Gun-wielding investigators raided a hippie private food club in Venice, California at the end of last month and confiscated 17 coolers containing items such as raw milk, raw honey, and raw cane syrup. The incident has reignited debate over unpasteurized foods — raw milk in particular, and food safety regulation in general. To what extent do you have a right to govern what you eat, presuming you know the health risks involved? How responsible is the government if you get sick?
The food club in question, Rawesome Foods, charged a $25 annual membership fee and a hefty markup on items such grass-fed beef, locally grown produce, and raw items such as milk. The sale of raw milk is legal in California so long as your business obtains the proper permitting, however Rawesome operates without license because, as co-founder Aajonus Vonderplanitz told The Los Angeles Times, "people come to pick up the products they already own." One of their suppliers, Healthy Family Farms, was also raided.
As Eric Schlosser points out in an op-ed on food safety regulations in The New York Times this weekend, "our food will never be perfectly safe," so it's hard to decide where legislation stops being useful and merely impedes on our personal freedoms. For example, Teton County, Wyoming has recently banned public potlucks fearing unsafe cooking practices. In the case of raw milk, however, there does seem to be some evidence supporting its ban: earlier this month, at least 26 people in Longmont, Colorado got sick from drinking unpasteurized milk.
The answer to the raw milk debate may not lie in legislation, but rather food science. Researchers at Louisiana State University are developing a process to pasteurize milk using sound waves. The process would knock out dangerous bacteria such as coliform, but as it uses a gentler heat, it maintains the flavor raw milk enthusiasts enjoy. It's also better for the environment! Everyone wins.
· Raw-Food Raid Highlights a Hunger [LAT]
· Unsafe at Any Meal [NYT]
· Raw Food Raid Raises Questions Over Existing Milk Laws [LAT]
· Raw-Milk Illnesses Jump to 26 [Longmont Times]
· Good Vibrations: A Greener Way to Pasteurize Milk [Science News]
· All Food Safety coverage on Eater [-E-]