Criminalizing Nature’s Most Perfect Food: FDA’s war on private food contracts

By Rady Ananda

In his latest book, The Raw  Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle over Food Rights, David Gumpert details several cases of malicious prosecution against the natural dairy industry, reporting the myths, exaggerations and deceptions by authorities charged with protecting the food supply.

What you won’t get from the book is a whitewash of the raw milk movement. Even advocates were caught exaggerating claims or ignoring evidence. Gumpert also includes tender, heart-wrenching stories in the words of mothers whose children became critically ill from drinking contaminated raw milk, or so they believe. Though the link was never scientifically made in those cases, it was in others, including a raw milk herd share. Gumpert bridges compassion for those mothers with compassion for dairy owners who are financially wiped out by the government’s strategic war on private food arrangements.  

From the cases explored in the book, and from recent government actions and statements, it becomes clear that food safety authorities are using their power to destroy competition of drugged, genetically engineered, factory processed foods.

For years, writers and researchers have shown how regulatory agencies have been captured by industry. President Obama exemplifies this in his Food Policy picks, recruiting directly from biotech firms like Monsanto and lobbying groups like CropLife America. His Supreme Court pick, Elena Kagan, in her capacity as Solicitor General, intervened on behalf of Monsanto in the first case to reach the US Supreme Court regarding genetically engineered food.

In the potent Foreword to the book, farmer Joel Salatin admits:

“People like me don’t trust Monsanto. We don’t trust the Food and Drug Administration. We don’t trust the Department of Agriculture. We don’t trust Tyson. And we don’t think it’s safe to be dependent on food that sits for a month in the belly of a Chinese merchant marine vessel.”

And the outcome?

“When the public no longer trusts its public servants, people begin taking charge of their own health and welfare. And that is exactly what is drving the local heritage food movement.”

Meet the FDA head of Dairy and Egg Safety, John F. Sheehan

Apparently bent on stopping the ‘local heritage food movement’ is John F. Sheehan, whom the FDA hired in 2000 to head its Dairy and Egg Safety Division. Gumpert spends much time on this elusive bureaucrat, a patent lawyer with a bachelor’s degree in dairy science.   Sheehan’s actions epitomize the destruction that captive agencies can wreak on small producers when regulators cater to monopoly interests. (Image of John F. Sheehan, FDA Director of Dairy & Egg Safety, by David Gumpert. Used with permission.)

Sheehan also serves as a US delegate on the Milk & Milk Products Committee of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Codex is a United Nations offshoot that harmonizes food standards to facilitate international trade. Some believe Codex also seeks to limit trade of Earth’s natural supplements and whole foods. (See, e.g., Kevin Miller’s 2005 film, We Become Silent: The Last Days of Health Freedom.) 

Gumpert, an investigative journalist focused on the intersection of health and business, found Sheehan’s background elusive.  The FDA stonewalled Gumpert’s efforts to gather information about him, only revealing that Sheehan worked in the large end of the dairy industry for 17 years.  Many efforts to meet him failed. Gumpert admits with a little embarrassment that he traveled 2,500 miles just to photograph the man. Alas, Sheehan refused to speak to him, as did other FDA regulators.

Disparate Treatment of Natural Foods and Pharmaceutically-Driven CAFOs

That John Sheehan is a patent lawyer is not incidental. Concentrated animal feeding operations use patented, genetically modified drugs and feed. Having a patent lawyer head the FDA’s Dairy and Egg Division benefits the biotech end of food production. That may reveal Sheehan’s loyalties, which in turn may reveal what’s driving the FDA’s war on natural food.

Sheehan’s preferential treatment of Wright County Egg, which was involved in this year’s half-billion egg recall after 1,500 people were sickened by salmonella poisoning, stands in perfect contrast to his malevolent war on natural milk suppliers whose products sickened no one.

  • Providing a timeline of infractions covering decades, The Atlantic said, “[Wright County Egg owner, Jack] DeCoster has left a trail of illness, injury, mistreatment, and death in his wake for decades. That he has been left to police himself for so long is a stunning testament to the failure of federal regulators.” 
  • The AP reported that “his facilities tested positive for salmonella contamination hundreds of times in the two years before this summer’s outbreak.”
  • Congressman Henry Waxman told the New York Times that for decades, “DeCoster farms have had warning after warning. Yet they continue to raise chickens in slovenly conditions and to make millions of dollars by selling contaminated eggs.”

So what concerned the Dairy and Egg Safety Czar during all of this?  Rawesome Foods, a natural food distributor in Venice Beach, California, whose products sickened no one.  In June, authorities burst onto the premises of this private food-buying club with guns drawn, in a shockingly excessive show of terrorizing force. And, for what? A misdemeanor infraction, improper licensing?  They physically searched all the employees and confiscated product.  The now notorious Rawesome Raid epitomizes the disparate treatment Sheehan affords natural foods compared to drugged, genetically modified ones. Security cameras caught the action on film:

“I think the Rawesome raid, conducted by agents from a half dozen agencies, with their guns drawn, was meant to send a strong message to farmers and consumers alike that the government is intent on discouraging private food distribution arrangements,” Gumpert told me via email.

Lest anyone doubt this, in a 2010 court filing, the FDA and its bureaucratic superior, the Department of Health and Human Services, asserted that Americans have “no fundamental right to freedom of contract.”  They went even further, denying that we have a right to eat foods of our choice, and that we don’t even have the right to health. 

Think about that for a moment: the federal agencies in charge of food safety and protecting human health believe we do not have a right to health.  Is this who we want determining what food and drugs are safe for us?  Would you trust your diamonds to someone who doesn’t believe you have a right to them?

In furtherance of the FDA’s war on private food contracts, in September, Rawesome supplier, Morningland Dairy, was ordered to destroy all of its cheese.  Working closely with Morningland, Doreen Hannes noted that this was done after authorities reported finding “listeria monocytogenes and staph aureous in two cheeses.” She stated that regulators showed up without proper documentation for these tests: no batch numbers, no product code numbers, no chain of custody, and no bacteria levels — just a picture of cheese with the Morningland label and the word of gun-toting uniforms.

No one became ill from any of Morningland’s or Rawesome’s products, yet 1,500 people were sickened by salmonella tainted eggs over a period of months, before Sheehan finally did something about it. What he did not do was order the destruction of all of DeCoster’s chickens and eggs. What he also did not do was hold DeCoster at gunpoint.

“The shutdown of Morningland Dairy was a pathetic attempt by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, acting through California and Missouri agriculture agencies, to justify the Rawesome raid,” Gumpert told me.  “No food producer in this country gets shut down because traces of listeria are found in their food, so long as no one has become ill and the company has shown a willingness to work with regulators, as Morningland has.”

Ironically, Morningland sits between two sections of the Mark Twain National Forest in southern Missouri. An apt quote of this famous anti-government writer might be:  “The government of my country snubs honest simplicity, but fondles artistic villainy.”  Is it not villainous of corporate giants to place their managers inside regulatory agencies to remove competition?

Germ Theory vs. Biological Terrain Theory

Raw Milk Revolution also explores the debate between the germ theory of illness, to which Western (allopathic) medicine subscribes, and the holistic theory (homeopathic), which the probiotics community hails. One seeks to wipe out all microbes (via drugs, vaccines and pasteurization) to make food sterile. The other recognizes that microbes act in accord with the biological terrain in which they live, and so promotes consuming live foods that boost “friendly” bacteria.  (This chart, which also appears in the book, nicely lays out the differences.  For a more detailed explanation, see Biological Terrain vs Germ Theory.) 

Gumpert quotes the probiotic argument: “People certainly can and do get sick from pathogens, but they do so because of failures in their own immune systems, rather than because the germs are so strong.”  He then refers to “an entire body of research [that] has emerged on the benefits of probiotics in preventing illness.”

Recognizing this ideological difference, Salatin asks, “Is not freedom to choose our food at least as fundamental a right as the freedom to worship?” 

An Inalienable Right to Risk Eating Natural Food

The essence of Raw Milk Revolution boils down to a chapter title: “When it comes to food, how much freedom should we have to take risks?” Government does not grant rights, but if we don’t assert them, it will trample them.

Given free reign, the FDA would deny the American people the right to believe as they wish, to eat as they wish, and to make private food arrangements outside the industrial food system. Legislation like S 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, would give the FDA even more power to “modernize” foods by sterilizing them via heat, drugs and chemicals, or by secretly adding nanoparticles and genetically modified ingredients. 

Mark Twain might have a comment on this: “No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.”

Humans have been drinking and trading raw milk and its products (cheese, yogurt, kiefer, etc.) throughout history.  The bulk of the world favors raw milk.  France, for example, provides vending machines for travelers. Even England’s monarch is a raw milk fan. Brian Lewis reports:

“It’s also said that Her Majesty is so keen on it that when grandsons princes William and Harry were at Eton, raw milk from the monarch’s Windsor dairy herd was delivered daily to them at the school.”

Risk aside, I tried my first raw milk while writing this.  So far, so good. Not dead and not strapped to the porcelain bowl.

By denying our right to eat food with which we evolved, the FDA ignores science.  Just as the biotech industry ignores scientific reality that genes operate on an entire genetic platform that is influenced by an internal and external environment, the myopic Germ Theory also ignores the role that our entire organismal system plays on whether we become sick or stay healthy. To quote Joel Salatin once more:

“This industrial food experiment, historically speaking, is completely abnormal. It’s not normal to eat things you can’t spell or pronounce. It’s not normal to eat things you can’t make in your kitchen…. And as more people realize that this grand experiment in ingesting material totally foreign to our three-trillion-member internal community of intestinal microflora and -fauna is really biologically aberrant behavior, they are opting out of industrial fare.”

Not just natural milk fans, but all who seek private food arrangements will appreciate Raw Milk Revolution. The number of cases discussed and his close look at the scientific arguments provide solid ground for defending the right to make our own food choices. He also reveals just how far CorpoGov will go in shutting down all competition to industrial food. The book is indispensable for anyone writing about the food wars: key arguments, cases, people, and organizations are listed in the expansive index for easy reference.

Gumpert closes his book with a warning:

“If secretive government regulators are successful in their efforts to deprive consumers of unpasteurized dairy products, they will be emboldened to push us farther toward their vision of reliance on sterile factory food.”


The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle over Food Rights
by David E. Gumpert
Foreword by Joel Salatin (reproduced here)
Published November 2009 by Chelsea Green Publishing
254 pages

Additional Sources:

David Gumpert’s blog, The Complete Patient
Weston A. Price Foundation

Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund
U.S. Map of Raw Milk Laws
Some natural milk distributors by state: Real


25 responses to “Criminalizing Nature’s Most Perfect Food: FDA’s war on private food contracts

  1. Wow. I’m kind of tired of hearing about this issue. Of course I’m extremely concerned about the freedom of unpasturized almonds and other products, but I am in strict disagreement with the Raw Milk argument. Nobody should be drinking milk, raw or otherwise.

  2. charmaine calvert

    Cigarettes and Alcohol are sold throughout Britain with a health warning attached, but raw milk is so dangerous that it is banned in shops and supermarkets?? The difference is that here in the UK you can buy raw milk and cheese directly from the farmers if you are lucky enough to live near an organic dairy. I like that we have a choice and our farmers are not accosted by the law, guns drawn. Thank you for a good article.

  3. charmaine calvert

    P.S. We don’t drink milk and we encourage other people to give up dairy too, but we respect their choice to use dairy products if they must. Almond milk is a great alternative…..hopefully not from the GM trees in Calefornia though ;o))

  4. Along with personal preference another thing being ignored as a factor and being criminalized, is the role of ethnicity or cultural heritage in the choosing of what one decides is healthy or pleasing to eat. Natural human diversities and differences are shunned or taught to be viewed as prejudices and even criminal acts of defiance to the state regulations in the push to make everyone conform to a single ‘scientific’ standard.

    I’m Scandinavian and drink copious amounts of raw milk from our own cow and eat huge amounts of garden-grown potatoes. I find it both pleasing to my taste buds and healthy for me. Nonetheless, I am NOT going to push for a law that requires, for example, lactose-intolerant peoples to drink raw milk because I find it so healthy for me, personally. How stupid and totalitarian is THAT?

    I would be acting just like the FDA, well maybe not as bad as them, but on that order.

  5. thx, we can eat what we wish no matter what the jackboots decree.

    most shocking to me is how they let Wright County Egg keep all its chicken and eggs (tho WCE sickened 1500 people), while ordering Morningland Dairy to destroy all its cheese (tho MD sickened no one).

  6. Commercialization is turning this good food into a poisonous chemical brew unfit for human consumption. It figures. It’s profits, profits for the Big Boys and take down for the self-reliant every time. At this point I absolutely boycott all national brands of anything and everything; buy only from sources that I can identify as anti-corporate and actually physically safe.

    The first thing one must do to get free is throw out the teevee, with all its illusions and co-dependent suck-offs.

  7. I drink raw milk every day and use it to make butter and cheese. I am obviously an advocate for raw milk, but don’t mind if anyone wishes to convince others to avoid it through strong argument. The problem arises when they wish to make it illegal to drink. Even if you feel you have excellent reasons to make it illegal, once one person starts deciding what others can and can’t put into their body we will always end up right where we are now. I believe by defending those who want the freedom to consume large quantities of fast food, drugs, alcohol, tobacco or what have you. I am defending my right to consume raw milk, fruit and vegetables.

    • exactly — whether or not one agrees with [dairy consumption/Christianity], we should all defend the right to [eat/believe] what we want. Like Joel Salatin says, Isn’t food choice as fundamental as freedom of religion?

  8. You will want to go to ARMi Posts also

  9. I wrote the following letter to the editor which the LA times published. This was in a response to an article on raw milk – a topic near and dear to my heart. I do believe we should have the right to eat outside the industrial food complex and I will always go out of my way to do so. The truth is raw food is SAFER than industrial food.
    If journalists are going to state facts about raw milk, then those facts should be put in the appropriate context. However, the May 17 article “Milk in the Raw: ‘Rights’ and Risk” quotes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s outbreaks of human infections caused by the consumption of raw milk as if they are obvious evidence against consumption.

    According to this article, “From 1998 to 2008, 85 outbreaks of human infections resulting from consumption of raw milk were reported to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention causing 1,614 illnesses, 187 hospitalizations and two deaths.” The paragraph dramatically ends with the word “death,” but these numbers are taken egregiously out of context.

    The following quote from an article on the CDC website was easy to find and comes from the same governing source:

    “We estimate that food-borne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year.”

    And remember, those numbers are estimates for a single year. If we want to compare those numbers to the numbers of illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths attributed to raw milk in this article, we will have to multiply by 10.

    That means the CDC estimates that between 1998 and 2008, food-borne diseases caused 760,000,000 illnesses, 3,250,000 hospitalizations and 50,000 deaths. Of those 760,000,000 illnesses, 1,614 were caused by raw milk. Of those 3,250,000 hospitalizations, 187 were caused by raw milk. And of those approximate 50,000 deaths over 10 years, two of them were caused by raw milk.

    To blithely quote statistics from the CDC is both obtuse and subversive. If you look at these numbers in context, raw milk would seem to be one of the safer food products in America, not one of the most dangerous. I wonder why the FDA and public health experts don’t warn against chicken, for example. In 2002 alone, one outbreak from bad chicken caused seven deaths.

    • EXCELLENT! Wanda – good job.,0,2927209,full.story

      We could even say it another way – let’s divide the raw milk figures by 10, to give us an annual average:

      * Of the 76 million foodborne illnesses each year, raw milk is responsible for 161. (Or, 2 ten-thousandths of a percent: 0.0002%)

      * Of the 325,000 hospitalizations from foodborne illness each year, raw milk is responsible for 19. (Or, 6 one-thousandths of a percent: 0.0057%)

      * 5,000 people die each year from foodborne illnesses. Tainted raw milk kills one person every five years. (Or, 4 one-thousandths of a percent: 0.004%)

      okay… but really, we’re still comparing apples and oranges. The most illuminating figures would compare the number of illnesses and deaths of raw milk drinkers (what percent of raw milk drinkers get sick or die) to the other figures.

      Okay… I’ll get back 2u

      • Rady. Thanks for taking my math another step. And good luck with the other figures you are trying to find. But more than that, way to go with the COTO Report. I subscribed and you’ve hit the nail on the head with “Coalition of the Obvious.” That’s exactly how I feel though I frequently shake my head because it doesn’t seem so obvious to everyone…Way to go and can’t wait to read more.

  10. well, short of retyping David Gumpert’s chapter, “How Dangerous Is Raw Milk Really?” there are many factors to consider when looking at those numbers cited in the LA Times.

    First, that 76 million figure is an estimate –it’s based on what’s reported and that number is inflated based on what kind of bacteria caused the illness. For example, E. coli O157:H7 might have a multiplier of 20. If 200 cases are reported, the CDC estimates that 4,000 illnesses occurred. Salmonella, on the other hand, has a multiplier of 40.

    The number of raw milk incidences comes from actual reporting. WAPF and FTCLDF dispute the number of “confirmed” illnesses from raw milk, saying the connection is tenuous and not lab-confirmed in all cases. In fact, Gumpert spends quite a bit of time on this issue. As soon as health authorities hear that someone in the ER drinks raw milk, then that is the assumed cause of their bacterial illness.

    okay, so with that in mind, the CDC told FTCLDF that over 33 years (1973-2005), there were 1,791 illnesses from raw milk. That’s only 54 a year, not 161 that the LATimes said.

    Other studies give different numbers. The Center for Science in the Public Interest calculated 92 raw milk illnesses a year (1990-2006).

    (CSPI also reported for that same time period 264 illnesses per year from pasteurized dairy.)

    The Journal of Public Health estimates 87 raw milk illnesses a year (1973-1992).

    Neither the CDC, the JPH, nor the CSPI give numbers as high as the LATimes reported for raw milk illnesses.

    btw, an interesting aside, there are between 7 and 12 million American raw milk drinkers (~4% of the US population).

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