Full list: Agriculture in the News

National Law Review: Vermont GMO Battle Continues in Second Circuit

Friday, October 9, 2015
Full Article

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals is currently in the midst of an interlocutory appeal by the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (“GMA”) and others of the District Court of Vermont’s denial of a request for a preliminary injunction against Vermont’s “Right to Know” Act.

The Act, passed by the Vermont legislature on May 8, 2014, and effective July 1, 2016, has the stated goal of establishing a system to allow for informed decisions by consumers with respect to the potential health effects of “genetically engineered foods,” commonly referred to as “GMOs.”  The Act applies to products entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering, with a focus on raw agricultural commodities and covered processed foods.  Labels on covered food products must either state that they are “produced with genetic engineering” or “may be produced with genetic engineering.”  Limited exceptions are made for foods derived entirely from animals, restaurant foods, alcoholic beverages and foods that have been independently verified to have “minimal” GMO content.  Penalties under the Act include $1,000.00 per day, per product, fines for food manufacturers.

The GMA filed its initial Complaint with the District Court in June 2014, and sought a preliminary injunction in September 2014.  U.S. District Judge Christina Reiss refused to enjoin the law in a ruling issued on April 27, 2015, which was promptly appealed to the Second Circuit.  Oral argument in the appeal took place on October 8, 2015.

The crux of the issue before the Second Circuit is the proper standard for evaluating GMA’s position that the Act violates the First Amendment by imposing a burden on speech by, inter alia, food manufacturers, based upon the content of that speech.  In reaching her decision to deny the preliminary injunction, Judge Reiss applied the less-stringent First Amendment analysis set forth in Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel,  471 U.S. 626 (1985).  Given what the appellants term the “controversial” information/disclosures mandated by the Act, they argue the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission of New York, 447 U.S. 557 (1980) and its stricter level of scrutiny applies.  Appellants further rely on Second Circuit precedent, arguing that the case of Int’l Dairy Foods Ass’n v. Amestoy, 92 F.3d 67 (2d Cir. 1996), bars the state legislature from enacting a law that “trammel[s] manufacturer’s free speech rights to appease “consumer curiosity” and was ignored by the District Court.  The State of Vermont continues to argue that the District Court’s reliance on Zauderer and its less-stringent “rational basis” test was proper, in that the Act merely serves to provide consumers with “factual information.”

The Second Circuit panel reviewing the case addressed the issue of ripeness during oral argument, and remains, given the impact of the Act as the first of its kind to have a set effective date, at the forefront of debate over the regulation of GMO food and food products.  The Second Circuit’s decision bears watching, as the costs to industry resulting from enactment of the Act and the potential domino effect of similar acts being passed by other state legislatures could be significant and will require extensive advanced planning to ensure compliance.

The Second Circuit case is Grocery Manufacturers Association, et al. v. Sorrell, Case No. 15-1504.   A link to a .pdf copy of the Order is provided immediately here.

Times Argus: Medical marijuana centers can also use hemp

October 9,2015
Full Article

MONTPELIER — New administrative rules approved by lawmakers Thursday will allow medical marijuana dispensaries to provide therapeutic hemp products and deliver medicinal hemp and marijuana products to the 2,200 people on the state’s registry.

The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules unanimously approved the new guidelines after settling on language to exempt farmers from the requirements that the state’s four medical marijuana dispensaries are subject to for hemp production. Some hemp advocates raised concerns at LCAR’s September meeting that the proposed rules could impact the agricultural production of hemp.

The committee has the authority to approve such rules rather than sending them to the full Legislature.

The rules the committee adopted Thursday makes clear that they “shall not apply to or impose any requirements on any other use of hemp” outside of dispensaries.

Joel Bedard, founder and CEO of the Vermont Hemp Company, told the committee he was satisfied with efforts to exempt agricultural use of hemp.

“I think you guys are on a great track right now and certainly support where you’re going,” said Bedard.

After the hearing Bedard, who conducts research with the University of Vermont on how hemp can help agricultural soil and “potentially” clean the watershed around Lake Champlain, said he engaged in the rule-making process to help protect the alternate uses of hemp.

“There were a lot of back room discussions that led up to this and it wasn’t really clarified well,” he said.

If the same regulations are applied to farmers it would prevent those who already struggle to obtain seeds because of federal regulations from growing hemp.

“It was mostly to prevent any regulatory oversight being placed upon farmers,” Bedard said. “If that were to be applied to the agricultural realm, no farmer is going to want to grow this stuff.”

Tim Schmalz with the Agency of Agriculture said hemp farming will continue to be regulated by his agency.

“I think the way the rule is written now it probably won’t have any impact on what (agricultural) hemp does or doesn’t do,” he said.

The state’s four dispensaries can now cultivate and produce hemp products for therapeutic purposes along with marijuana, which was legalized in 2013. Both remain illegal under federal law, however.

Lindsey Wells, marijuana program administrator for the Department of Public Safety, said hemp production by dispensaries must adhere to the same regulations as marijuana, despite the lower amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

Those requirements are more stringent than those faced by hemp farmers, she said.

“We have security requirements, record-keeping requirements, inventory requirements, related to dispensary operations,” Wells said. “What the hemp farmers under the Agency of Agriculture are required to do is register with them and pay the registration fee.”

The dispensaries will also be able to meet with more than one patient at a time, so long as privacy requirements are maintained and the meetings are by appointment only.

Jeffrey Wallin, director of the Vermont Crime Information Center, called it “a small change (that) has a potentially meaningful impact.”

The rules will now move to the secretary of state’s office to be finalized.

Burlington Free Press: Mother ‘frustrated’ over school’s hemp policy

Haley DoverOctober 10, 2015
Full Article

BRISTOL – On an October afternoon, Aurora Husk walked out of Bristol Elementary School with her shoulders slumped and a frown on her face.

Her mom was there to pick her up, and Aurora was unhappy about missing class. Aurora was due for her second dose of hemp oil that day. She takes three doses each day in an effort to treat her seizure disorder.

“It’s disruptive for her, whatever she’s involved in she has to stop and come outside with me,” Aurora’s mother Megan Vaughan said. “I feel like it’s a disruption to my child, but I’m going to do it because she needs it.”

The 10-year-old from Bristol has experienced as many as 40 seizures per day since she was 8 weeks old, Vaughan said. Aurora has an inoperable scar on her brain from a burst blood vessel and suffers from a condition called electrical status epilepticus.

Since this past spring, Aurora has been taking CBD hemp oil to treat her condition. Therapeutic hemp oil has been a topic of debate in recent months as state officials expanded regulations to allow Vermont’s four medical marijuana dispensaries to produce those products.

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell acknowledges that hemp oil can provide some therapeutic benefit in treating seizure disorders. He wrote in an April memo that residents should not fear prosecution for possessing hemp oil products.

Still parents, including Vaughan, face difficulties when trying to arrange for their children to receive hemp oil doses during the school day.

“They look at me like I’m packing heroin in my daughter’s lunchbox or something,” she said, referring to the school’s staff.

Vaughan said the school nurse at Bristol elementary will not keep the oil product in her office.

The school principal could not be reached for comment.

Aurora can only receive the hemp oil off of school grounds, Vaughan said. Twice a day — at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. — Vaughan drives to Bristol Elementary School to pull Aurora out of class and walk her around the block, where she administers the dosages.

The oil has to be administered two hours before or after Aurora takes her seizure medication, so the time that Aurora gets her hemp dosages is important, Vaughan said.

The process takes about 15 minutes, Vaughan said, which amounts to nearly half a class.

Some days Vaughan can’t make it to the school on time, or even at all, due to work commitments. Vaughan’s mother helps out or Aurora has to miss a dose.

Karen Richards, executive director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission said students’ needs for hemp oil could fall under the public accommodations act assuming the student has a disability.

The commission makes recommendations as to whether they believe discrimination occurred in a particular case. The department has yet to investigate the hemp oil issue, but Richards said she has heard of the problems parents are facing.

The real issue is the difference between federal and state law regarding hemp and medical marijuana, she said pointing to the memo from the attorney general’s office.

“It is not a legal substance under federal law,” she said, referring to hemp. “We have the same issues with medical marijuana.”

“You may have it in the state, but you’re still in violation technically of federal law.”

Schools that receive federal funding are at risk of losing that money if the school is found holding drugs, Richards said. Schools are required to commit to maintaining a drug-free workplace to receive federal funding.

Dr. Breena Holmes, director of Maternal & Child Health at the Vermont Department of Health said the protection of health and safety in schools is a duty shared by the school administration, staff and nurses. There is a manual that establishes protocol for how school staff should administer medications.

For a prescription medication, schools are required to obtain written permission from both the parent and a medical provider, according to the manual. Medications must also be in a current pharmacy-labeled bottle.

For non-prescription medications, a school must obtain written, phone or email documentation from a parent, and the medication must be left in the original store-labeled bottle or container.

Medications cannot be given without the proper permissions, according to the manual. Guidelines for how school employees can look out for drug and alcohol abuse are also detailed.

“It is not clear where hemp oil fits in the current guidelines and it may not fit in either of these current categories,” Holmes said.

Vaughan said she wants a better explanation for why the school can’t give her daughter the “medicine” that she sees as helping to reduce Aurora’s seizures.

Vaughan said she feels the school has a duty to follow through with Aurora’s Independent Education Plan (IEP).

“We have children with disabilities in a public school, they have an IEP so it should fall under the disability clause,” Vaughan said.

Regardless of whether the school agrees to administer Aurora’s hemp oil, Vaughan plans to continue providing the treatment.

VT Digger: Vermont Compost asks customers to pony up for back taxes

Oct. 12, 2015
Mike PolhamusFull Article

A Montpelier compost producer owes $137,000 in back taxes he failed to charge customers over a five-year period.

A recent Vermont Department of Taxes determination found Karl Hammer, owner of the Vermont Compost Co., liable for more than $137,000 in sales taxes he failed to charge his customers over a five-year period.

The state began requiring compost producers to pay a tax on wholesale purchases of compost in 2009, and several company owners, including Hammer, say the Department of Taxes didn’t notify them of the requirement. Prior to 2009, compost wholesalers were exempt from the sales tax.

In 2014, the law was changed to revert to an exemption for compost wholesalers. Hammer, meanwhile, owes sales taxes for the interim period, from 2009 to 2014.

Hammer is attempting to collect the sales tax from customers — on purchases they made years ago. He recently sent out more than 1,000 letters to customers, asking them to pay taxes they owed at the time of sale.

State officials say Hammer is allowed to ask his customers for the uncollected tax, but it’s an unusual strategy.

“I’ve heard a range of responses, all the way from incredible sympathy – we’ve had people send more money than we ask for – to, ‘you will hear from my attorney,’” Hammer said. “Many people have rounded (the amount) up. One woman said, ‘I’m so sorry you had to go through this stupid thing,’ and she owed $16 and she rounded up to $50.”

Tax officials say this approach isn’t unprecedented, but neither is it common.

“It’s not something you see terribly often,” Vermont Department of Taxes Commissioner Mary Peterson said. “Generally, someone who’s gotten an audit does not go back after their customers.”

Peterson could not immediately say whether Hammer’s customers were legally obligated to pay taxes he sought from them, but said vendors in Hammer’s position are legally allowed to seek such remittance.

Peterson would not state whether customers are legally required to pay sales tax after the fact to a vendor who didn’t collect the tax at the time of sale. Whether his customers must shell out tax money for past sales or not, Hammer ultimately must pay the Department of Taxes, Peterson said.

“As far as the department’s concerned, we’re looking for the tax from the vendor,” she said.

Nearly all of those who have replied to 1,150 invoices he’s sent out for back taxes have agreed to pay, Hammer said.

“We’ve been making it clear to everyone, this is kind of (pay) as they can and if you will,” Hammer said.

The taxes are for sales between 2009 and 2014 – three years of which he says he wasn’t aware that tax code required he assess it, and two-and-a-half years of which he fought to change the law, Hammer said.

Bulk compost was exempted from the state sales tax when a solid waste bill, Act 148, went into effect in July 2014.

Though the change came through legislative action two years ago, “there’s nothing in it for them to go out and help people to make sure they’re complying,” Hammer said. “It’s a terrible public policy.”

Steve Wisbaum, owner of Champlain Valley Compost, hasn’t experienced the problems Hammer encountered. Wisbaum said he had been charging sales tax on all his compost until the law changed last year.

Green Mountain Compost’s Dan Goossen said his company, too, charged sales tax all along, and avoided troubles of the sort that Hammer experienced.

But Wisbaum said the state “clearly messed up” by not notifying the few compost wholesalers in the state when tax policy changed in 2009.

“It would have been so easy for the state to just contact us and let us know that,” Wisbaum said. “None of us got any notice that the exemption had been removed. It would have been a very simple courtesy, at no cost.”

Peterson said notifying Vermont taxpayers of a change in the tax code isn’t practical, nor is it common practice.

“In the U.S., it’s your responsibility to figure out what the tax laws are, and to pay what is due,” she said. “It’s a pretty complex tax code … and my little 130-person office, plus or minus, can’t possibly tell hundreds of thousands of Vermonters what they have due.”

That said, Peterson arrived in her position in 2011, and since then she’s embarked on outreach efforts meant to avert predicaments like the one Hammer is in.

“I recognize it’s to everyone’s advantage to have more education,” she said.

In Vermont it’s now common practice after tax code changes occur for tax officials to prepare fact sheets and other informational materials, and to make them available to taxpayers, notifying them of the changes.

“That’s something I’m proud of,” she said.

On the other hand, “I don’t want to give people the impression that it’s not the taxpayer’s primary responsibility,” she said. “If you’re going to get into your car, it’s your responsibility to know the rules of the road. It’s sort of the same thing with taxes – there is a bit of onus on the taxpayer to educate themselves with respect to the circumstances.”

Hammer said he tried to stay abreast of current tax law. He said he had been in touch with Department of Taxes officials several times since the late 1990s, and said he’d been operating with the understanding that, as an agricultural product, compost was exempt from sales tax, as are fertilizers, tractors and a host of other agricultural products.

This was true – practically speaking, at least – until 2009, when a 2007 alteration in agricultural tax law was clarified and was applied to compost sales.

Hammer said he hadn’t been aware that the change applied to the sales he was making.

Hammer says he’s nevertheless glad that something good came of the experience.

The change in statute, however, didn’t shield his business from the sales tax liability incurred from 2009 to 2014. Retroactive provisions for the new exemption were stripped from the bill in the Vermont Senate.

“That’s amateurs getting outmaneuvered by pros under the Golden Dome, and that’s hardly a new story,” Hammer said.

Over the years, the Department of Taxes has taken an inconsistent approach toward compost, but that appears to have changed, Composting Association of Vermont director Pat Sagui said.

“We’re really pretty new in terms of an industry that’s on the tax department’s radar,” Sagui said.

Today, bulk sales of compost aren’t taxed, and that appears to many a fair solution, she said.

The change resulted during the 2014 legislative session, and it was spearheaded by the House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products, Sagui said.

“Everybody’s pretty happy with that,” she said. “It was a good thing on many levels.”

One of those levels pertains to the universal recycling law passed in 2012, and known as Act 148. This legislation requires households to compost their food waste by 2020. Compost producers want to take advantage of that, and the new exemption helps them do so, Sagui said.

“We wanted to be building markets,” she said.

Hammer said that he, too, wants to focus on that end of the business in the future.

“Small business people have to do so many things, this stuff can really tear at you – I’d much rather be dealing with compost, that’s for sure,” he said.

VT Digger: Dispensaries OK’d to grow hemp

Oct. 8, 2015, 4:33 pm
by Elizabeth Hewitt
Full Article

Vermont’s four medical marijuana dispensaries got legislative approval to begin cultivating and distributing hemp products Thursday.

The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules unanimously passed the rule, which was amended to address concerns aired by Vermont hemp farmers at a committee meeting last month.

Hemp is a plant similar to marijuana, but it has a lower content of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that produces a euphoric reaction. While oils extracted from hemp are sometimes used for medicinal purposes, such as the treatment of epilepsy, the plant has a wide variety of other uses — including as a fiber or in food.

Hemp is tightly regulated under federal laws, but Vermont permits farmers to cultivate the plant for agricultural purposes.

After the Department for Public Safety proposed changes to the rules at an August meeting of the legislative committee, some farmers became concerned that the language could create an additional barrier to Vermonters cultivating hemp for agricultural purposes.

The new rule approved Thursday assures that dispensaries are regulated by the Department of Public Safety for both pot and hemp cultivation, according to Lindsey Well, marijuana program administrator. Meanwhile, hemp farmers outside of dispensaries answer only to the Agency of Agriculture.

Joel Bedard, a hemp grower in Chittenden County who had previously raised questions about the proposed rule, told lawmakers Thursday that he supported the amended language. As passed, he is confident that the regulation for dispensaries will not have any impact on farmers who cultivate hemp for agricultural purposes.

“It was mostly to prevent any regulatory oversight being placed upon farmers,” Bedard said after the meeting.

Bedard doesn’t have an interest in growing hemp for medicinal purposes. He is researching the use of hemp to clean soil, and says that the plant could also be used to clean watersheds.

Bedard estimated that there are some two-dozen people in Vermont with permits to grow hemp agriculturally.

The set of rule changes OK’d Thursday also will allow dispensaries to begin a home delivery service for pot and hemp products — much like some pharmacies offer with prescriptions.

About 2,200 Vermonters are on the medicinal marijuana registry, according to Well. Several hundred others are registered caregivers, who can grow marijuana plants on behalf of a qualified patient.

VPR: Legal Hemp Growing, But Not Yet Booming In Vermont

Oct 5, 2015
Full Article & Audio

Vermonters have just harvested their second crop of industrial hemp since the Legislature legalized it in 2013. But because of obstacles to cultivating hemp in the state, few farmers have grown the crop.

Last year only a half dozen people grew hemp in Vermont. This year, according to one grower, the number is up to nine.

One of the new growers is 23-year-old Evan Donovan who lives in the Northeast Kingdom.

Because industrial hemp is still classified as a controlled substance by the federal government, he is reluctant to publicize the exact location of his farm.

“We had about 2,000 plants this year from a pound of seeds, which was very good,” says Donovan. “We have about 80 acres here. I’m hoping next year that I can put hemp on about 10 to 15 of the acres and really increase production size.”

Donovan and the other Vermont hemp farmers imported their seed illegally.

In spite of it being legal to grow hemp in Vermont, under federal law the entire plant is considered a controlled substance. The hemp growers have had difficulty obtaining seed and want the Agency for Agriculture to facilitate its importation.

But the agency says it doesn’t have the staff or the resources to devote to that or researching hemp cultivation. That’s a shame, says Andrea Stander, director of Rural Vermont.

“I think we are seeing a transition nationally and hemp is going to return as the major agricultural crop that it once was in this country,” she says. “If we as a state don’t recognize that and start putting in place the infrastructure and the opportunity for our farmers to be part of that, we will miss out. Other states will get ahead of us.”

Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross says that Vermont’s likely future with industrial hemp will involve the making of value-added products, rather than competing with other states producing hemp as a commodity.

Nobody seems to know just how many acres were devoted to hemp in Vermont in 2015 but the number is not very high.

Common Dreams: Rallying with Pope, Climate Justice Campaigners Hail ‘Shovel-Ready Solution’

What is this magic solution?” activist asks demonstrators on National Mall. “You’re standing on it. It’s the soil.”
by Andrea Germanos
Full Article

An hour after Pope Francis spoke to Congress and issued “a call for a courageous and responsible effort […] to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity,” a rally on the National Mall highlighted a “shovel-ready solution” to the climate crisis.

Speaking at the Moral Action on Climate Justice demonstraton Thursday, Larry Kopald, co-founder and president of organization The Carbon Underground, said it’s “a solution that will put carbon back in the ground, a solution that will feed us better, make us healthier, create jobs, and even boost our economy.”

“What is this magic solution?” he asked. “You’re standing on it […] It’s the soil.”

Kopald and his organization are not alone is calling for soil to be seen as part of a climate solution, with organizations including the Center for Food Safety, Organic Consumers Association, the Rodale Institute, and Vandana Shiva’s Navdanya also touting the approach.

Kopald explained the problem with the dominant method of food production, saying, “Industrial agriculture techniques have destroyed most of the soil. Seventy percent of the soil on earth is dead or dying, and all of that carbon that should be in the soil is now stuck in the atmosphere causing climate change.”

But healthy soil fed through agroecological methods can be an effective carbon sink, he explained.

“Here’s the good news: If we restore that soil, we can bring that carbon back. We can fix the climate. There are a billion acres of land in the U.S. alone used to grow food,” he said. “If we restore those acres, if we restore that soil, we we bring down 3 billion tons of carbon back from the atmosphere […] every single year.”

The current system in which “subsidies [are given to ] to farmers using chemicals destroying our soil and causing climate change,” needs to stop, Kopald continued, with the subsidies instead going “to farmers who are willing to restore our soil, and feed us better food, and help reverse climate change.”

“We need to tell President Obama and the next man or the next woman who lives in the White House that we’ve got to stop focusing on the problem and start focusing on the solution,” he said, urging rally attenders to send a message to lawmakers to “fix the soil, fix the climate.”

The event, which organizers stated on their website invited people to “join thousands of people of all creeds, colors and faiths, on the National Mall in asking our world leaders to #FollowFrancis to take bold action for climate justice,” also included speeches by the Moral Monday movement leader Rev. William Barber, Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo, and the musician Moby.

River City News: Massie Introduces “Milk Freedom” Bill

Full Article

Northern Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie introduced the Milk Freedom Act of 2014 and the Interstate Milk Freedom Act of 2014.

The Republican from Lewis County introduced the bills with Maine Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree and eighteen other members of Congress from both parties. According to a news release from Massie’s office, the bills are the first in a series of “food freedom” bills that he plans to introduce this year.

“As a producer of grass-fed beef, I am familiar with some of the difficulties small farmers face when marketing fresh food directly to consumers,” Massie said in a news release. “Our bills would make it easier for families to buy wholesome milk directly from farmers by reversing the criminalization of dairy farmers who offer raw milk. The federal government should not punish farmers for providing customers the foods they want, and states should be free to set their own laws regulating food safety.”

“Many consumers want to buy fresh, unpasteurized milk and regulations shouldn’t get between them and the farmer who wants to sell it,” Pingree said in the release.  “Given how many food scares there have been involving large-scale producers, it just doesn’t make sense to spend money cracking down on small, local farmers who are producing natural, raw milk and cheese. The enforcement of raw milk regulations has been overzealous and needs to be reined in.”

“As consumer, advocate, and mother, I have spent over a decade navigating a complex legal and regulatory maze to access raw milk and other fresh, local foods,” said Sarah Donovan of the Farm-to-Consumer Foundation. “These bills are an important step toward removing federal barriers between farmers and families.”

“Raw milk is the only food banned in interstate commerce,” said Pete Kennedy, President of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. “Congratulations to Representative Massie for starting the process of repealing a regulation that thousands of otherwise law abiding citizens violate every week in this country.”

Raw milk is fresh milk that has not been pasteurized, and may contain beneficial nutrients that have not been eliminated by the pasteurization process.  Although Congress has never passed legislation banning raw milk, the federal Food and Drug Administration has used their regulatory authority to prosecute farmers for selling raw milk.

The Center for Disease Control, however, warns against the consumption of raw milk.

Milk and products made from milk, such as certain cheeses, ice cream, and yogurt, are foods that when consumed raw can pose severe health risks, the CDC website reads, insisting that pasteurization is necessary.

According to the news release from Massie’s office, the Milk Freedom Act of 2014 would “provide relief to local farmers, small producers, and others who have been harassed, fined, and in some cases even prosecuted for the “crime” of distributing unpasteurized milk.  This bill would prohibit the federal government from interfering with the interstate traffic of raw milk products.”

Likewise, the “Interstate Milk Freedom Act of 2014” would prevent the federal government from interfering with trade of unpasteurized, natural milk or milk products between states where distribution or sale of such products is already legal.

No provision of either bill would preempt or otherwise interfere with any state law, Massie said.

“Today, many people are paying more attention to the food they eat, what it contains, and how it is processed,” Massie said. “Raw milk, which has been with us for thousands of years, is making a comeback among these discerning consumers.  Personal choices as basic as ‘what we feed our families’ should not be limited by the federal government.”

Off Grid Quest: The truth about why raw milk is illegal

by Yelena Sukhoterina
Full Article

Have you ever wondered why RAW milk is illegal? While the main argument by the FDA is that it has a higher chance of having Salmonella, E. coli, or Listeria bacteria, the same can be said for many types of sushi and unpasteurized cider, believe it or not.

Yet those are legal (with exception of New York’s Cider Pasteurization Law and other isolated local laws). Why can’t raw milk, the type of milk that has sustained millions of people for generations, just come with a warning label?

Are we not trusted enough to make our own decisions about our health?

RAW milk was legal until 1986 & today the ban is based on mainly one study

The FDA banned unpasteurized dairy sales after a 1986 Public Citizen lawsuit, after the Health Research Group of Public Citizen Group heavily petitioned FDA to do so.

Recently, both FDA and CDC are seen quoting the same one study to back their former decision. The study looked at the years between 1993 and 2006 and found 121 foodborne illness outbreaks associated with milk products: 1,571 cases, 202 hospitalizations and 2 deaths. That is about 9 outbreaks per year. According to CDC, 75% are linked to unpasteurized milk products – about 6-7 outbreaks per year.

How high is the risk, actually?

The CDC states, “While it is possible to get foodborne illnesses from many different foods, raw milk is one of the riskiest of all.” But is it so?

According to the CDC, 48 million people (1 in 6 in the U.S.) get sick by contaminated food annually. In just one year, 2009-2010, there have been 1,527 outbreaks, 29,444 illnesses, 1,184 hospitalizations and 23 deaths. And the food that caused it varies from shellfish and eggs, to sprouts and vine-stalk vegetables.

This year there were Salmonella outbreaks linked to cucumbers, pork, frozen chicken and frozen tuna; last year E. coli outbreaks linked to clover sprouts and ground beef; and Listeria outbreaks linked to ice cream, caramel apples, and cheese between 2014-2015.

Most of these cases have one thing in common: the contaminated produce was from a large farm or company, often sourced from a different state or even country.

That seems high risk. But we get a little warning sign on the package and are allowed to make our own choices. And what about milk?



While there is no nationwide statistic about how many people drink raw milk (perhaps because most hide the said fact), Time reported that in just California, 100,000 consumers drink raw milk on a weekly basis.

Meanwhile the CDC is trying a scare tactic by telling us that there was a 70% increase of illnesses associated with raw milk – but the risk of getting sick is actually slim.

Between 2007 and 2012, the data shows that there were 81 outbreaks, 979 illnesses, 73 hospitalizations, and 0 deaths linked to unpasteurized milk.

If not to protect the consumers, then why the ban?

Since then the ban of RAW milk, an ongoing battle has been waged. The FDA has gone on the offensive and has raided farms, stopped food trucks, and sued local businesses for trying to bring raw milk products to those who want it; while the consumers have bought “cow shares” from local farms, called it “pet food,” and even bought their own cows to get around the laws. In the end, we are left with hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens, who break the law for what they believe will be healthy for them.

As of 2013, 40 states ban retail sale of raw milk, and 13 states ban unpasteurized milk products completely. You can see the updates about legality of raw milk in your state at RealMilk.com.

Looking at the risks that are clearly not higher than many other foods (legal to consume), for many farmers and buyers it is obvious that the ban is not to protect our health. Many have theorized that it is simply in place to protect the dairy market – pasteurized milk’s longer shelf life is more profitable and easier for the big companies to produce.

“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,” writes David E. Gumpert in The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle over Food Rights.

Honolulu Civil Beat: Hawaii AG Backs Vermont GMO Labeling Law

By Anita Hofschneider
Full Article

Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin signed onto a brief defending Vermont’s right to require labels on food containing genetically engineered ingredients.

Vermont’s law has been challenged by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and several other groups representing the food industry. They are appealing the case before the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Chin joined attorneys general from Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Hampshire and Washington in signing an amicus brief contending that the Vermont law is constitutional and legal.

The Hawaii Legislature has repeatedly considered GMO food labeling bills but hasn’t passed them. County councils on Kauai, Maui and the Big Island have separately passed bills aiming to regulate GMO farming but those have been struck down by federal courts.

In the brief, Chin and the other attorneys general argue that the label “produced with genetic engineering” is “factual and uncontroversial.”

“Because it mandates disclosing only accurate factual information, Vermont’s labeling requirement furthers, rather than obstructs, the availability and flow of commercial information,” the brief says.

The brief also emphasizes that there are “legitimate and substantial policy interests” for imposing GMO food labels, such as reducing consumer confusion and deception when some genetically modified products are labeled “natural.”

That’s in response to the plaintiffs’ contention that “consumer curiosity” is behind the desire for labels.

“Through their elected representatives, the citizens of Vermont have expressed not just a “curiosity” about genetically engineered foods; they want to have the opportunity to learn, before they purchase a food product, whether a product was produced with genetic engineering, and with that accurate, factual information, make their own decisions whether to purchase the product,” the brief says. “This is a decision, reached through the legislative process, deserving of respect by the courts.”