Organic Pastures, a dairy farm run by the McAfee family near Fresno, is California's first raw milk dairy farm that has certified organic land as pasture for its herd. Earlier this month, though, the farm was placed under quarantine due to reports of harmful bacteria found in samples of some dairy products and cow manure.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture cleared the farm on Friday after eight days of quarantine as now meeting all food safety and sanitation standards. What some found unusual, however, is how individual customers of the dairy products were contacted, some even saying officials tried to "confiscate" their legally-purchased milk. Although, officials have said they did not try to take milk for individuals but were simply informing all people about the recall of the contaminated milk.
Natural News reports the founder of Organic Pastures Mark McAfee said he was told by one of his customers during the quarantine time frame that she was called repeatedly by the health department of L.A. County and told to give up her raw milk. Here's more of McAfee's account of the events as told to him by one of his customers that has milk dropped off at her home from the dairy farm via UPS:
[...] they showed up at her house and demanded that she give her raw milk to them. She was getting ready to call 911 for the Sheriff's department and have them removed from her front doorstep, and she was threatening to use her camera to take a picture of them and post it on Facebook for harassing her over her raw milk... The investigators left after she told them she was not going to give them the raw milk and to get the Hell off her property.
This is what's going on, it's like food Nazis, it's incredible what these people are doing, trying to collect food from people's houses, that have not made them ill!
McAfee stated that a secretary had mistakenly given out his customer's contact information. Later, he said, the San Diego health department contacted him to for names and addresses, but he refused to provide them.
The Blaze contacted the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which gave the farm the green light to start distributing its products again on Friday. It said it was standard protocol for customers to be contacted during a time of contamination. A spokesperson for the CDFA wrote in an email, "Generally, during a recall, it is standard practice for health officials to use a dairy’s distribution list (usually retail outlets, but may include individuals) to verify that the producer has notified its customers in compliance with the provisions of the recall."
The Blaze has also contacted the L.A. County Health Department for more details on their protocol in food contamination situations. Angelo Bellomo, director of environmental health for the department, emphasized that this issue was not between raw and pasteurized milk but about informing the public on a potentially contaminated product during this time period. Similar to any food recall, Bellomo said contact is made to sites that may have the product in question. Usually these are commercial entities, but in the case of Organic Pastures, eight individuals were on the list. Bellomo said phone calls were made to ensure they knew about the recall. One site visit was made, but he said no one was at home at the time and the inspector left.
Raw milk, according to the Real Milk campaign that is run by the Weston A. Price Foundation, is unpasteurized, unprocessed, straight-from-the-cow dairy. Advocates of raw milk say it tastes better and preserves more of the health benefits than the average gallon jug consumers can get from the grocery store. The group states that concerns about contamination over milk not being pasteurized -- a process that heats the milk for a length of time to kill pathogens -- are exaggerated.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control maintains that pasteurization is necessary to make milk safe and states that studies have shown it does not degrade the product's nutritional value. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also debunks what it considers "myths" about pasteurization's effect on dairy and also believes milk products should be pasteurized.
Legality of raw milk sales in the United States varies. Most recently, raw milk dairy farmers in Minnesota -- a state that allows for raw milk sales at the farm where it is produced, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune -- are in a legal battle where a 2-year-old got seriously ill from a bacterium he obtained after drinking the milk given to him from his parents. The parents are seeking damages for medical expenses associated with the incident, which happened two years ago. The Star Tribune reports a judge recently said the parents should have been aware of the risks associated with raw milk but still ruled that the farmer had been negligent. It is expected the case will be heard by a jury.
Although law varies by state, in California where raw milk sales are legal, those cartons must contain the following warning: "Warning - raw (unpasteurized) milk and raw milk dairy products may contain disease-causing micro-organisms. Persons at highest risk of disease from these organisms include newborns and infants; the elderly; pregnant women; those taking corticosteroids, antibiotics or antacids; and those having chronic illnesses or other conditions that weaken their immunity."
Natural News considers the recent events in California as "food police" reaching "right into your refrigerator." In a separate case, a Wisconsin judge ruled in Oct. 2011 that individual families owning their own cow are subject to the rules and regulations of the state. If the milk was not pasteurized, they couldn't drink it:
“It’s always a surprise when a judge says you don’t have the fundamental right to consume the foods of your choice,” said [Pete] Kennedy [with the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund].
Oregon is going through its own legal issues over raw milk due to a recent E.coli outbreak that sickened 20, including four children. The Oregon Dairy Farmer's Association is pushing for a crackdown on unpasteurized milk, according to the Oregonian. Only small farms can sell the raw milk within the state.
Watch this video profile from The Oregonian of a mother telling why she and her children are fans of raw milk:
What are your thoughts on the raw milk debate?
This story has been updated to reflect that McAfee's customer said it was L.A. County Health Department officials who came to her house to "confiscate" the milk. The Blaze spoke with an official and updated the story accordingly to reflect the department's protocol, which includes contacting those who may have contaminated products but did not involve confiscation of the milk.