Advocacy group takes FDA to court over ban on interstate raw mik transport

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, a defendant in the FTCLDF suit against the agency. Photo from the Complete Patient blog.

Here’s an excerpt from the latest dispatch from David E. Gumpert, on his “The Complete Patient” blog:

“When I spoke a couple weeks ago in New Jersey–before groups at Rutgers University, the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Princeton Chapter, and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of NJ–I always started  by asking how many people regularly drink raw milk. Generally, half or more of the people in attendance raised their hands.

My next question was, “Where do you get it?” The answer, with some furtive glances around, was always the same: “Pennsylvania.”

People were looking around because everyone knew what they are doing is illegal, since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits interstate shipment of raw milk.

Well, now the whole federal prohibition will go to a federal court, including the matter of consumers bringing raw milk from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.

Yes, the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund is taking on the Big Enchilada in the raw milk war: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s prohibition on interstate shipment of raw milk, and essentially, the FDA’s role in masterminding the current war on raw milk.

The FTCLDF filed suit over the weekend in U.S. District court against FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg, and the secretary of the FDA’s parent agency, Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, challenging the constitutionality of the agency’s prohibition, enacted in 1987. It filed the suit on behalf of consumers and a farmer from six different states; the consumers all travel from states where raw milk sales are illegal to buy it in states where it’s allowed for sale and the farmer sells to out-of-state consumers.

The suit is notable for seeking to shift the focus of the interstate raw milk prohibition to consumers from farmers, where the FDA has focused its efforts, most notably in prosecuting the largest raw dairy in the country, Organic Pastures Dairy Co. in California, for selling milk outside its home state. The agency was behind a criminal case against the dairy, which ended with a guilty plea last year and an agreement by the dairy to confine its sales to California, and a civil case, which is still pending. The agency has also been active behind the scenes in urging crackdowns on raw milk in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and New York, among other states.

The case is also notable for the FTCLDF, which was formed less than three years ago to counter an aggressive FDA-led campaign against raw milk producers that began in 2006 (and has taken some heat on this blog over its effectiveness). While the legal organization has filed suits against state agriculture officials on behalf of raw dairy farmers in New York, Wisconsin, and California, as well as a suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture on behalf of farmers affected by the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), this is its first encounter with the FDA, and as such, definitely the biggest case in its brief history.

All the consumers in the suit live in states where raw milk sales are prohibited—New Jersey, Iowa, North Carolina, and Georgia. Joseph Heckman, a professor at Rutgers University, is the consumer plaintiff from New Jersey  The suit says the consumers buy their milk in neighboring states where raw milk is legal, and are being forced into breaking the law each time they travel back home with their milk….”

Get the full story from The Complete Patient blog.

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