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Raw-Milk Menace | Up to Speed

Raw-Milk Menace

Peter and Maria Hoey

One morning last August, federal agents and local sheriff's deputies swooped down on a health food store in Venice, California, to seize and destroy dangerous contraband: raw milk and room-temperature eggs. James Stewart, the 64-year-old founder of Rawesome, a club that distributes farm-fresh food to 1,600 members, was charged with six felonies and seven misdemeanors, including conspiracy to process milk without pasteurization.

The bust was part of a series of raids by the Food and Drug Administration apparently aimed at wiping the raw-milk mustache from America's face. In April, FDA agents, U.S. marshals, and a Pennsylvania state trooper descended on Amish dairy farmer Dan Allgyer, of Kinzers, Pennsylvania, who sells unpasteurized milk from his three dozen cows to a small buyers' club in Maryland. Allgyer was charged with transporting raw milk across state lines.

Both raids were preceded by a yearlong clandestine investigation. "They had undercover agents, hidden cameras," says Stewart's lawyer, Ajna Sharma-Wilson. "Millions were spent investigating this."

The FDA's interest in raw milk can be traced to Michael Taylor, a former lobbyist for Monsanto who now serves as the agency's deputy commissioner for foods. Taylor helped Monsanto win FDA approval for its artificial bovine growth hormone in the 1990s and then tried (unsuccessfully) to get the agency to keep dairies that don't use the additive from labeling their milk "rBGH-free."

Taylor portrays the raw-food crackdown as part of an effort to stamp out food-borne illness, even though none of the milk in question has been linked to contamination or illness. The FDA was less interested when 1,600 people were sickened in 2010 by Salmonella enteritidis from Iowa's Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms; while inspectors found numerous health and safety violations, no one has been prosecuted.—Dashka Slater

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