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War Against Terror. War Against Drugs. War Against Raw Milk?

On the heels of the spectacular attack on Bin Laden's Pakistan compound, Feds closer to home sprung the trap on another major threat to our personal safety – Amish farmers selling raw milk to their neighbors.

In a year-long sting operation that culminated in a pre-dawn raid last week, the FDA captured an Amish farmer in Pennsylvania selling unpasteurized milk to willing purchasers in the Washington, D.C. area.  It was a rare headline-grabbing event in the ongoing battle between natural food fans and the nanny state. 

Raw milk advocates tout the health and flavor benefits of milk that hasn't had the good stuff cooked out of it with high-heat pasteurization.  Personally, I think raw milk tastes great – it has a lot more flavor than regular milk.  It is also wonderful for baking.  Raw cream sets up in seconds, making the richest, best whipped cream ever.  And don't even get me started on raw-milk cheese.

The FDA, on the other hand, wants to eliminate the option of unpasteurized dairy entirely.  It is not enough to alert consumers to possible risks of unpasteurized products and let the consumers chose for themselves.  “It is the FDA’s position that raw milk should never be consumed,” said Tamara N. Ward, spokeswoman for the FDA. 

State regulations governing the sale of raw dairy products vary widely, from allowing unrestricted sales to prohibiting them entirely.  According to consumer advocates, ten states, including Washington, Idaho, and California, allow retail sales of raw milk. 

Oregon allows limited sales of raw milk.  By state statute, customers can go to a farm to buy raw milk, but only if the farmer has no more than three cows.  Farmers are not allowed to deliver, nor can they advertise their product.  A list of Oregon suppliers is here.

So what brought Rainbow Acres Farms into the FDA’s crosshairs? Pennsylvania allows the retail sale of raw milk.  But Washington, D.C., Maryland, and other neighboring states prohibit all raw milk sales.  Once Rainbow Acres sold its milk across state lines, it violated the FDA’s prohibition against interstate commerce in unpasteurized milk.  The lesson?  If you want raw milk, buy local – really local – don’t cross any state lines.  And if you are in Maryland, you are out of luck.