Now, what’s happened since last Sunday…
As you recall, on Thursday, October 15, state inspectors from the meat division of the Georgia Department of Agriculture came to our pickup site, looking for illegal meat. Of course they found none (all of our growers are fully licensed for all of their products), but they did discover our load of raw milk many of you had ordered from Cows R Us dairy in South Carolina and seized the entire load on orders from Peggy Gates, director of the dairy division of the state Ag Department. Instead of taking it away themselves, they left it on my truck and told us they’d be at my house the following Monday to destroy it all.
I spent the next few days trying to prevent the milk’s waste by arranging to get it donated to Nature’s Harmony Farm, who could have used it to feed to their pigs, but Peggy wanted to be personally present when the milk was destroyed and she was not available any sooner than Monday morning.
So, I invited to my home everyone who had milk on the truck, along with a few other interested parties. Several dozen people did come out, but at five to nine, Peggy’s secretary called to say they she had been “held up at another inspection” and wouldn’t be arriving until 1:30. Some people had to leave, but the delay also allowed several more people who couldn’t come in the morning to come after all. Among those present was a cameraman for the documentary project “Farmageddon” (http://www.ftcldf.org/kudos/canty2.html), and several of us had our own cameras running the entire time as well. Peggy Gates came with Marybeth Willis, an agent with the FDA out of their Atlanta office (http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/MilkSafety/FederalStatePrograms/InterstateMilkShippersList/ucm114736.htm), and one of the meat inspectors that had originally impounded the milk. They wasted no time in wasting the milk, and from the time they gave us the orders to dump it all (they wouldn’t do it themselves) to the time they left took twenty minutes. The whole thing is up on YouTube in two parts, and I invite you to watch it and share the links with anyone who may be interested. Part One: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMfQXxVAPgk and Part Two: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPey52Ybp0U. Thanks to our very nice Rubbermaid coolers and the record cold weekend temperatures, the milk was still cold and fresh to drink. Except for the two gallons that were passed around, it all ended up pour out in the grass at my house.
Unfortunately, they gave us no wiggle room at all for allowing the South Carolina dairies to offer their milk in the future. Marybeth from the FDA declared it a federal crime to bring milk across state lines for any reason. She specifically said that if you go to the dairy yourself, buy a gallon for your own use, and bring it back to your own home in Georgia, you would be a federal criminal. It doesn’t matter how it’s labelled, even if specifically as “POISON — DO NOT DRINK”. They handed out copies of the FDA rule in question, 21 CFR 1240.61 (PDF here: http://www.ftcldf.org/docs/21_CFR_1240.61_pasteurization.pdf), but this may be the first time they have enforced such an absolute interpretation of that rule. With that interpretation, there is no way to have South Carolina raw milk offered through Athens Locally Grown.
So, how can we get that changed? There are two way: through legislation and through court action. Both are being worked on. Ron Paul earlier this year introduced HR 778 (http://ftcldf.org/federal_bills-HR778.htm) that would specifically allow what we’re doing while keeping in place the ban on bulk shipments and other practices that caused the ban to be put into place in the first place. It seems there’s little likelihood of it passing, but its important to let our legislators know that we want this sort of legislation just the same. On the other end, a federal judge could rule that the enforcement of the rule as it has been done against people like us is unconstitutional, and could also allow direct-to-consumer purchases cross state lines while keeping the other bans in place. I have signed the paperwork to become a plaintiff in a federal suit to try for this result. I can’t say more yet, but I will keep you informed when the suit is filed, hopefully very soon.
(The federal raw milk rule aside, the fact remains that our truck was searched without a search warrant, and the milk was impounded and destroyed without due process. We’re as yet undecided about what action to take about that. Both state and federal agents were involved.)
Another avenue is finding legal Georgia raw milk. Georgia actually does allow the sale, so long as the dairy is registered as a “pet food” producer and the containers are labelled as such. THe trouble is a) there is no testing of the final product, b) anyone can get a license by just paying $75, regardless of the cleanliness of their dairy, and c) there aren’t any near Athens. In contrast, South Carolina has established a strict testing regimen that ensures milk being sold raw has bacterial levels below that required of pasteurized milk. If Georgia were to adopt laws similar to South Carolina, it would take time for the raw milk to enter the market.
So, in the meantime, only milk from Johnston Family Farm will be available through Athens Locally Grown. I’m not knocking their milk in any way — it’s of the highest quality and the best milk you can buy in Georgia, from anyone. But for those who want and need clean raw milk, it’s just not the same.
Also, we’re not able to regularly drive to Split Creek Farm or to Fred’s Bread (both near Anderson, South Carolina) anymore, without significantly raising the “delivery fee” portion of the final price to cover our cost of going out there. However, we will go out there on the 19th of November, so you can buy cheeses, fudge, bread, and other items for your Thanksgiving table. I know I was planning on having some of it on mine.
And finally, thanks to your generosity, our tip jar was overflowing this past Thursday. Cows R Us did get paid for all of the milk that was wasted, and our shared cash box was filled back up to cover the expense on our end. Thank you so much for that. I can’t begin to tell you how stressful this last week has been, but you have given your support in every way possible, and that was wonderful beyond belief. Thank you.
Here are some news links from the past week. The news spread nationwide, partly due to the new strict interpretation and enforcement of the FDA rule, but here is some local coverage:
ABH News: “Some sour as state grabs raw milk” http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/101709/new_505698081.shtml
ABH News: “Unpasteurized drinkers cry foul over spilled milk” http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/102009/new_506640054.shtml
ABH Editorial: “Raw milk advocates should work within system” http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/102109/opi_507140444.shtml
ABH Commentary: “Raw milk is danger to public health” http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/102509/opi_508629389.shtml
NewsTalk 1340 Interview (10/22/09) http://feeds.1340wgau.com/NewsmakersWithTimBryant
Raw video of the milk dumping: Part One: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMfQXxVAPgk and Part Two: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPey52Ybp0U