itself and at its competition, corporate milk – pasteurized and often from cows injected with rBGH.  

Four issues stand out:

1. INDEPENDENCE of farmer and customers

Raw milk:  Farmer sell raw milk from their own cows, to neighbors and friends at a price farmers set themselves, paid by people who value their product, without a middleman.  

A growing number of people prefer raw milk (unpasteurized milk), considering it not only safe but healthier than pasteurized milk because it is still rich in pro-biotics not killed off by pasteurization. l

Farming communities have consumed raw milk for generations.  The exchange between farmers and neighbors play a central part in the web of relations sustaining those communities.  Yet raw milk is banned in many states.

Corporate milk:  Dairy farmers sell their milk to milk "producers" who pasteurize it, may add things to it, bottle it, distribute it, often at great distances.  Dairy farmers must accept a price set by others, in a large competitive market.  Nothing in the process promotes local farming communities.  

"…The system of influence and control..is highly skewed in favor of the corporate and financial system." – Vincente Navarro, (Professor of Health and Social Policy, John Hopkins U.).

2. HEALTH  

Raw milk:

"[For years, m]illions [in California] consumed commercial raw milk, … not a single incidence was reported. During the same period, there were many instances of contamination in pasteurized milk, some of which resulted in death.  [I]f we withdrew … every food type responsible for a case of food poisoning, there would be virtually nothing left to eat. But only raw milk has been singled out for general removal from the food supply. 

"… the bacteria in raw milk is the healthy bacteria of lactic-acid fermentation while the bacteria in pasteurized milk is the bacteria of spoilage. … Both raw and pasteurized milk contain E. coli, normally a benign microorganism. The most likely source of the new strains of virulent E. coli is genetically engineered soy, fed to cows in large commercial dairies. If there is any type of milk likely to harbor these virulent breeds, it is commercial pasteurized milk. … Children fed raw milk have more resistance to TB, scurvy, flu, diphtheria, pneumonia, asthma, allergic skin problems and tooth decay. In addition, their growth and calcium absorption was superior."   (In California, there is currently an effort to ban raw milk.

"Four distinct groups of bacteria survive pasteurization….the strep of pasteurized milk are the most frequent cause of rheumatic fever –the most deadly disease of childhood.’" – USDA

Corporate milk:

During the Clinton administration, a new study was released "conclud[ing] that milk from cows injected with [genetically engineered bovine growth hormone – rBGH) increases risks of breast and colon cancers in humans.   
 ….
"rBGH poses an even greater risk to human health than ever considered," warned Samuel Epstein M.D., Professor of Environmental Medicine …. "The FDA and Monsanto have a lot to answer for.  Given the cancer risks, and other health concerns, why is rBGH milk still on the market?"

Since 1986, independent scientists have expressed concern about the lack of research on rBGH milk.

Michael Colby, Executive Director of Food and Water said, "Monsanto ‘s claims that rBGH is perfectly safe have been proven dead wrong today …. Only Monsanto is benefiting from this drug.  It’s time for dairy companies to side with consumers by adopting a policy that they will not allow rBGH, under any circumstances, to be used by their farmers."

Epstein said:  "The entire nation is currently being subjected to a large-scale adulteration of an age-old dietary staple by a poorly characterized and unlabeled biotechnology product which is very different than natural milk."

In 2007 – when Mark Nolt was first arrested for selling raw milk (natural milk) –  a citizens’ petition to the FDA on rBGH milk showed 30 scientific journals indicating an up-to-7-fold increased risk of breast cancer, and an increased risk of colon and prostate cancern.

3.  PROMOTION  

Raw milk is sold primarily through word of mouth.  

Corporate milk is promoted through large, expensive ad campaigns.  

The California Milk Processor Board is now targeting teens:

"Goodby, Silverstein and Partners created a page on MySpace to promote White Gold and the Calcium Twins, a team of new fictitious characters turned rock stars who spread their love of and devotion to milk through music. TV spots, print ads and PR will also support the promotion

"The Milk Processor Education Program … is funded by the nation’s milk processors … committed to increasing fluid milk consumption." http://www.thinkaboutyourdrink.com. 

4. LABELIING

Raw milk is just milk.  Those who buy it know that and seek it out for that reason.

On the corporate side, Monsanto continues pushing bans on labeling rBGH-milk.  Customers usually do not know they are consuming rBGH milk.

During its approval process,

"FDA scientist, Dr Richard Burroughs concluded …  Monsanto was manipulating the [test] figures. In 1989 he was sacked after complaining to Congress … To deal with the … controversy Monsanto assembled …PR companies … of which [BURSON-MARSTELLER] was one."  

During the Clinton administration,  Monsanto employees were appointed to run the FDA.  Monsanto’s rBGH – the first genetically engineered product ever, was approved.

"[In]1994, people at the FDA [wrote] an anonymous letter to … Congress, [fearing] retribution … The basis of our concern is that Dr. Margaret Miller … wrote the FDA’s opinion on why milk from [rbGH]-treated cows should not be labeled. However, before coming to the FDA, Dr. Margaret Miller was working for the Monsanto company as a researcher on [rbGH].”  

In 1996, there was a press conference on rBGH’s medical risks.  "Given the potential health impacts of consumption of milk and other dairy products derived from rBGH treated cows, all such products at a minimum be labeled so that consumers are aware of what they are purchasing and consuming. More prudently the FDA approval of rBGH should be withdrawn until the agency performs adequate long term testing …"

"… Wisconsin, Minnesota, California and Vermont attempted to enforce labelling of milk produced with, and containing, this hormone. Their efforts were thwarted by Burson-Marsteller acting on behalf of these companies." 

Burson-Marsteller has been a long-term (now campaign) advisor to Hillary Clinton, through its CEO, Mark Penn.  And Monsanto’s effort to ban labeling of the milk continues today.  

Banning of labeling of rBGH milk in effect puts millions of Americans into a human experiment with genetic engineering, exposing them to greatly increased risk of cancers.  The Nuremberg Code makes clear that experimental subjects must give informed consent.

Mr. Stoltzfus added up losses for Mark Nolt:  "Trepass on private property, private personal merchandise stolen, being deprived of a significant amount of hard work he and his family put together.  He is being deprived of the opportunity to market his product now, they are throwing it away.  It’s a shame."

Mr. Nolt did not have a permit.  He has twice lost thousands of dollars of work or material, and faces jail.  

Monsanto sells rBGH-milk associated with cancers, Clinton hired Monsanto employees which approved their own genetically engineered product, Hillary Clinton has been silent up to today about the risk rBGH poses to women, PR firms strongly push the milk on all ages.  None face jail or fines for altered facts, for PR campaigns encouraging even children to drink rBGH-milk, or for banning labeling of it, which has put the entire US population at medical risk for years.  Monsanto, the Clintons, Burson-Marsteller and Goodby, Silverstein and Partners are all making millions.

Mr. Nolt, released after being taken off by state troopers, refused to accept a ride from them.  He started walking.  Friends gave him a lift home.

LINN COHEN-COLE can be reached at: lcohencole@gmail.com