I reported several weeks ago that we had a shot at legalizing raw milk in Maryland through cow shares. The bill was well written and had some of the best advocates in Annapolis behind it. I am grateful that some politicians see the sense in not criminalizing peaceful interactions between farmers and consumers.
After a fascinating and energized hearing, the bill lingered in committee never-never-land, not getting voted on and not getting withdrawn. It was frustrating after all the momentum we had built up, but still, the experience this year was a bit different than in past years, when our proposals went nowhere.
When I first started advocating for less regulation for small farmers–especially in the production and distribution of raw milk for human consumption–people I encountered in Annapolis looked at me strangely and would ask, “What is raw milk?” or make a face to show their disgust. Rarely did I receive any positive reaction.
Over the past 8 years, I’ve seen softening on the issue—some people are still confused as to why anyone would want raw milk, but a growing reception that perhaps that should be left to individual choice.
By the 4th or 5th year, most people admitted that the criminalization of peaceful farmers was a bit much.
This year, in advocating for small farm freedom, I’ve witnessed a 180 degree difference from my first couple of years in Annapolis. Most of the people I spoke with about the issue told me they either personally drink raw milk or were close to people who did.
This is success.
It would be a welcome event for the legislature to recognize the legitimacy of peaceful people engaging in voluntary exchange for food, but this recognition is not necessary for those exchanges to occur. And that is my main point here:
The people have gotten way ahead of the lawmakers.
People are finding their raw milk, regardless of what the lawmakers do, and in the legislative session just ending, they have once again failed to act on legalizing the availability of raw milk.
Who gets punished?
In Maryland, the people who are suffering from the legislature’s indecision are the farmers.
The attempts to reinstate cow shares in Maryland, or direct-to-consumer sales of raw milk, represent an attempt to remove handcuffs from small farmers who simply want to share the bounty of their farms with their neighbors and engage in peaceful voluntary exchange of food.
Over the years, the legislature, at the behest of the inherently problematic Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, has flexed its muscles against small producers, but the flow of raw milk into and within Maryland has flourished. This substance, that so many health “officials” are terrified of, inspires people to make great effort to access it.
So the charade continues…
A few people at the health department, perhaps even instigated by the FDA, continue to advise the legislative committee that making raw milk available in MD would be detrimental to “public safety,” while, in Annapolis and all over Maryland, this very food is easily available to those who wish to have it. It’s just that Maryland farmers, and the entire state, lose out on a huge economic opportunity, and the dollars spent on raw milk flow outside Maryland.
Currently, the corporate dairy industry is opposed to reinstating raw milk sales or cow shares in Maryland. The situation for them is a bit more complex than the DHMH position that no one should drink raw milk for any reason ever.
The dairy farmers live in constant fear of bankruptcy and losing their farms. They fear that an illness attributed to raw milk would have devastating consequences on milk sales and hence the base price of commodity milk and hence push them into bankruptcy.
I understand, and have deep compassion for, the dairy farmers in Maryland who are so afraid of losing their farms. It is a scary place to be. While no evidence substantiates their fears—indeed, in states that allow raw milk sales and have experienced occasional illnesses, commodity milk prices have never been affected– often we hold irrational fears for the unknown. Certainly, this paradigm shift, for industrial farmers, is a large unknown.
But, I have seen cracks even in that wall and see that many of the farmers who steadfastly opposed the option for raw milk in Maryland are seeing and understanding some of the benefits this option can offer even for their farms.
With dairy farms disappearing at an alarming rate in Maryland, it is almost to the point of survival that many farmers are beginning to explore possibilities other than what they have been exposed to through industry standards.
Even taking all this into account
The bureaucratic charade persists: a few people use their positions of perceived authority to forcefully impose their worldview on an entire population. And the legislative body is a willing accomplice.
The end result of this session is that the cow share bill garnered much attention to the issue of raw milk, especially here in Maryland, even though there was no legislative change. The tangible outcome is that the House committee chairman with responsibility for the herdshare legislation, Pete Hammen, has penned a letter to Johns Hopkins asking for them to review existing studies on the benefits of raw milk and the possible differences between raw and pasteurized milk.
For example, is there any study showing that the nutrients in pasteurized milk are not as bioavailable as are the same nutrients in raw milk?
While I don’t have high expectations of another “review” from a school of “public health,” the biggest question this whole process has answered is just how beholden our regulators are to the paradigm of forced compliance to arbitrary laws.
Meanwhile…raw milk is happily and readily flowing in and around Maryland.
You might also like:
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- Why New Raw Milk Marketing Laws Should be Profoundly Troubling
Wherever you are in your personal journey toward clean living and local food, thank you for joining me in mine. I look forward to sharing it with you.
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