Sunday, November 12, 2006

Thou Shall Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Raw Milk Prices
"They're treating raw milk like heroin or crack," says David Cox, a Columbus lawyer with the firm Lane, Alton & Horst who specializes in cases involving agriculture regulations. He now has six Ohio cases at various stages, and one common element in all, he says, is a sense of "vindictiveness" by the state's Agriculture Dept. (ODA). "I think there's competition among the directors of agriculture to see who can put raw milk out of business."

Ohio's agriculture officials deny there's any vindictiveness behind their actions, but do allow that going after raw milk producers has become a high priority for the state and a hot topic among state agriculture officials. "When I go to meetings of my cohorts, it is the No. 1 issue that comes up," says Lewis Jones, chief of the agency's dairy division.

The crackdown appears to have begun in September, 2005, when some neighboring farmers complained that Arlie Stutzman's family dairy in Millersburg, Ohio, was distributing raw milk to consumers via a herd-share leasing arrangement. According to Jones, such complaints are increasingly common because farmers "are upset because [raw-milk producers] are getting three times the price [the conventional farmers] are getting."

So an agent from ODA visited the Stutzman farm pretending to be a building contractor, and asked to purchase a gallon of raw milk. According to the hearing testimony, before the agent's one-gallon plastic container was filled, "He inquired as to cost and was advised there was no charge, but he could make a donation if he so desired."

If the conventional farmers are concerned about receiving lower prices, aren't they free to convert their farming practice to a model based on sustainability and meeting the needs or desires of the consumers behind the market for quality raw milk? I agree, money is the issue, not health or public safety.
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