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At the intersection of food, soil, climate, farming and water.

Food Rights Under Attack

The following opinions are those of the author and do not reflect a position of the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.

Wisconsin Judge Denies Cow Owners Right to Drink Milk from Their Own Cows

On August 12th, former Dane County Circuit Court Judge Patrick Fiedler issued a ruling denying a motion that a boarding agreement between dairy farmers and cow owners was in compliance with state law.  The plaintiffs in the case, Mark and Petra Zinniker and Nourished by Nature LLC, asked for clarification on the ruling.

On September 9th, Judge Fiedler’s response included several orders:  “No, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a dairy herd;” “No, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow;” and “Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice.”

Behind the judge’s opposition is the debate over raw (unpasteurized) milk.  The FDA claims that people should not consume raw milk because it might contain dangerous microorganisms, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria.  Others claim it is safe, has numerous health
benefits, and people should be able to consume it if they choose.

Raw milk has been available in vending machines in Europe since 2005.  A recent study1 of over 8,000 school-aged children in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland looked at the effects of raw milk consumption on asthma, atopy, and hay fever.  The study found “consumption of farm [raw] milk (early in life) to be associated with reduced risk of childhood asthma and allergies.”  A 2006 study of over 15,000 children in five European countries showed similar results.  The number one allergenic food in the United States is pasteurized milk.

In the Summer 2011 issue of Wise Traditions, a quarterly publication of the Weston Price Foundation, research by Dr. Ted Beals suggested that risk of foodborne-illness from raw milk is much smaller than other foods.  The research was based on U.S. Census date and overnment-sanctioned reports.  Dr. Beals estimated that at least 9.4 million people consume raw milk.  Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston Price Foundation, said, “Using government figures for the entire population, Dr. Beals has shown that you are about 35,000 times more likely to get sick from other foods than you are from raw milk.”

Regulations regarding raw milk vary from state to state.  Interstate sales are prohibited.  In 39 states it is possible to obtain legally.  Nevertheless, federal agents continue to raid producers and distributors of raw milk, sometimes with guns drawn.  In 2010 the Wisconsin Senate approved a raw milk bill that was vetoed by the governor.  A new bill was introduced months ago and the Senate Ag Committee recently announced it will schedule a hearing on the bill.

Raw milk isn’t risky compared to many other things that are perfectly legal.  The demonization of raw milk could be a result of the threat it poses to larger production models.  Over the past century the trend in dairy operations has been toward consolidation.  But raw milk could shift that trend.  For example, last year in California raw milk sales increased 25% while pasteurized milk sales decreased 3%.  Large scale operations could not sell raw milk because it requires greater care in handling of the animals and their milk.  It also has a shorter shelf life.  Writer Michael Pollan described unpasteurized milk as “the emblem of noncorporate food.”

On September 30th, Judge Fiedler resigned to work for a law firm.  The same law firm defended Monsanto in a patent infringement case in 2010.  In that case, Monsanto and other biotechnology firms were accused of using patented methods for analyzing DNA sequences.  The district court where that case was heard happened to be in Dane County, WI, where Fiedler was serving as a state judge.  Regarding his resignation, Fiedler stated, “Over the course of the last several years this feeling just got bigger and bigger that I wanted to go back to being an advocate and being a lawyer.”

1  Loss, G., Apprich, S., Waser, M., et al.  The Protective Effect of Farm Milk Consumption on Childhood Asthma and Atopy.  The  Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology – October 2011.  Volume 128, Issue 4, Pages 766-773.e4.