On Thursday, the Raw Milk "Freedom Riders" rode again. In November, they crossed the Pennsylvania border into Maryland in protest against federal law 21 CFR § 1240.61, which prohibits interstate commerce of raw milk for human consumption.
Yesterday, a group of 17 food rights activists carried 70 gallons of raw milk over the border from Wisconsin to deliver the milk, along with batches of homemade cookies, to milk drinkers on the other side of the border.
History of a Food Right
Raw milk is milk in its unprocessed form, that has not been pasteurized or homogenized. Pasteurization was introduced in the late 1800s, and the first law requiring pasteurization wasn't passed until 1908, in Chicago.
The law being protested, the federal ban on interstate commerce of raw milk for human consumption, was originally passed in 1987. In 2010, the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claiming that these federal regulations are unconstitutional and outside of the FDA's statutory authority. The FDA issued a response to the suit that has riled food rights activists across the country:
"There is no absolute right to consume or feed children any particular food" (page 25).
"There is no 'deeply rooted' historical tradition of unfettered access to foods of all kinds" (page 26).
"Plaintiffs' assertion of a 'fundamental right to their own bodily and physical health, which includes what foods they do and do not choose to consume for themselves and their families' is similarly unavailing because plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to obtain any food they wish" (page 26).
Raw Milk Freedom Rides to Chicago
The Raw Milk Freedom Riders, protesting these regulations and the anti-food rights stance of the FDA, stopped just over the Wisconsin-Illinois border, but neither the FDA nor local law enforcement appeared to arrest any of them.
They continued on to Chicago's Independence Park, where a rally of over 100 people awaited them. Speakers included former Libertarian Party presidential nominee Michael Badnarik, Canadian dairy farmer Michael Schmidt, blogger David Gumpert and food rights activists Max Kane and Liz Reitzig.
The rally at Independence Park was watched closely by park security, but was allowed to proceed unimpeded.
Schmidt, who went on hunger strike earlier this year in response to a court ruling against him and against the distribution of raw milk in Canada, said, "Over the last two years, I myself really experienced ... deeply the whole infringement of our liberty. ... The focus is so much on prosecuting farmers, and there's a reason for that. The reason is that there is less than two percent left who are actually providing the food, less than two percent which is capable and able to grow food. So it is easy to take them out."
Gumpert, who follows raw milk news very closely on his blog, called for raw milk supporters to "push for our local politicians to pass food sovereignty laws" and "put ourselves on the line, and that may mean things like even riding shotgun with trucks that are delivering food from our own farmers. That may mean putting our bodies in the way of agents and officers who are raiding farms."
In a toast with a raised glass of raw milk, Schmidt closed the rally by saying, "The glass of raw milk has become the symbol of the food rights movement. We should be proud of it. Here's to the food rights movement."
When will the Freedom Riders ride again? They plan to continue to fight what they see as unjust regulation in states across the country. Expect another ride in January 2012.