lawsuit against organic dairy in California
Suit alleges dairy shipped raw milk across state lines
(Capital Press, CA)
By Mateusz Perkowski
organic dairy producer vows to fight a federal government lawsuit that seeks
to bar his company from shipping raw milk products across state lines.
"The (Food and Drug Administration) is reaching way beyond its authority
to intimidate us and what we do, but we will not be intimidated," said
Mark McAfee, owner of the Organic Pastures Dairy Company in Fresno, Calif.
The U.S. Justice Department filed suit against McAfee in a U.S. district court Thursday,
Nov. 20, claiming that he endangered public health by violating a federal law
against interstate commerce in unpasteurized milk.
The U.S. Health and Human Services Department, which
oversees FDA, is also participating in the lawsuit.
"Raw milk and raw milk products contain a wide variety of harmful
bacteria including, but not limited to, listeria monocytogenes, E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter and brucella, all of which may cause illness and possibly
death," according to the federal government's complaint.
According to the federal government's lawsuit, McAfee circumvented
restrictions on the interstate shipment of raw milk by labeling outgoing
boxes as "pet food." Unpasteurized milk is allowed to cross state
lines as long as it's used for that purpose.
However, the retail products within the boxes did not mention pet food and
the labeling language was clearly directed at human
consumers, according to the government's complaint.
The lawsuit contends that an employee at Organic Pastures Dairy unwittingly
acknowledged the pet food label was a "legal loophole for the firm to be
able to ship the product out of state" to an undercover FDA
McAfee admitted as much in a 2005 Portland Tribune article in which he was
quoted as saying, "And there is no regulation that you can't eat pet
food, either," according to the complaint.
Organic Pastures Dairy no longer labels its products as pet food unless the
customer signs an affidavit saying the milk will only be fed to animals,
McAfee said. The company established that policy after the FDA threatened it
with a criminal indictment earlier this year, he said.
The only product McAfee now ships out of state is colostrum,
which, as dietary supplement, can legally cross state lines, he said. Colostrum, or milk that is secreted shortly after birth,
is used for immune system support and other health benefits.
"They fail to understand that what we do is completely legal,"
McAfee expects the presiding judge, Oliver Wanger,
to rule against the federal government before the case goes to trial.
The federal government wants the judge to issue an injunction prohibiting
McAfee from shipping his products out of California, no matter how they are
The government's lawsuit says that seven people died and more than 460 fell
ill from diseases associated with raw milk consumption between 2000 and 2005.
Epidemiological studies have established a direct link between raw milk and
gastrointestinal disease, according to the complaint.
Proponents of raw milk, such as the Weston A. Price Foundation, say such
studies are biased and based on sloppy science.
"Most of them represent a rush to judgment in which the investigators
blamed raw milk without
evidence or even in the face of contrary evidence," according to a
report from the foundation.
Raw milk contains beneficial proteins, enzymes, vitamins and minerals,
according to proponents.
Christine Chessen, director of the California Raw
Milk Association, said that raw milk can alleviate symptoms of asthma,
eczema, allergies and immune disease.
"I don't see why they're making such a big deal out of it, especially
since people have gotten such amazing health benefits from it," she
The federal government alleges that the Organic Pastures Dairy website
unlawfully claimed "that their raw milk and raw milk products can cure,
mitigate, treat, or prevent various diseases including, but not limited to,
cataracts, ear infections, sinus infections, arthritis pain, allergy, and
McAfee said that his website did not make such claims, but contained links to
other sites that include health benefit information and substantiated those
claims with scientific studies.
"That's legal to do," he said.
At one time, the Organic Pastures Dairy website contained testimonials from
customers, but those were removed in 2005 after the company was fined by the
California Department of Health Services, McAfee said. 11-21-08