14 11 2010

If you’re wondering what kind of roadblocks our government is willing to throw in the way of local food, consider what’s happened to Morningland Dairy.

For thirty years, Morningland, a farm in Missouri, has made and sold raw  milk-based cow and goat cheese.  During this thirty-year stretch,no Morningland customer has complained about any illness related to contaminated cheese.

That’s not good enough for the US Food and Drug Administration, which is committed to the proposition that raw milk dairy products are inherently dangerous.  To the FDA, our right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” does not include the right to eat what we please.

Here’s the apparent chain of events.  In late June,  Los Angeles police, under orders from the District Attorney, conducted a guns-drawn raid on Rawsome Foods, a members-only co-op that specializes in…well, raw foods, from nuts to vegetables to meat and…dairy.  The dairy was what the cops were after.  They confiscated the co-op’s stock of raw dairy products.  After letting them sit around for a while, possibly unrefrigerated, the government tested Morningland’s cheese and found that…wow, it was contaminated.  That led them to contact Missouri authorities, who ordered that Morningland destroy the 50,000 pounds of cheese it had in inventory–and no, they didn’t need to do no steenking tests on the cheesee–the mere fact that it was made from raw milk was proof that it was contaminated, in the authorities’ eyes.

Destroying the cheese, worth a quarter of a million dollars, would have destroyed the farm.  Owners Joseph and Denise Dixon decided to fight back.

Here’s blogger Dorreen Hannes’ description of the next stage of the so-called “legal process”:

On September 24th, the Milk Board verbally ordered Morningland to destroy their product. Morningland asked that this order be put in writing. One week later the order was hand delivered to General Manager/owner, Joseph Dixon. The order states that in three business days the Milk Board would contact them with when and how the cheese was to be destroyed.

Morningland dared to publish a written objection to committing suicide, a rebuttal and proposed remedy. They rebutted many of the stated “facts” in the 10-page order, Destroy Orders: Morningland Dairy. The Morningland Dairy then offered a reasonable, logical, scientifically sound remedy to destruction on the afternoon of October 6th.

The next morning, they were served with a restraining order and preliminary injunction by the Attorney General’s office of Missouri. They were to be in court the very next day. In sum, they were ordered to destroy their wealth on Friday, asked for logic and justice on Wednesday, notified they were being sued on Thursday and ordered to be in court on Friday.

At 4:50pm on Thursday, the Attorney General’s office called and canceled court because one or two of their witnesses couldn’t attend. Never mind that a family run dairy and cheese plant with 9 families making a living through it should mount a legal defense against destruction in one day. It’s another raid using Gestapo legal tactics that fit the MO of the FDA and their minions….or sub agents, if you prefer.

Around the end of the month,the FDA told them:

…. Morningland Dairy’s cheese poses “an acute, life-threatening hazard to health”, and the Missouri Milk Board sent a letter to Morningland Dairy, stating that “No administrative regulations allow the appeal of the State Milk Board’s administrative order…”

But, since that blast, things may have shifted.  just last week, Morningland and the state of Missouri finally came to an agreement to test the cheese (which has been kept in cold storage all this time, at no small cost) and determine the appropriate course of action from there.  Hooray for somebody in state government being reasonable.

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: regulations banning raw dairy products are based in the old paradigm, in which producers are trying to get away with cutting every possible corner and must be held accountable so they do not poison consumers.  Morningland operates under the new paradigm, in which producers are responsible to their customers to provide the best product possible.  Morningland and its customers are fully aware of the potential dangers of contaminated raw milk, and are, in the totally selfish interest of self-protection, vitally interested in producing the cleanest product they can possibly come up with.  Not only does Morningland keep an extraordinarily high level of cleanliness in their operations, they have routinely tested their products for contamination.–and yes, they routinely come up clean.

If you would like to send some financial support to Morningland to help them through this struggle, you can “sponsor” a cheese at

Full disclosure:  I sent ’em twenty bucks.

The double standards operating in this case are mind-blowing.  Exhibit one: Wright County Farms is the corporate entity that was responsible for releasing salmonella-tainted eggs that sickened hundreds of people last summer.  They are repeat violators, but the fines that have been levied against them have always been a slap on the wrist.  The government is not trying to drive the company out of business.

“Too big to fail,” I guess.

We can also look at the tobacco industry, which produces a product that is poisonous and addictive, and has killed millions of people all over the world.  R.J. Reynolds is still in business.  The government has not shown up, guns at the ready, to confiscate their product, nor have their executives been perp-walked into waiting police cars.  (OK, that didn’t happen to the Dixons, either, but you know what I mean.)

On a more positive note, we can also look at Europe, where raw milk, and raw milk cheese, are not only an accepted part of the food scene, but a bright, shining star in it.  Can  you say, “Camembert, Brie, and Roquefort,” boys and girls? They’re all raw milk cheeses!

What we are looking at here is just another facet of the fact that the US government has become the enforcement arm of big business, and big business does not like the idea of the country’s food system relocalizing.  On the other hand, as the evolution of Morningland’s legal standoff shows, there are individuals in the government who are capable of appreciating and encouraging the local food movement.  Communism was monolithic until it crumbled–and no, I’m not happy about the non-“Communist” repression that has taken its place in all too many locations, but the fact is that “Communism” fell apart because the individuals who had supported it withdrew their support.  Anything can happen.

Music:  Bruce Cockburn:  “Anything Can Happen”




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