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Raw-milk fans simmer at seminar

For The Daily News

Lebanon Daily News
Article Launched: 08/02/2008 09:52:39 PM EDT

Area farmers want to sell raw milk. Consumers want to buy it. And the government wants to regulate it.

Those three sentences sum up the reason for “The Real Deal About Raw (Real) Milk,” billed as a “Farmers and Consumers Freedom and Liberty Seminar,” held yesterday at Cedar Crest High School. More than 250 people registered for the event, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Independent Consumers and Farmers Association and hosted by Sen. Mike Folmer.

Pennsylvania is one of eight states that allows retail sales of raw milk — defined as unpasteurized milk — and one of 28 that allows on-farm sales of raw milk, with permits.

According to Jonas Stoltzfus, PICFA president, the organization is one of a growing number of groups across the country aiming to promote and preserve unregulated farmer-to-consumer trade of locally grown or home-produced food products.

The permit system in place now in Pennsylvania for sellers of raw milk has little to do with health and much to do with a government wish to control farmers, Stoltzfus explained.

“We do not need or want to get permission or use a permit to decide what we eat and drink,” he stated to a cheering crowd. “We are perfectly capable of deciding that ourselves. ... The market will take care of itself by demanding a clean, healthy product.”

Folmer said his interest in hosting the seminar was more than just a wish to highlight information about raw milk.

“It’s about freedom and liberty, the Constitution and rule of law,” he said, adding that he believes the land and profits from it are gifts of God, all property is an extension of a person’s life, and attacks on those are attacks on the essence of life.

Two area residents offered personal insight into their attendance.

Dennis Wenger, an area dairy farmer, described an incident in April in which the state stopped him from selling milk, calling it contaminated. Multiple private-lab tests indicated there was no problem, he said. After several weeks and multiple retests, state officials noted there were no problems with his dairy, and his license to sell raw milk was reinstated.

Wenger said he learned two things from the incident: He will never allow the milk tested by the state to leave his farm without a private test, because he doesn’t trust the state; and he no longer believes state officials who say they support the raw-milk industry. The state’s purpose, he said, is to intimidate farmers to keep them from selling raw milk and to stop people from buying it.

Meanwhile, Maureen Diaz said her reason for supporting farmers’ right to sell raw milk is that she believes raw milk is healthier for her children.

“It’s a crying shame if I can’t have the free choice to go to my local farmer and friend and purchase whatever products I want from him,” she said. “I am an intelligent person, you are intelligent people, and we have constitutional rights and freedoms about what we feed our families. It’s my choice. I don’t need Big Brother looking over my shoulder. ...

“I’m an activist mom, and I will continue to be until the government backs off and let’s me make healthy choices for my family.”

Yesterday’s keynote speaker was Sally Fallon Morell, author of “Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.” She founded Campaign for Real Milk, dedicated to creating consumer awareness of the health benefits of clean, whole, unpasteurized milk from grass-fed cows.

Real milk — the way nature intended, from cows eating the food they were intended to eat — is the “safest food on the planet,” Morell stressed.

Raw milk from grass-fed cows has built-in protective systems, she said, systems that don’t harm people who drink raw milk and actually provide multiple benefits, she said. There are many more food-borne illnesses caused by eating uncooked eggs and undercooked meat.

Other speakers included Dr. Ted Beals, a retired pathologist and professor at the University of Michigan Medical School; William Taylor Reil, a member of the Communities Alliance for Responsible Eco-Farming and PICFA who has been studying state constitutional law; Rep. Sam Rohrer, who cited the need for both free-market reform and fiscal discipline in spending; and Peter Kennedy, an attorney and vice president of the board of Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.