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Indiana Sheriff Defies the FDA and Its War Against Raw Milk

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should be concerned with protecting us from the greedy agribusiness interests that are responsible for the rampant contamination of our food supply, this organization has much smaller fish to fry. At the urging of the factory dairy farming industry, the FDA has been carrying out a relentless campaign designed to put raw milk sellers and producers out of business once and for all.

If the FDA were really concerned about our health, they would be publicizing all of the studies that have shown drinking pasteurized milk causes all sorts of health problems, including severe allergies, asthma, cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, tooth decay, and diminished immune system response, just to name a few. Raw milk consumption, on the other hand, delivers all of the vital nutrients and beneficial living bacteria to the human body that are lost in the killing heat of the pasteurization process, and study after study has demonstrated the incredible health benefits associated with the consumption of this product. But if the FDA told the truth about the actual health effects of raw milk, and about how it compares to the nutritionally damaged pasteurized version, it could be bad for the profit margins of agribusiness. And so, this front organization for the corporate/government complex has instead been carrying out a campaign of persecution aimed at destroying the small farmers who are producing raw milk, which is seen as a threat by the corporate farming bigwigs.

Targeted in Indiana

One of the victims of the FDA’s heavy-handed campaign is a small Indiana raw milk producer named David Hochstetler, who runs an operation called Forest Grove Dairy. The trouble for Mr. Hochstetler began back in 2007, when approximately twelve cases of a serious stomach illness in Michigan were traced back to milk sold by Forest Grove Dairy that was apparently contaminated with a malicious microbe known as campylobacter. While raw milk is generally a healthy product, the pasteurization process will kill certain kinds of bacteria that are potentially dangerous to human health, and because theoretically these bacterial agents can remain alive in raw milk this has provided a rationale for the FDA to use to justify its vendetta against raw milk producers.

Raw milk advocates are adamant in their insistence that situations like this are rare, and that when they do occur they result from errors in handling or poor sanitary practices on the part of individual producers. In any event, after the contamination in Michigan had been linked to Forest Grove Dairy, the FDA had the excuse they needed to carry out a campaign of harassment against Mr. Hochstetler that has continued up to the present. Despite the fact that whatever went wrong back in 2007 has now apparently been taken care of, since no evidence of subsequent contamination of Forest Grove Dairy products has ever been found, in 2010 and 2011 FDA agents began showing up at Mr. Hochstetler’s farm in Elkhart County again and again, demanding that they be allowed to inspect the facilities under authority granted by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. This legislation basically ignores Fourth Amendment prescriptions on unreasonable searches and seizures, as it authorizes government agents to carry out unannounced inspections at any food product processing or manufacturing establishment at any time, even if they do not possess a warrant.

A Sheriff Stands Tall

Careful monitoring of our food supply to protect the American consumer from the dangers of contaminated food may indeed be necessary, at least on some occasions. But when one producer is visited over and over and subject to repeated invasive inspections even when nothing is ever found, this is a clear case of harassment and abuse, which is why Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers finally decided that enough was enough.

On December 5 of last year, he wrote a letter to FDA officials warning that if their agents continued their harassment of Mr. Hochstetler by showing up at his farm again without a warrant, he would place them under arrest. For Sheriff Rogers, it seemed clear that the FDA was abusing their authority by using the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act as an excuse to repeatedly violate David Hochstetler’s Fourth Amendment rights, while also violating Tenth Amendment limitations on federal authority with respect to the national govenment’s dealings with individual states. Even though interstate commerce in raw milk is prohibited by law (thanks to the lobbying of agribusiness), states still have jurisdiction over what happens within their borders, and the state of Indiana allows raw milk producers to sell their products legally as long as they don’t sell it to consumers directly, which Forest Grove Dairy apparently was not doing (although it appears they may have broken the law against interstate commerce in the past). But from Sheriff Rogers’s perspective, FDA actions were clearly far over the line of what was constitutionally permissible. They were carrying out a vendetta against a law-abiding Elkhart County citizen, and he was bound and determined to use his authority to put a stop to it.

At first, the FDA and the Justice Department reacted with indignation and outrage at Sheriff Rogers’ actions, haughtily informing him in a written retort that federal law gave them jurisdiction to inspect any farm at any time in any location. Interestingly, however, shortly after word of this incident broke in the national press, the Justice Department announced without fanfare that they were dropping legal action against David Hochstetler, who had been facing a grand jury subpoena for denying FDA personnel access to his farm in the days before Sheriff Rogers had decided to come to his rescue on constitutional grounds. It appears the bad publicity they were getting has been enough to convince FDA officials to back off, at least for now.

Health Under Siege

But regardless of whether or not they decide to challenge Sheriff Rogers’ authority and renew their campaign against Forest Grove Dairy, there is little doubt that the federal government/agribusiness war against raw milk producers – and by extension against those Americans who choose of their own free will to consume this product – will not be ending any time soon. We can only hope that in the months and years ahead, other local law enforcement officials will have the guts to stand up to the campaigns of harassment that are being launched against the producers of a perfectly healthy and respectable substance, which is only being attacked because corporate agricultural interests want to eliminate their remaining competition.

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