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David Gumpert's Posts

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Want raw milk? Lease a farm — and hire a lawyer

For two months earlier this year, Wisconsin dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger let the proposed contract sit unsigned on his desk. The agreement specified that a nonprofit organization known as Right to Choose Healthy Food, and headed by raw food advocate Aajonus Vonderplanitz, would lease his farm's 50 cows and dozens of chickens -- "the works," says Hershberger. In exchange, the organization would have access to all the food from the animals: milk, eggs, and meat. Then, on June 2, agents from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection raided his Grazin' Acres farm near Madison, and placed seals …

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Raids are increasing on farms and private food-supply clubs — here are 5 tips for surviving one

When the 20 agents arrived bearing a search warrant at her Ventura County farmhouse door at 7 a.m. on a Wednesday a couple weeks back, Sharon Palmer didn't know what to say. This was the third time she was being raided in 18 months, and she had thought she was on her way to resolving the problem over labeling of her goat cheese that prompted the other two raids. (In addition to producing goat's milk, she raises cattle, pigs, and chickens, and makes the meat available via a CSA.) But her 12-year-old daughter, Jasmine, wasn't the least bit tongue-tied. "She …

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What Is Our "Right" to Opt Out of the Industrial Food System?

Slavery. Women prohibited from voting. No home schooling allowed. No interracial marriage. These were all official government policy at one time in America's history, and have since been rejected by the courts. Now, the courts should break with another major taboo: restrictions on our access to food, most notably, raw milk. That's the argument being presented by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, on behalf of a group of consumer and farmer plaintiffs suing top officials of the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In a response to a government motion in April to …

Read more: Food

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Organic Valley lays down the law on raw milk

Organic Valley started up in 1988 with a vision of being a different kind of milk cooperative, one that helped save small family dairies via promoting organic dairy products. "It was an idealistic, mission-oriented place in those days, spreading the gospel about the benefits of organic dairy and founded on the premise of economic-justice for farmers," recalls Mark Kastel, who served as a consultant to Organic Valley a year after it launched. (He's currently head of the Cornucopia Institute, a watchdog organization that monitors dairy compliance with organic standards.) That idealism and Americans' insatiable appetite for organic food helped propel …

Read more: Food

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In Court Case, FDA Takes a Strong Stand Against Unabridged Food and Health Rights

The expanding battle over raw milk has come to be seen by many advocates as a battle over food rights. Do we have a right to consume the foods of our choice? Or can the government restrict our access, or require processing and/or sterilization of certain foods, and simultaneously prohibit our access to the raw variety (as in milk, fruit and vegetable juices, almonds)? This is an issue that promises to become ever more prominent if food irradiation, already approved by the FDA for meats and leafy green vegetables, spreads in popularity by food producers. Unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution doesn't …

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Why it matters that the FDA is beating USDA for control of food system

Small-scale food producers and farmers have been vocal about their concerns that the Senate will pass highly burdensome food-safety legislation. Equally worried, but much less vocal, is the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It frets over major gains by its arch-rival, the U.S. food and Drug Administration, over local food producers and small farms. USDA is so worried it has even had its Senate allies include language that "prohibited the FDA from 'impeding, minimizing, or affecting' USDA authority on meat, poultry, and eggs," according to Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. The legislation, if it passes as …

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Is raw milk becoming too popular for its own good?

Whatha's looking it? As raw milk's popularity grows, so does scrutiny. It’s been a tough twelve months for proponents of raw milk. Last April, as many as 81 Colorado consumers were sickened by campylobacter associated with raw milk. Last September, about 35 people became ill with campylobacter, apparently from milk from a Wisconsin dairy. And just in the last few weeks, 17 raw milk drinkers in the Midwest associated with a dairy in Indiana have become ill with campylobacter. Added to all that, Whole Foods last month notified producers in four states—California, Washington, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania—that it would no longer …

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Farmer-consumer group challenges FDA authority to ban interstate raw-milk sales

Don't cry over raw milk. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund is taking on the Big Enchilada in the raw milk war: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's prohibition on interstate shipment of raw milk. The FTCLDF filed suit over the weekend in U.S. District court against FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg, and the secretary of the FDA's parent agency, Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, challenging the constitutionality of the agency's prohibition, enacted in 1987. It filed the suit on behalf of consumers and a farmer from six different states; the consumers all travel from states where raw milk sales are …

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Whatever happened to the government’s war on raw milk? Just a shift in tactics

When the current phase of a nearly century-long government campaign to convince American consumers to abandon raw milk launched in 2006, heavy-handed intimidation tactics were the order of the day. Kentucky farmer Gary Oakes was questioned so intensively by agents from the Ohio Department of Agriculture and U.S. Food and Drug Administration while delivering milk to consumers in a Cinciannati parking lot that spring that he was hospitalized three times for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Michigan farmer Richard Hebron had more than $8,000 of dairy products confiscated in a "sting" operation outside Ann Arbor on Columbus Day weekend of …

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Can a new USDA advisory committee make the dairy industry less pathetic?

Much as I've long been taken with the romanticism of dairy farming and the visions of grazing cows and nurturing fresh milk it conjures up, I tune out when the talk turns to "the dairy industry." That subject stimulates images of commodity trading, price controls, feed lots, and perhaps most onerous-- a rigged system akin to slavery in which the owners of small dairies nearly always lose. They have been losing for so many years the number of farms with dairy cows fell an astounding 88 percent, from 648,000 to 75,000 between 1960 and 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture …