October 27, 2010

First They Came for the Raw Milk, And I Did Nothing…..

Filed under: Corporatism, Food and Farms, Freedom, Relocalization — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 5:25 am


I’ve never drank raw milk, but it’s my right to do so. Humanity has done so for tens of thousands of years. On a broader level, we have a human and constitutional right to grow and produce our own food and distribute it among ourselves as citizens. When you read the history books few things stand out as so emblematic of tyranny as feudal designations of all the produce of the land and the farmer as belonging to the king or the nobles.
Therefore it’s a metric of our recrudescence into a new feudalism that a new King, in the form of corporate agriculture and its government lackeys, is trying to proclaim itself the total lord of the food demesne, with the full force of law and the full violence of armed robbery.
Since it’s a “fringe” culture, raw milk is ground zero for the government’s war on food freedom. Corporatism thinks that if it can make raw milk persecution the template, and establish here the legal, political, and tactical precedents, it can from there launch a broader assault on all production and distribution of food outside the corporate system.
Before I continue let me stress that in all the years of the industry there has been only one documented case of food-borne illness arising from raw milk. On the other hand, Jack DeCoster’s Wright Eggs, a factory-farming oligopolist, recently sickened thousands with salmonella poisoning. This was only the latest and worst outrage in DeCoster’s decades-long campaign of flouting health rules, abuse of workers and animals, environmental degradation, and socioeconomic devastation. His record is typical among corporate producers.
In spite of Jack DeCoster’s open contempt for the law and for all food safety rules, prior to the salmonella outbreak he has never been subjected by government authorities to more than cursory inspections and flaccid letters. Let’s be clear: The feds knew about DeCoster’s practices, and they knew that he’d inevitably cause a major outbreak. But these “authorities” intentionally chose to go through the motions. They telegraphed the fact that, much like the corporations themselves, government regards food-borne illness as just a hazard of doing business. Where it comes to the big producers, that is. But with the small private clubs who drink raw milk they’ve been far more intrepid.
In recent years there have been a series of raids on raw milk producers and clubs in the US and Canada. The most outrageous and lawless action was this summer’s raid by armed, uniformed goons on Rawesome Foods, a private buying club in California, and the subsequent persecution of its main supplier, Morningland Dairies of Missouri. Since this action is typical in its essence but also sets a new bar for the magnitude of its thuggery and brazen lawlessness, I’ll describe the timeline in some detail.
1. June 30, armed agents of several federal, state, as well as Canadian agencies burst into the private facilities of Rawesome Foods in Venice, California. Many of these agents had guns drawn.
The raid was fundamentally illegal, since the feds already knew, after a prior incident, that Rawesome is a private buying club which does not sell to the public, and therefore not within their jurisdiction. Without a specific search warrant, the police cannot enter such premises.
Without sufficient warrants, the armed intruders shut down cameras, harassed and detained employees and customers, seized computers, and confiscated stock. (Going beyond the fundamental illegality of the raid, when Rawesome finally, belatedly did see a partial warrant – only four of an alleged 16 pages – even this perhaps forged warrant would only have authorized the taking of samples. But the raiders seized large troves of produce and ordered the club to cease from selling the rest.)  
No one has since given an explanation for the guns, but some of the uniformed cops have said they were lied to about what the raid was really looking for. The whole thing is being enveloped in fog by the FDA’s smoke machine, but one thing that shines through brightly is that the main purpose of this show of force was intimidation as such. it was meant to send shock waves throughout the sustainable food movement. It has certainly done so, but whether that will help achieve the government’s goal or on the contrary galvanize us to resist and reject these pirates, is up to us.
2. In August the goon squad showed up at the door of Rawsome’s supplier, Morningland dairies. In over thirty years of operation Morningland has never been implicated in a single case of food-borne illness. Its record is exemplary. But now the feds claimed to have found contaminated samples among the food seized at the Rawesome raid and were demanding a further “investigation” of Morningland.
Leaving aside the fact that the Rawesome raid itself was illegal and unconstitutional, the alleged evidence of contamination is extremely dubious. California state authorities have refused to provide documentation of the proper storage and chain of custody of the samples, or of the testing methodology, or of the actual results. The allegation of contamination by listeria and staph bacteria basically amounts to innuendo.
But as we saw in the case of the raid, the intent here clearly is not to detect bacteria and take action to render the food supply safe. It’s a direct attack on a non-corporate producer and distributor, and an intimidation campaign against all non-corporate food.
3. Having used an undocumented positive test from an illegally seized sample to justify this further incursion, the government did further testing at the Morningland facility and found nothing after 100 swab samples.
But that didn’t stop them from ordering Morningland to destroy over 50,000 pounds of cheese worth $250,000. They also “requested” that Morningland issue a recall of 70,000 pounds of cheese previously sold. This was a tremendous burden on a small producer who, remember, in thirty years of operation has never made a single person sick. By law the FDA can only request this recall; nevertheless, without waiting for an affirmative answer, the FDA went ahead and publicly announced the recall, thereby politically coercing Morningland into compliance. This can’t be seen as anything but pure thug extortion.
And that’s the disposition of the cases thus far. None of this could ever hold up in court, nor was there any intent for it to do so. This is the most basic kind of Mafia strong-arm tactics. (Rawesome has since received harassment from the building inspector as well.) The intent is political. 
I think the record here establishes two things.
1. The intent is malevolent. The focus on small producers in the first place, the illegality of the raids, the high-handed seizures and general flouting of all procedural rules, the drawn guns, the illegal news release, the public demonization, all depict an abusive government intent on repression of an unpopular group.
2. But these aren’t the best-coordinated bunch. More like the Keystone Kops. The warrant for the Rawesome raid seems to have been unconstitutionally acquired after-the-fact, perhaps by forgery, yet still only authorized the raiders to seize samples, not whole stocks. Even if the warrant was legit, that would just be more evidence of the basic criminality of the raid in its execution. Either the warrant was real but flouted in many ways, or else it’s forged but was still flouted in its letter by the actions of the raiders.
And then the investigators failed to find any contamination at the Morningland facility itself. If they’re acting in good professional faith, that should be the end of the action against the facility right there. But they went ahead and ordered stock destruction and “requested” the recall as if they had found contamination. It’s as if their course of action was pre-ordained, yet they forgot to trump up the incriminating forged evidence.
I don’t know if this is because these cadres are fairly new to this level of repression, or whether they’re just low-quality people operating on a strained budget. Bush slashed the FDA’s budget at the same time that he wanted it to serve as a hired goon. I suppose the result is that all the “talented” thugs work at more glamorous and lucrative agencies, while the FDA (let alone state agencies) gets the dregs. Probably the only difference between the average FDA enforcer and a gutter debt collector is that the one had the money to go to college.
The reason for this campaign of persecution, intimidation, and harassment is that the government food agencies are the flunkeys of industrial agriculture. That’s proven just by the complete inverted disparity between two overwhelming ratios. These are: the ratio of corporate-caused food poisoning (over 99%) to that caused by small producers; and the ratio of government enforcement, preventive as well as remedial, of these same toxic industrial producers to its enforcement actions against small producers. The ratio there is just as lopsided but on the opposite side.
So it’s clear that in the eyes of the government, the more dangerous you are, the less you warrant any preventive or punitive action, while the more innocent you are, the more you’re seen as a target. The reason for all this is obvious. Government food policy is in the hands of the same corporate thugs who push the same pro-corporate policies as we see with the banks, the insurance rackets, the weapons rackets, and in every other sector.
If anyone needs any further evidence, just look at how Bush and Obama have filled practically every position in the food bureaucracy with cadres from Monsanto and other food racketeers.
These cadres whose handiwork we’re already seeing at the enforcement level are the same who will be further empowered by the Food Tyranny bills currently making their way through Congress. These bills – the House version passed in 2009, and the Senate version is currently stalled but likely to see action after the election – impose one-size-fits-all regulatory burdens which have been intentionally crafted to pose at most a minor nuisance to the big producers while posing severe, and perhaps insurmountable, economic and logistical obstacles for small ones. They’re intended to economically crush non-corporate producers and distributors. But just in case that’s not enough, they also increase the government’s enforcement power. For example, remember how I said the FDA can currently only request a recall, not order it? Under these bills it will be empowered to order recalls. Of course, if we lived in a human society where food agencies really were enforcing food safety and looking out for the public interest, that might be a good thing.
But the record is clear. The chances that under kleptocracy this mandatory recall will be used against the likes of Wright Eggs are vanishingly small. The chances it will be used only against small producers like Morningland approach 100%.
The goal of these bills and these enforcement actions is to aggrandize corporate agriculture and repress the healthy, resilient, sustainable food production and distribution such ever-growing numbers of people are recognizing as an imperative. We recognize that Food Freedom is necessary for the health of our families, as well as for our economy, society, and democracy. These are one whole, and the course of action toward all forms of health runs in the same direction – relocalization, economic self-direction, democratic participation.
For obvious reasons this is a mortal threat to the corporate food system. That’s why they’re mustering this level of government thuggery. But we the people don’t need or want government aggression against small producers. It’s clear that any proactive government action must be against the big producers, whose criminality and negligence of safety is well-documented. And if the government refuse to be proactive here, than it has no legitimacy in ANY proactive measure. Meanwhile the record is clear on how remedial and punitive the government gets when DeCoster eggs sicken thousands. And it’s clear how much “correction” is demanded in the case of Morningland Dairies, which has sickened no one.
Given that record, it looks like here most of all “that government is best which governs least”, and the less the food agencies do, the better off we are. We’ll definitely be better off without a new food bill. Public pressure has already had salutary effects on the Senate bill, which has been amended to a far better condition than it started out. So the people should keep up the pressure. But best of all would be if the thing is defeated completely. From here we need to grow our own food and food production and distribution networks. As for the rogue government, the best we can do is enforce the much-despised 10th Amendment. Now that’s one thing we’ll definitely have to do for ourselves. 
So the takeaway is:
1. The government wants to smash local, sustainable food, especially where this is a business, but not exclusively where it’s a business.
2. The government targets small producers and distributors. It looks for a pretext for enforcement, and if it can’t find one it trumps one up. Law, science, and professional procedure are all to be freely used, abused, or discarded in this process.
3. The food bills in Congress would increase the government’s power while imposing extreme hardships on those same small producers and distributors. The Food Tyranny bill is therefore both a direct and indirect police state assault on non-corporate food.
This is about food, but not just about food. What’s at stake here is nothing less than our attempt to redeem democracy itself. That’s true on every battlefront. The same struggle is playing out in every sector. It’s corporate tyranny, abetted by a rogue, illegitimate government, against the people’s health, our social stability, our economic prosperity, our political participation, and in every way our right, wish, and will to live as democratic human beings. That’s the defining struggle of the age. And nowhere can it be more visceral than at the level of our very food.
So when you see them coming for the raw milk people, even if you don’t drink raw milk or use any product of it, you can know that they’re coming for you as well.
People can donate to a benefit for Morningland Dairies here.


  1. New incident today:


    The same M.O.: One alleged undocumented positive listeria test from some indeterminate time in the past, zero sick customers, three truckloads of goons swoop in at suppertime, scaring the children, to place an embargo on the whole stock, one more small farm now on the verge of destruction, one family (and several employees) about to be ruined.

    Meanwhile what happened that same day on the factory farms, where any sample would likely be positive, which sicken thousands on a regular basis, which will one day be the vector for a lethal pandemic (that’s not “if”, but when), which any government which cared even a little bit about food safety and public health would shut down immediately?

    Probably zero tests (and if there were they’d be suppressed and kept secret from us), certainly zero raids. As it is on every day in these “United States”.

    This is the essence of this government and the industrial food corporations.

    Comment by Russ — October 27, 2010 @ 8:19 am

  2. A distinction must be made between traditional bureaucracies performing traditional public service and the gangster takeover of agencies.

    This behavior in the name of the FDA follows the same pattern as the dismemberment of securities regulations, and the end of rule of law for the biggest banks, like $380 Billion of drug money laundering against Wells Fargo/Wachovia under cover of a bank corporation with no one in particular responsible, liable, or arrested. Where are the profits from this money laundering? Shareholders? Fine the shareholders. Arrest the auditors.

    This accounting describes the gangster ‘starve the beast’ tactic used against many functioning bureaucracies during the Bush gangster tenure.

    We, and the whole world, saw the “good job, Brownie” Bush in action after the gutting of FEMA that had been strengthened with fine career public servants.

    First it was gutted of career public service professionals, and then under 9/11 terror opportunities, merged into Homeland Security created against the people of the United States.

    This appears to be what is happening or has happened at the FDA. The agency that has protected American consumers has been gutted and taken over by goons for agri-business corporatists.

    It appears set for a propaganda campaign to gain some public support for just simply disappearing the agency in the name of FREE MARKETS, AGAINST BIG GOVERNMENT, and DEREGULATION.

    We know where that leaves us; with the middle class gutted for smooth diversion of profits through China and back to American corporate executives after a little diversion through an offshore entity to avoid IRS and realize an unprecedented 500X the wage of a worker in that same corporation.

    These people are at war against the American people.

    Just as we now know that the Wendy and Phil Gramm factor played a major role in gutting investor protections against predatory Wall Street activity, we need to know who is in charge of the FDA; names.
    We need a wiki for aggregating the information for fighting back against this outrage after the agency has proved without a doubt its capture by GANGSTERS since their rule against INFORMING THE PUBLIC through labeling franken salmon.

    We need a list of the perpetrators who pass legislation that impacts small farms.

    We need to encourage the representatives of small farming to come forward on a Wikileaks type web site with all information possible fighting against small farms.

    There’s been a lot of information regarding Monsanto illegal abuses against farmers holding out against their products such that it appears individuals in the industry are on their own; fighting their own battles courageously without the necessary support and protection of the law to hold out and win.

    Our food supply is already severely contaminated when it isn’t bereft of ripeness, freshness, vitamins and minerals; our farm animals treated cruelly beyond anything nature will tolerate while a large number of people willingly pay the necessary premium prices for fresh farmed produce.

    We need a movement to throw out the goons and their leaders, lobbyists, senators, congressmen and traitor staff writing these bills against privately owned farms and the families and people who run them all over the world.

    I’ve read of some push back in India; we recently saw an article on Mexico’s varieties of corn being severely compromised and contaminated by Monsanto.

    The US seems of all these countries the most willing to sell out its own people; indeed, the finest example in the world of commodifying people.

    GOVERNMENT must at all times to transparent and scrutinized. They are a necessary evil.

    Chris Hedges is absolutely correct when he emphasizes that the solution is not to seek power because those who do are at best mediocre; but to ensure that those in power are AFRAID of THE PEOPLE.

    So again, we need to look to the FRENCH example for inspiration on that score; guillotines and all.

    Comment by LeeAnne — October 27, 2010 @ 9:08 am

    • Great summation, LeeAnne. Those are all excellent ideas.

      Farmers are often willing to talk about these things to anyone who will listen, but I don’t think anyone will need more than one guess on how much publicity the MSM gives them.

      The link above to the “voluntary recall” notice – just a blurb in BusinessWeek – demonstrates the usual extent and depth of MSM coverage of these things. As with everything else, to get the real story you have to go to the blogosphere.

      They say that since the Frankenfish doesn’t have to carry a GMO label, but might have country-of-origin labeling (a package at the supermarket will, but a fish market or processed fish might not) the best way to shun it is to shun all salmon from Panama, since that’s where it’ll be farmed. It’s supposed to come on the market in 2012, according to the last thing I read.

      Comment by Russ — October 27, 2010 @ 9:38 am

  3. Thanks, great opinion post! I just facebooked this to the 13,000 plus fans of Weston A. Price Foundation.

    Here is a link to the website set up to raise funds for Morningland Dairy.

    Please consider running the pledgie widget and help our campaign go viral.

    Comment by Kimberly Hartke — October 27, 2010 @ 3:39 pm

  4. http://uncheeseparty.wordpress.com/

    Did I forget the link?

    Comment by Kimberly Hartke — October 27, 2010 @ 3:39 pm

    • Thanks, Kimberly. This campaign sure ought to go viral. People need to understand what’s at stake.

      Comment by Russ — October 27, 2010 @ 7:08 pm

  5. I’ll give two anecdotal views of this issue, the first from Europe and the second from my home town in California.

    We have at various times been part of organic farm co-op schemes. The best model was centered on an area in the Ardennes, where a group of producers created a system of real food that operated below the level of government control. Belgium has a long history of scepticism towards government and on the food front you see this in many open air markets, much direct consumer to farmer activity, and the larger co-op that we belonged to.

    The concept was fifties bourgeois families in Brussels would subscribe to a base subscription of vegetables which were delivered every other week. Along with this was a menu of various other items made by neighbouring farms, diary (including raw milk and cheese), all sorts of poultry and meat, and various other more finished products like quiches or conserves. They also had an association with farms in southern Europe so we could order olive oil and oranges in the winter for example. Everyone was organic but no one applied for the government’s certificate program so trust has to reign between the producers and the consumers. And it did. Sometimes the farmers felt it necessary to use pellets against slugs and they would inform us but we left those decisions up to them.

    This model has been extremely successful, so much so that when two years ago we had to drop out for a while for certain reasons that I have been on a waiting list for a year now trying to get back on.

    There are many other programs like this and the local government has started to take an interest and have begun to sponsor their own similar programs. I avoid the official programs because of the obvious dangers with the government getting involved. The EU has been starting to get aggressive in controlling raw milk here in Europe but the tradition is so deeply rooted in the culture that they are going to have a tough time.

    And I have had raw milk but the farmers always told me to boil it before giving it to the kids. It was very nice having a farmer who personally knew my children.

    My second antidote concerns a kid I grew up with. No doubt he was crazy, he scared us all. I remember even after we grew up, a good friend of mine was seeing a pretty girl but after a couple dates she mentioned that this guy was her ex-boyfriend. My buddy dumped her on the spot since he didn’t want to have to deal with her psycho ex.

    Very sadly this guy ran an artisanal linguisa factory. His shit was the best; all the locals loved those sausages. But he had trouble with regulators who harassed him about his cooking methods despite the fact that he never had a problem or complaint. One day they came to his factory and he shot three or four of them dead, including Federal agents. He got the death penalty but he died in jail before they could execute it.


    I can see a role for the FDA in regulating industrial food. But there has to be a level under which farmers and producers have the freedom to innovate. And the consumers of these artisanal products have to accept that there may be the occasion risk and if something does go wrong they must refrain from suing everybody and making a big deal out of it. Because at the end of the day; artisanal food is going to be a hell of a lot more healthy than industrial food.

    Comment by kevin de bruxelles — October 28, 2010 @ 5:30 am

    • Thanks for the stories, Kevin. The CSA is on the march all over the Western world. It’s good to hear that in Europe they’re still suspicious of the government where it comes to food.

      Good luck on your wait-listing.

      If local governments really were our governments, and actively supported local food, that would be a great thing. But unfortunately, as you say we have to be suspicious of them as well. Until we can figure out how to truly control these governments.

      (As for the shooter, as you say he was crazy, and it really has nothing to do with food. He could just as easily have been a haberdasher or something.

      But I suppose they tried to represent him as a typical food wingnut or something? That’s the normal M.O.)

      I wrote in an earlier post what I thought an accountable, public interest government would be doing about food regulation. I’ll just reproduce an excerpt here.


      So what should we advocate in this society, right now? Given the continuing existence of Concentrated Animal Farming Operations (CAFOs), or factory farms, the overwhelming burden and preventive enforcement of proactive regulation must be on them. (Our real demand here is to ban them completely.) We can have reasonable regulations for small outfits, but there the emphasis should be more on penalties for negligence leading to any kind of outbreak rather than proactive regulation and costly planning. (Since any outbreak from a small, locally-oriented producer is likely to be minor and localized, and the culprit easily identified, that ought to be sufficient. But all the real outbreaks – large-scale, catastrophic – come from the industrial food chain.)

      So in a nutshell – aggressive, proactive enforcement for the industrial disease-pools, far more moderate inspection for smaller outfits.

      Comment by Russ — October 28, 2010 @ 6:51 am

  6. […] From the “Volatility” blog: […]

    Pingback by First they came for the raw milk… « The Bovine — October 28, 2010 @ 7:40 am

  7. Great post Russ! This is worth repeating …

    “This is about food, but not just about food. What’s at stake here is nothing less than our attempt to redeem democracy itself. That’s true on every battlefront. The same struggle is playing out in every sector. It’s corporate tyranny, abetted by a rogue, illegitimate government, against the people’s health, our social stability, our economic prosperity, our political participation, and in every way our right, wish, and will to live as democratic human beings. That’s the defining struggle of the age. And nowhere can it be more visceral than at the level of our very food.”

    People need to see the formula and the cross pollination of it all.

    Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

    Comment by i on the ball patriot — October 28, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

    • Thanks, i ball. Our plants must reject their phony poison pollen.

      Do plants from terminator seeds even produce pollen? Do they have flowers? It seems superfluous. It’s that way with everything corporatism touches.

      Comment by Russ — October 28, 2010 @ 4:41 pm

  8. […] […]

    Pingback by What’s For Dinner: Corporate Food Tyranny (1 of 2) « Volatility — November 5, 2010 @ 6:18 am

  9. […] also gives the FDA vastly greater power to search and demand access to records without a warrant. I previously wrote about the illegal Rawesome raid and fraudulent Morningland ”warrant”. But once this bill […]

    Pingback by Not raw milk but “food tyranny” for dinner « The Bovine — November 5, 2010 @ 10:36 am

  10. Just ended up on this page through a google search and wanted to inform you that your layout looks a bit messed up, the sidebar looks a little distorted. At least in Safari, so the error might be on my side.

    Just wanted to let you know about it so you could look into it if you want to…

    Comment by Maxima Nwadiora — March 23, 2011 @ 9:28 pm

  11. […]   What this really means is that the FDA will handle Big Corporate producers with kid gloves while aggressively “policing” (i.e., acting as a corporate goon against) small producers, for … The Food Control law seeks to empower the FDA to escalate this war on the small producer.   We […]

    Pingback by Corporate Liberals for Monsanto (the CSPI, et.al.) « Volatility — February 21, 2012 @ 9:19 am

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