She doesn’t exactly look the part of a federal criminal.
And Liz Reitzig doesn’t commit her nefarious acts in dark, seedy alleys. Her criminal enterprise starts on a picturesque Amish farm in rural Pennsylvania.
Transporting raw milk across state lines.
Last Tuesday, Reitzig and fifteen other mothers drove from their Maryland homes, purchased raw milk from an Amish farm and publicly caravanned back to Maryland.
The federal government calls it a crime.
Reitzig calls it an exercise in liberty.
The FDA bans transportation of unpasteurized raw milk across state lines. Government officials insist the unpasteurized milk poses a health risk because of its susceptibility to contamination from cow manure, a source of E. coli. In 1987, the feds implemented 21 CFR 1240.61(a), which provides that, “no person shall cause to be delivered into interstate commerce or shall sell, otherwise distribute, or hold for sale or other distribution after shipment in interstate commerce any milk or milk product in final package form for direct human consumption unless the product has been pasteurized.”
Protesting a recent surge in federal enforcement of the rule, Reitzig organized the milk run with other mothers. It wasn’t done on the sly. In fact, she says the group invited the FDA to come to the Pennsylvania – Maryland border and witness the crime.
“We made a big point of showing what we were doing,” Reitzig said.
The feds declined the invitation.
But others joined the caravan along I-95, cars decorated with signage proclaiming their criminal intent. After committing the forbidden act, the group proceeded to the steps of the building housing the FDA offices in Maryland and consumed the contraband. According to Reitzig, about 150 people joined the rally in front of the FDA headquarters. Other than the visible presence of numerous Department of Homeland Security officers, the feds didn’t take any actions against the lawbreakers.
“They tried to ignore us, I think,” Reitzig said.
The FDA issued a statement in the wake of the milk-run
With respect to the interstate sale and distribution of raw milk, the FDA has never taken, nor does it intend to take, enforcement action against an individual who purchased and transported raw milk across state lines solely for his or her own personal consumption.
But the feds have aggressively gone after producers of raw milk selling their product over state lines. In April 2010, armed federal agents raided a small Amish dairy farm in Kinzer, Pa., part of a yearlong sting operation. In April of this year, the feds filed suit in court to stop Rainbow Acres Farm from selling raw milk to customers in suburban Washington D.C. The San Francisco Chronicle documents several raw milk raids in California, “including a guns-drawn raid on the Rawsome buying club in Venice.”
Reitzig says that the escalation of enforcement against the farmers with the feds employing undercover agents and armed raids pushed her to take action. She wants to send the federal government a message.
“It’s a complete waste of money and an aggressive use of force,” she said. “It’s not acceptable. We’re not putting up with it. This is not acceptable in a free society.”
The FDA insists its concern simply lies in protecting the public.
“It is the FDA’s position that raw milk should never be consumed,” agency spokeswoman Tamara N. Ward said.
That’s well and good, says Reitzig, pointing out that Americans can choose to avoid foods the FDA advises against. But she insists her choice to buy something from a farmer she knows and trusts poses no risk to anybody else.
“They don’t need to criminalize me to keep you safe,” she said.
Tenth Amendment Center director Michael Boldin says banning the interstate sale of raw milk does not even fall within the powers of the federal government under the Constitution. While the FDA goes to great lengths to point out it only regulates interstate distribution, leaving intrastate regulation of raw milk to the states, Boldin says the FDA position still stretches the meaning of the commerce clause beyond the breaking point.
“If, like any legal document, the words of the constitution mean today the same as they meant the moment the people ratified it, we need to understand the meaning of the word regulate, in regards to commerce, from the time of the founding,” he said. “And regulate most certainly did not mean control, prohibit, mandate, or ban.”
Reitzig says the push to enforce the raw milk ban is indicative of a broader expansion of federal power and demonstrates the government’s willingness to use force and violence to impose its will upon citizens. She calls this a “gateway issue” that has the potential to make more people aware of the danger of centralized power, because food policy affects everybody, bridging typical political divides.
“It’s such a fundamental issue, how we feed ourselves and how we feed our family,” she said.
She points out the hypocrisy of federal regulators insisting raw milk poses a grave danger, while approving other foods and medications demonstrably harmful.
Well known Virginia holistic farmer Joel Salatin joined the protest in Maryland. He echos Reitzig’s point.
The FDA considers it “perfectly safe to feed your kids Mountain Dew, Twinkies and Cocoa Puffs, but it’s unsafe to feed them raw milk, compost-grown tomatoes and Aunt Matilda’s pickles,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Reitzig says she hopes this issue will open people’s eyes.
“If the government is lying to you about the food we eat, what else is it lying about?”