Raw Cheese Ordered Destroyed—With No Evidence of ContaminationOctober 19, 2010
After a shockingly violent FDA raid on a food co-op, the FDA’s war on raw milk and cheese continues by forcing a family dairy to destroy $250,000 worth of its product.
As we wrote a few months ago, the FDA is continuing an aggressive campaign of harassment and legal intimidation meant to eliminate raw milk products. The latest attack began July 30 with the Rawesome Raid, where a closed-circuit video shows gun-toting FDA agents storming a raw foods co-op in Venice, CA, ordering everyone in the store up against a wall and frisking them, then filling seventeen unrefrigerated coolers with items such as raw milk, raw honey, and raw cane syrup. (“I still can’t believe they took our yogurt,” said onre Rawesome volunteer. “There’s a medical marijuana shop a couple miles away, and they’re raiding us because we’re selling raw dairy products?”)
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) was assigned to do lab tests of all the seized food, which they did—seven weeks later, though no samples were sent to the various cheese producers for independent testing as required by FDA regulations. No one seems to know how the foods were handled, or whether they were cooled properly, in the seven weeks between the confiscation and the testing. A press release issued by CDFA saying its lab “detected” Listeria monocytogenes in two varieties of raw-milk cheese from a family farm in Missouri called Morningland Dairy.
Morningland Dairy immediately recalled 68,957 pounds of raw-milk cheese (made with cows’ milk and goats’ milk), even though the FDA acknowledged that no one had become ill from eating the cheese. The FDA, together with the Missouri Milk Board, wanted to determine the source of the infection, so the FDA tested their plant thoroughly. On September 14, the dairy received a verbal declaration from an FDA official that all swabs used to test their cheese plant and their milk barn came back negative (i.e., clean). Three days later, two FDA officials closed that investigation.
Suddenly, on September 27, Morningland received a “destroy all” order from the Missouri Milk Board. They had to destroy all their cheese, even though the cheese stock had never been tested or found to be contaminated. This is nearly 50,000 pounds of cheese, worth approximately $250,000.
Note that the only thing the FDA raiders could complain about following the Rawesome Raid was two allegedly contaminated packets of Morningland cheese, tested seven weeks after confiscation, after having been left who-knows-where all that time. If the FDA really doubts the health of Morningland cheese, the agency should test the cheese at the dairy, as the dairy owners suggest. But no: branding Morningland as dangerous purveyors of raw milk products is the only way FDA can justify the outrageous behavior of its Gestapo-like raid.
According to the Raw Milk Cheese Association, FDA regulations say the cheese produced from raw milk—that is, milk not heated above 104 degrees—shall be aged for 60 days or longer at a temperature of not less than 35°F. (The 60-day clause goes back to the 1940s.) So does aging kill bacteria or not? If it does, as FDA regulations would indicate, and if the FDA’s own tests found no bacteria at the dairy in question, then might we not conclude that the bacteria grew because the FDA placed the cheese in unrefrigerated coolers, with no record of how it was stored, until it was tested seven weeks later?
The media is raising the profile of the raw milk debate. As a recent Time magazine cover story on raw milk points out, advocates question why this age-old product is under such unrelenting government attack while the practices of vast feedlots and food processors are not. Scott Trautman, a Wisconsin farmer who lost his only corporate customer last year because he was selling raw milk on the side, believes the crackdown on raw-milk microdairies is essentially a way for Big Dairy to eliminate the competition. Megacorporations are “going to pick up these farms for 10 cents on the dollar,” he says. “That’s the endgame in all this.”
Friends of Morningland have put up a website, The Uncheese Party. They are asking supporters to sponsor a cheese to help the family meet its large legal bills and loss of sales.