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Raw food raid raises questions over existing milk laws -- and the safety of potlucks

July 24, 2010 |  8:08 am

Do you have the right to eat anything you want?

That question is at the heart of an increasingly heated war between consumers and government regulators, who are facing off over raw milk and other raw – read unpasteurized, unprocessed, as-pure-as-possible – foods.

The latest salvo in this fight happened June 30, when federal, state and local authorities raided Rawesome Foods, a private food club in Venice that investigators allege broke the law by not having the proper licenses for a food retail business.

While the raid was happening at Rawesome, another went down at one of its suppliers, Healthy Family Farms in Ventura County. California agriculture officials said farm owner Sharon Palmer's processing plant had not met standards to obtain a license. Palmer could not be reached for comment.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises that milk, as well as honey and some other grocery products, be pasteurized prior to human consumption.

Pasteurization heats the milk to a specific temperature for a period of time to quash harmful bacteria and other contaminants. Some enzymes are destroyed in the process – a loss that regulators say is crucial to maintain food safety, but one raw-milk advocates say undercuts potential health benefits.

The FDA bans the interstate sale of the stuff. But states have been getting into the raw-milk mix this legislative session with 12 related bills introduced in nine states – Idaho, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Some local government agencies have also taken a fairly firm stance on food-safety issues, when it comes to bringing homemade foods to a general-public event.

In Wyoming’s Teton County, concerns over food safety by the public health department have led to a ban on public potlucks. Raw milk – though legal for animal, not human, consumption in Wyoming – has also been yanked.

The result? The Jackson Hole Historical Society canceled a fundraising dinner, and Jackson Whole Grocer had to empty its shelves of raw milk purchased from an Idaho farmer. (The shop and raw-milk fans are slated to bring forward a proposal for a pilot program for local sales.)

To find out more about the raid in Venice and some of the ripple effects of the raw-food battle, read the story here.

To view a summary of the broader national issues the debate raises, click on the video below.

-- P.J. Huffstutter

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