RAW MILK SITUATION IN PENNSYLVANIA
UPDATE AND ACTION ALERT
Once generally supportive of raw milk, Pennsylvania authorities have been making life very difficult for raw milk farmers and consumers during the last few weeks. This email will provide you with details about what has been going on and describe an action plan. As what happens in Pennsylvania affects the raw milk situation throughout the country, we are sending it out to all members. We ask that you PLEASE READ THIS ALERT CAREFULLY and ALL join us in carrying out the actions proposed. (We apologize for the length, but it is necessary to provide you with all the facts and a careful explanation of what is going on.) Also, please forward this alert to your own email groups.
RAID ON MARK NOLT'S FARM
"All truth passes through three stages," wrote Schopenhauer. "First it is ignored, then it is violently opposed and finally it is accepted as self evident." Unfortunately the transition from the first to the second stage has fallen on a gentle Pennsylvania Mennonite raw milk farmer, Mark Nolt, described by many as the "Rosa Parks of farmers' rights." On April 25, Mark's farm was raided--for the second time--and this time he was arrested, in connection with five citations for selling raw milk without a license.
He was taken in handcuffs to a magistrate in Mount Holly Springs where he refused to make a plea to the criminal charges against him. A trial has been scheduled for May 5.
The first raid occurred last August 10, when the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) seized over $25,000 worth of product, packaging equipment and supplies. This occurred after a Commonwealth Court found Nolt in contempt for violating an injunction prohibiting him from selling raw milk and raw milk products without a permit.
In the second raid, the agents descended on the quiet farm, "like Vikings,"
according to Mark, in six police cars and at least five unmarked cars, presumably belonging to PDA officials. The agents were personally led by Bill Chirdon, Director of PDA's Bureau of Food Safety and Laboratory Services. Mark tried asking one policeman what the state's authority was for being on the property but the policeman kept cutting him off, seemingly trying to provoke a confrontation. The police threatened to arrest anyone who attempted to set foot on Nolt's property; even Nolt's father and brother who live on the same lane were denied access.
Imagine the position of Mrs. Nolt, enduring the sight of her husband carried away in the back seat of a police cruiser. The officers refused to tell her where they were taking him. Then she and her ten children had to stand by once again while the officers went through their cheese shop and store, taking food meant to feed many families, including their own. Fortunately, Mark was released after the hearing, and he returned to the farm on foot rather than accept a ride in a police car.
In a supreme act of arrogance, Chirdon stole a book off Nolt's shelf-"All I Ever Wanted to Do is Illegal" by Joel Salatin. According to a PDA spokesman, Chirdon will return the book at Mark's trial.
Mark let his permit drop several years ago because it did not allow him to sell value-added products such as butter and cream. Mark's position is that he has a constitutional right to enter into contractual agreements without a permit, that is to sell raw milk and raw milk products directly to customers.
Mark told David Gumpert that the product PDA confiscated (mostly cheese) was worth over $30,000. They also took supplies and equipment. PDA agents were particularly malicious, taking valves, parts to a cream separator and pieces of cheese-making equipment so his equipment could no longer be used. The warrant PDA received from the magistrate states that PDA could search and seize "any equipment, containers or supplies used to bottle or package for sale milk and products manufactured from milk." Obviously cream separator parts and cheese-making equipment have nothing to do with bottling or packaging products, thus making PDA guilty of an illegal seizure.
At a time when millions of people all over the world are starving, PDA has no qualms about throwing away perfectly good and nutritious food-the cheese was carried away in an unrefrigerated truck. According to the PDA website highlighting PDA's Blueprint for Hunger, "nearly 1.2 million Pennsylvanians, almost 10% of our population, live in households at risk for hunger and about 335,000, almost 3% of all households, have someone who has experienced hunger." The dumping of Mark Nolt's cheese in the face of widespread hunger in the state of Pennsylvania can only be described as obscene.
Even the legality of the product seizure can be called into question.
According to PDA's Guidance Document (3/20/08, "Permits Allowing the Sale of Raw Milk for Human Consumption"), the department can seize raw milk, "Whenever, in the opinion of the Secretary of the Department, a given supply of raw milk or illegally produced raw milk products is considered unsafe or a menace to public health, the secretary may seize, condemn, denature, or destroy the milk or milk products, without compensation to the owner of the milk or milk products." In the affidavit submitted in his application for a search warrant against Nolt, Chirdon made no allegation that the milk was unsafe. No one from PDA has provided evidence that Nolt's milk was a danger to the public. NO ILLNESSES HAVE BEEN REPORTED from the consumption of Mark Nolt's cheese.
In an appearance April 30 before a magistrate at the Newville Magisterial District Court, Mark Nolt was informed by the judge that he was facing two additional charges for selling raw milk without a permit. A trial has been scheduled for Monday, June 3 in Newville.
Nolt refused to enter a plea to the charges claiming he was in court under duress and that he was not subject to the court's jurisdiction. The court entered a plea of "not guilty" on his behalf.
Nolt's May 5 trial at the Mount Holly Springs Magisterial District Court will take place at 9:30 a.m. He is being tried in that case for five citations of selling raw milk without a permit. A rally in support of Nolt will be held outside the courthouse that morning.
TRIAL FOR GLEN WISE
Glen Wise has a dairy in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. He is a member of CARE (Communities Alliance for Responsible Eco-Farming), a private milk club that sells only to members. According to the citations he has received, he is accused of selling "milk, milk products or manufactured dairy products" on three separate occasions.
Apparently, PDA found out that Glen was selling raw milk without a permit at a farmers' market last fall. Chirdon told him at that time that he needed to fill out an application for a permit, but Glen never did. (More about Chirdon below.) He heard nothing more from PDA until April 2 when he received the three citations all at once. All the citations against him were for selling at his farm store.
HARASSMENT OF PERMITTED RAW MILK FARMERS While PDA insists that all raw milk farmers must have permits, the agency is making it very difficult for those farmers who already have permits or wish to obtain them. Its scheme is to use inappropriate testing techniques that give false positives, then suspend permits and issue inflammatory press releases, in what appears to be an effort to stem the ever growing number of raw milk permits-from just a few dozen to over 100 in the last two years. We also have reports that PDA is now making it very difficult for farmers to obtain new raw milk permits. The attitude is distinctly hostile, as the following cases will demonstrate. As one farmer put it, "The raw milk permit is just a license to be harassed." It is important to emphasize that in spite of PDA's reports of pathogens, NO ILLNESSES HAVE BEEN REPORTED in the cases cited below.
1.The farm of Clark and Elaine Duncan tested positive for Listeria Monocytogenes on April 4 and PDA ran a press release naming the farm on April 7. The milk sample had been taken on March 31. The Duncans sent a sample to a private lab the week following their suspension and that came back positive as well. They have not sent any samples for testing since. The PDA Guidance Document on raw milk states that the permit holder must refrain from selling raw milk until two consecutive tests taken at least one day apart show that the milk is pathogen free and the department approves of the tests that were taken. It is normally the permit holder's responsibility to send the samples to a state-approved lab for testing. The Duncans did not receive the paperwork from PDA on the test results until several weeks after the department issued the press release about the farm's positive listeria test.
2. On April 4, PDA told Arnold and Esther Diller of Piney Ridge Farm in Western Pennsylvania that their raw milk sales were being suspended because their milk tested positive for listeria. Arnold Diller subsequently sent out a sample to an independent lab, which came back negative (the same thing happened last year). As a condition for resuming sales on their farm, their inspector gave them a list of things to be done for reinspection. After repeatedly being unable to clean a piece of milking equipment to the satisfaction of the inspector, the Dillers turned in their license to PDA. Esther Diller said that she wished they had never obtained the license.
Not long after their sales were suspended, the Dillers were told by a state employee from Harrisburg that if they voluntarily gave up their raw milk license, their problems with the state would be all cleared up. There is a State Representative who got raw milk from the Dillers. The night before PDA issued the press release about the Dillers' positive test for listeria, PDA faxed a copy of the press release to that representative. It seemed like an attempt to discourage the representative from remaining a customer. The Dillers also had some of their customers picking up milk at a local health food store. Shortly before the positive listeria tests in both 2007 and 2008, a Pennsylvania food and safety inspector witnessed the raw milk in a walk-in cooler and voiced disapproval even though there is no law prohibiting what was being done. We have no proof that this was related to the positive listeria test, but it does seem that PDA wanted the Dillers out of the raw milk business. Many people who depended on them for raw milk are now without a supplier. (There are very few permitted raw milk farmers in Western Pennsylvania.)
3. On Monday, April 21 a preliminary test for permit holder Norman Sauder came up positive for salmonella. The inspector had told him that even though he was not due for his next test until December, he was being asked to move it up to April. Norman sent a sample to the US Food & Dairy lab and it also came back positive for salmonella. On April 28, PDA issued a press release stating that anyone who purchased milk from Sauder after March 31 should discard it immediately. To this date Sauder has still not been directly informed by PDA whether the final test results for salmonella were positive.
He said his coliform counts all winter had been slightly elevated--sometimes 150. After he asked the inspector whether it was possible for a sample to be contaminated between his farm and the lab, his coliform count came back at 10 for the next four inspections. Sauder believes that sampling tools or lab equipment could be playing a role in the slightly elevated counts. He suspects that he is not getting accurate tests.
4. The Amos B. King Dairy in Blain sells most of its milk to Dairy Farmers of America for processing but distributes about 30 gallons of raw milk a week to his own customers. Amos' milk was tested on April 14 and the results came back positive for campylobacter on Friday April 18. After cleaning his equipment, Amos asked for a reinspection to be scheduled for April 21 or 22. Even though PDA told him that shouldn't be a problem, the inspector did not arrive until April 28. Meanwhile, the news of his positive test for campylobacter hit the press. Amos estimates he will not be cleared to resume raw milk sales before May 10 at the earliest.
5. The most egregious example of biased PDA policy involves the Beulah Land Jersey Farm, owned by Dennis and Joanne Wenger. The Wengers sell milk for pasteurization to Dairylea and also have a raw milk permit. On April 8, both US Dairy (a state-approved independent lab) and PDA took samples from the bulk tank. The next day, the milk hauler for Dairylea picked up milk. On April 11, PDA informed the Wengers that their test was "presumptive positive" for listeria and requested they discontinue selling raw milk. Additionally, the PDA test results showed a somatic cell count (SCC) of over one million. On April 14, the PDA called to say that the test had confirmed "positive" for listeria and that they would have to discontinue raw milk sales. By this time the Wengers had received the results from both US Dairy and Dairylea showing SCC under 200,000. The Wengers faxed copies of these test results to PDA.
On April 15, 16 and 17 MicroBac (another state-approved independent lab) came to the farm to take samples from the bulk tank for listeria testing. On April 16, Dennis called Senators Mike Brubaker and Mike Folmer to inform them about the large discrepancy in somatic cell counts between PDA's test results and those of US Dairy and Dairylea. Later that day, Dennis received a call from Bill Chirdon of PDA. After some discussion, Chirdon offered to retest the Beulah Land Jersey Farm milk. The next day, on April 17, the state came to take samples (the SCC test results for this sample were considerably lower than the first PDA test but still much higher than those obtained by the other two labs).
On Saturday, April 19, the Wengers received the test results from the first sample taken by MicroBac-negative for listeria. On the following Monday, the state lab made a highly unusual call to MicroBac to find out the results of the Wenger's samples. MicroBac refused to release the information without the Wenger's consent. The state then called the Wengers to inform them that their sample was negative. This was followed by a call from MicroBac saying that the second and third samples had also tested negative. PDA reinstated the Wenger's raw milk permit on April 22.
This incident creates the strong suspicion that PDA is not being honest about their test results, or that their testing techniques are not accurate and are giving false positives. In fact, this incident and the others above create a strong suspicion that the PDA is not taking milk samples properly and may even be tampering with them. Dennis has demanded an apology from PDA for its actions.
ABOUT PDA'S TESTING PROCEDURES
PDA uses the same testing methods for raw and pasteurized milk. They get preliminary results using the VIDAS 30 rapid testing system. If the preliminary results are positive, such as for listeria, the agency then uses a culturing technique intended to suppress the growth of anything in the culture other than listeria. This is a fair test if the milk is pasteurized because pasteurized milk is a dead food with no good bacteria to out-compete pathogens. Australian Microbiologist Ron Hull, PhD, has carried out tests showing that in raw milk, the threat of listeria goes away with time because good bacteria gradually increase and eventually render listeria harmless. Raw milk is not the same product as pasteurized milk; so it is neither fair nor good science to use the same testing protocol for raw and pasteurized milk.
Comparing raw milk to pasteurized milk is comparing a fresh product with a cooked product. For this reason there should be zero tolerance for pasteurized milk but not for raw milk, because raw milk contains good bacteria present to overwhelm any listeria present. What's needed are studies to quantify how high the infectious dose would have to be before it would cause illness in humans that consume the product. USDA publishes a universal infectious dose for a particular pathogen even though they acknowledge that it is unlikely to be the same in all foods. The agency has never conducted studies to determine what the infectious dose for pathogens would be in fresh raw milk intended for human consumption.
The current zero tolerance standard for listeria in raw milk is not appropriate because, as the experience in Pennsylvania has shown, people are consuming raw milk that has tested positive for listeria and are not getting sick. As the press releases in these cases admit, "NO ILLNESSES HAVE BEEN REPORTED . . . ." The standard is causing economic hardship for raw milk producers and supply interruptions for consumers. The fact that PDA did not until recently pull raw milk when the first test was positive shows a fundamental acceptance of this concept-that the tolerance levels for listeria and other pathogens in raw milk is not zero.
Furthermore, state regulators are operating under the mistaken belief that milk right out of the teat is sterile so that all bacteria found in milk comes from environmental contamination. We now know that raw milk-in humans as well as animals-contains bacteria from the milk ducts and surfaces of the teat, so these bacteria are a natural and beneficial component of the milk and not a result of contamination. (The exception is milk from a cow with mastitis, which is an infection in the udder itself.) The regulators' goal of getting rid of all bacteria is hazardous to human health because bacteria aids in digestion and immunity; and good bacteria are needed to protect against pathogenic bacteria.
Current research has produced enough evidence that the Pennsylvania Legislature should be convinced that raw milk and pasteurized milk are two different products requiring different testing and safety standards for each. The two should not be treated the same in terms of regulatory policy.
THE BILL CHIRDON ERA
The hostile attitude against raw milk farmers began when Bill Chirdon took over as Director of PDA's Bureau of Food Safety and Laboratory Services in the fall of 2006. Chirdon formerly worked five years as a plant manager for Dean Foods, one of the nation's largest industrial dairy companies, and 20 years as a plant manager for Hershey. Obviously he is totally unqualified to be in charge of raw milk regulation. With his industry background, he has absolutely no understanding of raw milk nor sympathy for the position of raw milk farmers and consumers.
Before Chirdon took over, PDA would not suspend a farm's sales of raw milk for pathogens until there had been two positive tests. Now PDA is suspending sales and issuing harmful press releases after one positive test.
Before Chirdon, PDA viewed labor contracts between raw milk licensees and consumers as legal. Under the labor contracts, the farmer would process the raw milk the consumer had purchased into other dairy products such as cream, butter, yogurt or kefir. Under Chirdon, PDA considers the labor contracts illegal.
PDA used to test raw milk licensees once a year for pathogens. Now it tests twice.
Since Chirdon, it has become standard practice for undercover PDA employees to buy from unlicensed dairy producers in an effort to trap farmers into getting cited for selling raw milk without a permit. PDA employees made at least eight purchases from Mark Nolt and another three from Glen Wise. (It is important to remind CARE farmers not to sell to any customers unless they show their membership cards; and it is noteworthy that PDA has not tried to stop private milk club arrangements such as CARE in over a year now.)
During Chirdon's tenure, PDA has issued press releases when farms tested positive for pathogens even though in almost all cases NO ILLNESSES HAVE BEEN REPORTED. (PDA asserts that some people got sick consuming milk from one dairy in 2007, although the dairy does not know of any customers that got sick.)
In March of this year Fisher's Dairy in Porterville tested positive for salmonella. Because of that positive test at that one farm, Chirdon required that all licensed dairies in the state send in raw milk samples. Since the statewide testing began, five other farms have had their raw milk sales suspended (three for listeria, one for campylobacter and one for salmonella),
Farmers seeking new raw milk permits are now reporting that the PDA is using pathogen testing to hinder and revoke raw milk permits. Of interest is the fact that there is not one reference to pathogen testing in the Milk Sanitation Law or the Pennsylvania Code, which PDA acknowledges supersedes their Raw Milk Permit Guidelines. PDA recently and arbitrarily changed the guidelines, requiring more pathogen tests and making it more difficult to obtain a permit. The authority of PDA to dictate the guidelines needs to be challenged.
ACTION TO TAKE - PENNSYLVANIA RESIDENTS
We can use this situation to accomplish a huge victory for raw milk if we ALL work together in creating a huge public outcry!
We are asking all Pennsylvania residents concerned about raw milk and farm freedom to set aside one quiet hour on Saturday May 3. Use this hour to compose a letter that you will send by regular mail to your state senator, state representative, the heads of the senate and house agriculture committees, Mr. Dennis Wolff, Secretary of Agriculture, and Governor Edward Rendell. A letter sent by regular mail carries much more clout than an email or fax, and now is the time to make our voices heard.
We then ask that you mail your six letters on Monday morning, May 5. (Optionally, you may also send your letters to local media.) We want our elected officials to receive an avalanche of mail on this subject on Raw Milk D-Day, May 6.
In your own words, write a brief testimonial about how raw milk has benefitted you and your family and then request the following:
1. The resignation of Bill Chirdon and his replacement with someone who is knowledgeable about the science and health benefits of raw milk. We must send a strong message to the other states that raw milk consumers will not tolerate department of agriculture hostility and bias against raw milk.
2. That PDA immediately return to their pre-Chirdon testing and permitting policies and cease the strong-arm tactics against Pennsylvania raw milk farmers.
3. That the Pennsylvania legislature hold hearings and immediately pass legislation allowing an exemption from licensing and regulation for farmers selling raw milk and raw milk products direct to consumers, whether it be at the farm, through delivery or at farmers' markets. (Farmers selling raw milk through stores could be subject to the pre-Chirdon testing and permitting
4. That PDA drop all charges against Mark Nolt and Glenn Wise or suspend charges pending hearings before the legislature regarding an exemption from licensing and regulation for raw milk producers selling direct to consumers.
5. That PDA immediately return all supplies and equipment seized from Mark Nolt's farm on April 25 (much of the equipment is old so the parts PDA took are not replaceable) and compensate him for the theft of his cheese.
For names and addresses of your state senators and representatives, go to http://www.legis.state.pa.us/index.cfm, where you can search your elected officials by zip code and county.
Ag & Rural Affairs - Senate Chairman
Hon. Michael W. Brubaker
Chairman, Ag & Rural Affairs
Senate Box 203036
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3036
Ag & Rural Affairs - House Chairman
Hon. Michael K. Hanna
Chairman, Ag & Rural Affairs
302 Main Capitol Building
PO Box 202076
Harrisburg, PA 17120-2076
Mr. Dennis C. Wolff
Secretary, Department of Agriculture
2301 N. Cameron St.
Harrisburg, PA 17110
Governor Edward G. Rendell
225 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120
ACTION TO TAKE - NON-PENNSYLVANIA RESIDENTS
Please also spend one quiet hour on Saturday May 5 composing your letter along the guidelines given above.
On May 6, Raw Milk D-Day, email or fax your letter to the following:
Ag & Rural Affairs - Senate Chairman
Hon. Michael W. Brubaker
Chairman, Ag & Rural Affairs
FAX: (717) 783-3156
Ag & Rural Affairs - House Chairman
Hon. Michael K. Hanna
Chairman, Ag & Rural Affairs
FAX: (717) 787-4137
Governor Edward G. Rendell
Phone: (717) 787-2500
Fax: (717) 772-8284
Secretary Dennis Wolff
Phone: (717) 772-2853
Fax: (717) 705-8402
EXTRA CREDIT FOR RESIDENTS AND NON-RESIDENTS OF PA
Fax and email your letter to all the members of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs committees
Chairman, Hon. Michael Brubaker [email protected]
Michael Waugh [email protected]
FAX: (717) 783-1900
Michael O'Pake [email protected]
FAX: (717) 772-0578
Joseph Scarnati [email protected]
FAX: (717) 772-2755
Michael Eichelberger [email protected]
Mike Folmer [email protected]
FAX: (717) 787-3455
Roger Madigan [email protected]
FAX: (717) 772-0575
Terry Punt [email protected]
FAX: (717) 772-2753
Shirley Kitchen [email protected]
FAX: (717) 772-0581
Sean Logan [email protected]
FAX: (717) 772-3588
John Wozniak [email protected]
FAX: (717) 772-0573
Honorable Michael Hanna, Chairman [email protected]
FAX: (717) 787-4137
Gary Haluska [email protected]
Mike Carroll [email protected]
FAX: (717) 780-4763
Mark Cohen [email protected]
FAX: (717) 787-6650
H. Scott Conklin [email protected]
FAX: (717) 780-4764
Peter Daley [email protected]
FAX: (717) 783-7558
Richard Grucela [email protected]
FAX: (717) 783-3180
Harold James [email protected]
FAX: (717) 787-7517
Babette Josephs [email protected]
FAX: (717) 787-5066
Tim Mahoney [email protected]
FAX: (717) 780-4786
John Myers [email protected]
FAX: (717) 772-4038
Frank Louis Oliver [email protected]
FAX: (717) 783-0684
Timothy J. Solobay [email protected]
FAX: (717) 705-1887
Tom Yewcic [email protected]
FAX: (717) 787-4922
Rosita C. Youngblood [email protected]
FAX: (717) 772-1313
Art Hershey [email protected]
FAX: (717) 705-1868
Bob Bastian [email protected]
FAX: (717) 783-3899
Mike Fleck [email protected]
FAX: (717) 260-6504
Karen Boback [email protected]
FAX: (717) 705-1889
Michele Brooks [email protected]
FAX: (717) 705-1948
Jim Cox [email protected]
FAX: (717) 260-6516
Gordon Denlinger [email protected]
FAX: (717) 705-1951
David S. Hickernell [email protected]
FAX: (717) 705-1946
Rob Kauffman [email protected]
FAX: (717) 705-1951
Mark Keller [email protected]
FAX: (717) 705-7012
David Millard [email protected]
FAX: (717) 772-0094
Dan Moul [email protected]
(717) 783-5217 FAX:
Fax: (717) 334-8426
Tina Pickett [email protected]
FAX: (717) 705-1949
OTHER EVENTS - WE NEED YOU THERE!
May 5: Hearing and Rally for Mark Nolt
229 Mill Street
Mount Holly, Pennsylvania 17065
May 6: Trial of Glen Wise
Magisterial District Court
920 South Spruce Street
WRITE A LETTER AND WRITE A CHECK!
To support the Nolts in this time of hardship, you may send donations directly to
Mark and Maryann Nolt
P.O. Box 136
Blain, Pennsylvania 17006
The Farm-to-Consumer Foundation provides compassionate relief funds to farmers who have endured a farm raid or other urgent financial hardship related to their direct-to-consumer sales. Donations to the Farm-to-Consumer Foundation are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.
BY PHONE: 703-208-FARM (3276)
(10 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. EST)
BY MAIL: Check payable to
FTCF - Compassionate Relief Fund, 8116
Arlington Blvd., #263, Falls Church, VA 22042.
PLEASE JOIN ME!
I will be composing my own letters on Saturday, May 5. Please join me in this sacred act of communication, support and activism.
Sally Fallon, President
The Weston A. Price Foundation