Friday, October 16, 2009
This morning I found an e-mail in my inbox from Eric Wagoner, director of Athens Locally Grown. Locally Grown is a twist on food cooperatives - rather than receiving a box each week, we order just what we want from the website and pick it up on Thursday evenings in a central locale. Locally Grown has had some issues with state regulators - for example, the egg producers were impacted earlier this year by a more stringent reading by state officials of how one must store and refrigerate eggs. It made it much harder for us to get eggs for awhile.
One of the products available through Locally Grown is raw milk. Many people dislike pasteurized milk and would rather get it straight from the cow. However, apparently for health reasons, it is impossible to buy raw milk in Georgia. Not in South Carolina, however, which is a short drive away. Eric has been driving up to South Carolina each week to get raw milk to fulfill website orders.
Yesterday at the Locally Grown pickup inspectors from the State Department of Agriculture came and "seized" the entire load of raw milk. They are coming to Eric's house Monday morning to watch him destroy the milk. (They couldn't seize it at the time because they came in a sedan, apparently.) Read more about the story here.
While I personally feel quite cautious about the issue of foodborne pathogens and so I prefer my milk pasteurized, the milk seizure does seem a bit heavy handed. (See a counterpoint to the raw milk foodborne pathogens article here.) Watch this space for an update.
Jamie Baker Roskie
P.S. A follow up to my post earlier in the week about E. Coli and beef - the beef industry is actually arguing that cases of E. Coli have declined in recent years. See a fact sheet from the beef board here. However, I think my overall point about ensuring the protection of agricultural land remains valid. If we want to support local farming we need to consider how local, state and federal regulations help or hurt that policy goal.
UPDATE: This story has been picked up by the local daily, the Athens Banner-Herald. A great quote from Eric - "They are going to meet me at my house Monday morning and watch me pour it all out," Wagoner said. "It's like the 1930s and bootlegging whiskey or something."
SECOND UPDATE: The milk was indeed destroyed on Monday the 19th, and this was filmed for an upcoming documentary on farm regulation. Footage is also available on YouTube. Apparently the state inspectors are relying on a federal regulation against the sale or distribution of raw milk. The Locally Grown folks are considering litigation. My take on all this is that one solution to both food safety and farmland conservation issues is to create and maintain relationships with local farmers. Regulation that gets in the way of maintenance of those relationships, even in the name of food safety, could ultimately be harmful.