About a year ago, after months of investigation complete with undercover purchases, a posse of federal agents made a predawn move on a Pennsylvania farm and discovered a sizable stash of pure, unadulterated . . . milk.
The government's pursuit of Daniel Allgyer, an Amish dairy farmer in Lancaster County, continued last month with a federal complaint seeking to stop his hustling of unpasteurized milk, which has long been popular among the crunchy set but illegal to sell across state lines. A lawyer for some of Allgyer's eager customers told The Inquirer, "He is being treated as if he were a drug lord."
It's an apt analogy. The federal government's war on so-called raw milk is in many ways a microcosm of its assault on drugs and, once upon a time, alcohol.
In attempting to prevent millions of people from consuming a substance they want on the grounds that it might not be good for them, the feds have succeeded mainly in promoting general contempt for the law, squandering scarce government resources, and jacking up the price of the product in question.
In fact, a Maryland woman reported paying $6 a gallon for the good stuff from Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, amid such absurd spectacles as armed federal raids on dairy farms and Mennonite perp walks, some buyers and sellers are disobeying the reasonable regulations along with the unreasonable ones - a typical consequence of stupid and unenforceable laws.
The federal government has long prescribed that milk be pasteurized - a process that briefly heats it to 161 degrees - for a good reason: to kill E. coli, salmonella, and other potentially harmful bacteria. And, true, the reasons offered for shunning pasteurized milk - unpasteurized milk's "good" bacteria, superior taste, and anecdotal health benefits - are more debatable.
But unlike, say, the vaccine-denial crowd, raw-milk drinkers are threatening to hurt only themselves. Moreover, the evidence of even that harm is not very compelling. The Food and Drug Administration has documented only two deaths linked to unpasteurized dairy products over the course of a decade, and both were attributed to Mexican-style cheese rather than raw milk per se.
Rigorous regulation and testing to ensure fresh milk is safe would be a more reasonable approach. Pennsylvania, one of 12 states that explicitly allow sales of unpasteurized milk, has just such a regime in place. Legislators in New Jersey, meanwhile, are considering replacing the state's raw-milk ban with a protocol of testing for pathogens.