Raw Milk Producer Sues Oregon Department of Agriculture Over Advertising Ban

Raw Milk

Story at-a-glance -

  • In Oregon, small farmers can sell raw milk directly to consumers from their farms, but if they advertise, they could be punished with fines and jail time
  • A raw milk farmer in Oregon is suing the state Department of Agriculture over the advertising ban and asking that it be declared a violation of free speech rights
  • In Wisconsin, the state Senate committee passed a bill that would allow dairy farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers
  • Raw milk from a high-quality source is not inherently dangerous; the potential for foodborne illness applies to ANY food, with those coming from the lowest-quality sources having the greatest potential for contamination

By Dr. Mercola

If you believe that it is your right to decide what food to feed yourself and your family, you will be interested in the latest legal battle brewing between an Oregon raw milk farmer and the state Department of Agriculture.

In Oregon, sales of raw milk from small farms directly to consumers are legal, but advertising that such milk is available is not.

This means that Christine Anderson, who owns a small farm in Oregon, is unable to post fliers at health food stores, get a booth at a local fair or even post a sign about her raw milk dairy on her own land.

Even a price list available on her web site received a complaint, and she was forced to take it down.

The advertising ban makes it virtually impossible for a small milk farmer to stay in business, and certainly to flourish, which is why Anderson is now suing the Oregon Department of Agriculture and asking that the ban be declared a violation of free speech rights.

Decades-Long Advertising Ban Being Challenged

Retail raw milk sales have been banned in Oregon since 1999. However, the state has an exemption for small farms with up to three cows, nine sheep, and nine goats to sell raw milk on their farms.

The catch, of course, is that they're not allowed to advertise, and if they do, they could be punished with a year in jail, more than $6,000 in fines and up to $10,000 in civil penalties.

Clearly, this is put in place to limit the public's access to raw milk, but increasing numbers of small farmers and Americans are challenging this "nanny state" mentality.

If you're going to ban advertising for raw milk out of concerns for public health (even though no deaths have been linked to raw milk since the government began collecting such data), you should ban advertising for pasteurized milk, mass-produced meat and poultry and bagged salads too, all of which pose a greater threat of food-borne illness than properly produced raw milk!

Anderson's federal lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture claims that the ban violates free speech rights and infringes on her business. She told OregonLive:1

"Raw milk is legal to sell but you can't talk about it… I work really hard, and I do a good job as a producer. I want to be able to talk about it. I would like to go about my small farm business without a lot of fear that what I'm doing can be construed as breaking the law."

Wisconsin Senate Committee Passes Raw Milk Bill

While bills in several states (including North Dakota, New Mexico, and Illinois) have been introduced to further restrict access to raw milk, the Wisconsin Senate committee passed a bill that would allow dairy farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers.

The bill would require raw milk producers to register with the state, undergo stringent testing and also keep a list of their sales available for inspection2… but it would allow a practice that many feel should be an unquestionable right – the ability to purchase any food you wish from the farm of your choice.

The raw milk bill will still have to pass through the full Senate next year and is already facing backlash from the state's dairy industry.

However, if it's passed, it would be a major victory for food freedom, especially in Wisconsin, which is one of a handful of states that has been aggressively targeting raw-milk farmers, seeking to unjustly criminalize their methods of food production.

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Do You Really Need to Be Protected from Raw Milk?

Many people should not consume dairy, as they are allergic to the milk proteins, whether it is raw or pasteurized. Additionally, many who are seeking to lose weight, have high blood pressure or diabetes would likely be better avoiding milk as it has the dairy sugar lactose.

However, if you are healthy and want to drink milk then it makes more sense to fear drinking pasteurized milk. While there has not been one single death due to raw milk between 1998 and 2008,3 the United States' largest recorded outbreak of Salmonella resulted from pasteurized milk.

However, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) never issued a specific Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for this outbreak… The incident, which occurred between June 1984 and April 1985, resulted in 200,000 illnesses and 18 deaths!

Yet this and other outbreaks of illness resulting from the consumption of pasteurized milk are kept from public knowledge, and escapes warnings from the CDC.

In fact, they have never issued a warning against commercially pasteurized milk! This is just one example of the CDC's ongoing bias against raw dairy products. According to Mark McAfee, the founder of Organic Pastures Dairy:

"We haven't seen any deaths from raw milk since the data started being collected in 1973… [There are] no deaths in the CDC website from raw milk. There have been over 80 deaths from pasteurized milk during that time period if you include the Jalisco cheese incident, which killed 50 people all by itself in 1985 – pasteurized milk cheese.

The safety record is really, really good as far as death is concerned, but we still see 30 or 40 people a year that get sick from raw milk because of misunderstood or misapplied practices. But it's not rocket science.

That's why the Raw Milk Institute was founded; to help farmers get a reference point and help farmers build their food safety plans. Again, they are just daily checklists to make sure that conditions are right so that you have a reliable outcome all the time."

While there are no guarantees of perfection, it's worth keeping in mind that the potential for foodborne illness applies to ANY food. Dozens of deaths have been traced back to cantaloupe in recent years, for example.

Raw Milk Is Not an Inherently 'Dangerous' Food

It's contrary to reason that milk (and many other foods) that comes from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are thought of as safe while raw milk sourced from a small carefully run farm is not. In CAFOs, large groups of animals are kept in a small space, oftentimes without natural light or access to the outdoors. The conditions are filthy, with animals standing in one another's waste. Needless to say, harmful bacteria naturally thrive in these conditions.

To combat disease (and promote unhealthy growth), the animals are fed antibiotics, the result of which is they become living and breathing "bioreactors" for the generation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They may also receive hormones, which increase milk production, and they're fed a diet of grains and soy (most of which is now the genetically engineered variety) rather than grass, which alters their gut flora and makes them even more prone to disease.

As a result, drinking CAFO milk raw would be extremely dangerous. It must be pasteurized for safety. On the other hand, milk from grass-fed cows raised on smaller, clean farms can be safely consumed without being pasteurized, provided the farmer is committed to providing a safe, quality product.

Buying Raw Milk? Safety Signs to Look For

While the benefits of raw milk are finally starting to be understood and acknowledged again, many are still under the misperception that all raw milk is unclean and unsafe. But as with any food, where your raw milk comes from makes a major difference in its quality and safety. Getting your raw milk from a local organic farm is one of the best ways to ensure you're getting high-quality milk, but even then, if you're thinking about purchasing milk from a small farmer, it would be very wise to visit the farm in person. Look around and ask questions about the following general conditions, which should indicate a source of high-quality raw milk.

Low pathogenic bacteria count (i.e. does the farmer test his milk regularly for pathogens?) The milk comes from cows raised naturally, in accordance with the seasons The cows are not given antibiotics and growth hormones to increase milk production
The milk is quickly chilled after milking The cows are mainly grass-fed Cows are well cared for

Do You Want to Stand Up for Food Freedom?

The fight for food freedom isn't just for those who love raw milk – it's for everyone who wants to be able to obtain the food of their choice from the source of their choice. Raw milk isn't the only food on the chopping block… raw-milk cheeses and heritage-breed pigs are also being targeted and there's no telling what other small-farm, niche foods may be next. So please, get involved! I urge you to embrace the following action plan to protect your right to choose your own foods:

  1. Get informed: Visit www.farmtoconsumer.org or click here to sign up for action alerts.
  2. Join the fight for your rights: The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) is the only organization of its kind. This 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization provides a legal defense for farmers who are being pursued by the government for distributing foods directly to consumers. Your donations, although not tax deductible, will be used to support the litigation, legislative, and lobbying efforts of the FTCLDF. For a summary of FTCLDF's activities in 2012, see this link.
  3. Support your local farmers: Buy from local farmers, not the industry that is working with the government to take away your freedoms.