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Daily Journal

The Absurdity of Raw Milk Prohibition

Mar. 16th, 2012
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This week’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is Fergus Hodgson (@FergHodgson), John Locke Foundation Director of Fiscal Policy Studies.

RALEIGH — Picture a peaceful, Amish farmer, selling one of nature’s super foods — fresh, raw milk. Eager customers came from afar, even across state lines, to savor the taste and access a nutritious product. Who could oppose such harmonious commerce on Rainbow Acres Farm?

Government officials and their enforcers, that’s who. This Pennsylvania farmer has been the subject of a yearlong sting operation, which included stealth purchases and a 5 a.m. surprise inspection. In February, a federal judge imposed a permanent injunction that prohibited him from selling his milk across state lines. Given the strain of the confrontation, he has decided to call it quits entirely.

Could it get any worse? Actually, North Carolina has a far more draconian law, the topic of a House Committee hearing last week. In this state, raw milk cannot be sold for legal human consumption, period. Individuals are not even allowed to co-own a cow to gain access.

To defend this violation of freedom of choice, proponents claim to be protecting others from the purported dangers of raw milk. But this claim is laughable, since evidence to the contrary has been mounting for decades.

In fact, a myriad of developed nations allow raw milk sales without problems: Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Italy; the list goes on. Some of these nations are hardly known for their respect for liberty, and yet in this regard people living there are freer than North Carolinians.

Even Great Britain, that nation Americans fought against for independence, has legal, retail sales of raw milk. Supply in Europe is now so widespread — just part of everyday life — that many nations have vending machines with raw milk in supermarkets and shopping malls, and on street corners.

Back in the United States, a recent federal report (PDF) from the Centers for Disease Control did not find a single death from the product in a 14-year research period, while in 2007 alone, three individuals died on account of pasteurized milk. That is despite raw milk’s availability for legal, retail sale in nine states, including South Carolina; more than 9 million Americans consume it. The CDC acknowledged that pasteurization kills beneficial nutrients in milk, and they found state prohibition of raw milk gave no statistically significant advantage in terms of food-borne illness.

That’s because raw milk is a safe product, and North Carolina’s General Assembly Research Division has noted that both pasteurized milk and raw milk products account for just 1 percent of food-borne illnesses (PowerPoint link). For raw milk alone, a nongovernmental estimate has come to a much lower assessment, less than one-hundredth of 1 percent.

At this point, fear mongers who continue to send the police after suppliers and consumers of raw milk are a disgrace, and they are wasting resources that could combat real crimes. Their contempt for the freedom of others to purchase a safe product is so blatant it indicates ulterior motives.

The reality is that these lobbies, particularly agricultural processors and middlemen, benefit from the status quo of criminalized competition. They do not want to see individuals buying from the farmer or the farmer selling direct to the store, even though that would enable a fresher, higher-quality product and closer relationships with milk producers. Farmers could also make a better living, since raw milk commands approximately four times the price, but they fear prosecution.

As more people become aware of this injustice, both black-market and open civil disobedience will grow, as it already is. Motivated by a desire for better health, not lawlessness, their activities are noble and merit recognition, along with swift repeal of the prohibitions.