North Carolina raw milk drinkers fight state law forcing them underground

Here’s a story from North Carolina about raw milk “adherents” and the lengths to which they’ll go to get their preferred food. This is an excerpt from a story by Sara Burrows in the Carolina Journal:

“RALEIGH — Mothers, teachers, doctors, and church members are meeting their dealers in barns and on back doorsteps, paying cash for an illicit substance they say they just can’t live without: raw milk.

Yes, that’s right, milk – unpasteurized, nonhomogenized, raw milk. It’s illegal to sell for human consumption in North Carolina and 24 other states.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says drinking it is like “playing Russian roulette” and the state epidemiologist compares it to “heroin” and “mercury,” but a growing number of raw milk junkies say they will travel any distance and pay any price to obtain it. Some are prepared to go to court to protect what they claim is a right to consume raw milk.

Pasteurized milk, they say, just isn’t the same. They say pasteurization kills good bacteria, destroys enzymes necessary for absorbing vitamins and minerals, and denatures fragile proteins.

Laura, a mother of four who does not want her last name published, started feeding her family raw milk 10 years ago in South Carolina, where it is legal. She got a tip that it might help her daughter, who suffered from lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome.

After a few days on raw goat’s milk, Laura said all of her daughter’s symptoms disappeared. Not only could she digest the raw milk, soon she also could digest small amounts of pasteurized milk products. Laura attributes this to the enzyme lactase, which helps break down lactose and is killed during pasteurization.

When Laura moved to North Carolina, securing what she calls “real” milk got tricky.

At first she made 10-hour round trips to her friend’s farm in South Carolina every three months, loading her van with gallons of frozen milk. Later she bought her own goats, which she kept on a friend’s land and milked herself. This led to a “goat milk ministry.”

“I gave it freely to those in need,” Laura said.

Eventually she sold her goats and purchased “goat shares” instead.

Until 2004, the “cow share” program offered consumers a legal avenue to raw milk through partial ownership of a cow or goat, as there was no law against drinking milk from one’s own animals. People like Laura, who didn’t have the land or time to keep their own animal, paid a farmer to keep it for them. In exchange they got several gallons of milk each week.

Cow and goat ‘shares’ outlawed

But the state closed the “loophole” in the 11th hour of the 2004 legislative session.

A paragraph outlawing the “right to acquire [raw] milk through barter or contractual agreement … including the sale of shares in a cow, goat, or any other lactating animal” got tacked onto a lengthy environmental bill in the House that already had passed the Senate.

In 2007, raw milk activist Ruth Foster — who helps connect the state’s underground network of buyers and suppliers and spearheads legislative efforts to put raw milk back on the table — helped then-state Sen. Kay Hagan draft a bill to reverse the cow share ban. It passed the Senate but never made it to the House.

The ban leaves Laura only one legal option for obtaining raw milk — purchasing it under the moniker “pet milk.” Farmers can sell raw milk for pet consumption, as long as it is labeled as such and includes the warning “Not for human consumption” in half-inch lettering.

The farmers know their customers are not buying several gallons of milk — at $10 to $15 a gallon — for their cats, but they operate on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” basis, handing over the goods with a wink and a nod.

Even though they are within their legal rights to sell “pet milk,” farmers who do so constantly are harassed and sometimes raided.

The state Department of Agriculture adopted a rule in 2007 that would have forced farmers to dye raw milk grey, so families wouldn’t mix up the “cat’s milk” with the “people’s milk.” Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, wrote a bill that overturned the rule before it went into effect.

Also, the Ag Department has tried to force pet-milk producers to register as feed manufacturers, even though there is no law requiring it. The process adds costs and regulatory burdens many small dairy operations can’t afford. Most choose to operate under the radar to avoid the hassle.

Secret society

Many pet-milk producers are small dairy farmers, who supplement their income from pasteurized milk by selling raw milk on the side. Others aren’t commercial farmers but simply rural homeowners who have a cow or goat in their backyards.

Most don’t advertise their product and often won’t admit they sell it at all. Those who do are targeted, Foster said.

It’s impossible to get your hands on the stuff unless you know somebody who knows somebody, Laura said. The “good news” about raw milk spreads very slowly by word of mouth to only the most trusted friends and family. While she’s converted several friends from church, she’s careful about whom she talks to. If word gets out to the wrong people, it could threaten her farmer’s anonymity.

Because demand is high and supply is low, many travel across state lines to stock up. But state and federal agencies are catching on and are stopping the traffickers in their tracks.

In 2009 a milk-buying club carpooled from Georgia to South Carolina and filled their van with several coolers of raw milk. Little did they know, they were being followed. As soon as they crossed the state line, agents from the Georgia Department of Agriculture and an agent from the FDA pulled them over and forced them to dump 110 gallons on the side of the road….”

Read the whole story here on the Lincoln Tribune.com

4 Comments

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4 responses to “North Carolina raw milk drinkers fight state law forcing them underground

  1. Evelyn

    $10-$15/gallon? Wow… I spend $16/gallon in California…. BUT… we expect everything to cost more in California! In Missouri, I pay $5/gallon for goat’s milk & $7/gallon for cow’s milk.
    I sell my pet food meat for $15/pound in California as well. When I start producing milk, it’ll be the same pasture fed, humane & healthy product that the meat is.

    Monsteranto just can’t leave us alone. All food must come from the commercial outlets, that buy Monsteranto products. And the USDA/FDA has to have it’s kingdom building. The larger the budget, the more important the agency, the more important the King at the top.

  2. Anna

    I’m all for raw milk, but it does piss me off that it don’t cost $15 a gallon to make and because people love to drink it they are price jacking for sure.

  3. Evelyn

    But, how much does it cost them to defend the criminal charges against them for selling it to us?

    • Shayne

      It does cost $15 or more per gallon if you treat it as a business and not just “free” from the tit.
      I feed, water, milk, daily How much should I “pay” myself for that time. (how about min wage at least) What about ground maitanance, preditor control, repairing fences, fixing milkers and other needed devices.
      Then there is the cost of the animal, the feed, the medical attention.
      The reason big companies can afford to charge less for milk and other items is because they recieve government grants, feed low quality food and higher illegal workers.
      If you want top quality you need to pay top quality or go do it yourself.

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