“WASHINGTON — One sun-drenched August morning, armed officers wearing sunglasses and bullet-proof vests descended on a market in Venice, Calif., searching for illegally sold goods. It marked the end of a year-long investigation where undercover agents posed as customers.
Their target: raw, unpasteurized milk.
Federal regulators say it’s a dangerous and unnecessary public threat, pointing to 143 cases of contamination linked to still births, miscarriages and kidney failure since 1987, the latest involving five California children. Grassroots, back-to-nature consumers say the product strengthens the immune system by keeping intact good bacteria that’s killed in pasteurized milk. The choice should be theirs, the activists say.“These guns are being drawn on basically aging hippies, all because of illegal milk,” said Ajna Sharma-Wilson, a Los Angeles lawyer for the Venice market owner, in an interview. “This is a waste of taxpayer money.”
The Aug. 3 crackdown on the Venice market has become a cause célèbre for a growing raw-milk movement that touts the product’s ability to strengthen the immune system and contends the federal enforcement is overzealous. Proponents are part of a broader raw-foods movement that touts unprocessed and organic products as a healthier alternative and advocates direct sales from local, sustainable farms to consumers.
Twenty states ban raw milk sales in some form and 30 allow it, including California. Less than 1 percent of Americans drink the product, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The Weston A. Price Foundation, a non-profit nutrition research group in Washington that works for universal access to raw milk, estimates the figure may exceed 9.4 million people, or about 3 percent of the population.
The FDA hasn’t explained its involvement in the August raid and Siobhan DeLancey, an agency spokeswoman, declined to comment. The target, Rawesome Foods, provided unpasteurized goat milk and related products and operated for more than six years without a required business permit or license, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
It’s illegal in California to sell unpasteurized dairy without applicable licenses and permits, which require veterinary inspections and sanitation requirements, according to the attorney’s office.
No additional information is available on the case and the warrant is sealed, said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the attorney’s office, in an interview.
The FDA banned the interstate sale of raw milk in 1987. Raw-milk advocates trying to overturn the restriction on interstate sales have attracted the support of Rep. Ron Paul, a Texas Republican seeking the Republican presidential nomination, who in May introduced legislation to allow interstate traffic of unpasteurized milk and milk products for human consumption….”