Activists to take on Capitol Hill: Lay off our milk, lemonade

Milk and lemonade may seem like the staples of youthful innocence, but on Saturday a group of activists hope to turn them into the tools of protests when they take to the Capitol to demand the government stop interfering in sales of fresh milk and stop shutting down kids’ lemonade stands.

The Raw Milk freedom Riders and Lemonade Freedom Day, two separate groups that each want the government out of their transactions, are unifying their voices, saying that together they can drive home a message that the government should butt out.

“This issue is not just about raw milk and it’s not just about lemonade. It’s about every individual’s right to consume the food of their choice,” said Robert Fernandes, founder of Lemonade Freedom Day.

The food freedom movement has grown dramatically in recent years, spurred by consumers looking for alternatives to supermarkets and big-brand items — and has faced pressure from local authorities, in the case of lemonade stands, and from federal authorities in the case of milk.

The Food and Drug Administration has deemed unpasteurized milk harmful and, while it cannot interfere with sales in the 30 or so states that allow them, it can prevent farmers, stores and coops from selling across lines to states where fresh milk is illegal.

In one now-famous 2011 incident, a Food and Drug Administration investigator conducted a sting operation on an Amish farmer in Pennsylvania who sold milk to a coop in Washington and the surrounding suburbs, eventually shutting his operation down.

Lemonade stands, meanwhile, have run afoul of local ordinances that require health and safety licenses, leading to unseemly confrontations between police and young children manning roadside stands.

The milk movement held a rally outside the Senate last year, where they milked a cow and served up gallons of the fresh stuff, playfully daring each other to drink what, if sold across state lines, would have been contraband.

This year, however, they are getting together with the lemonade movement.

The two groups are holding a workshop on Friday, but Saturday’s gathering at noon at the Capitol’s reflecting pool is organic — Mr. Fernandes said they didn’t get a permit, and are just showing up and hoping others do too.

“In some ways it may be considered a protest but I like to look at it more as a celebration,” he said. “We’re going to go out there, and we’re going to barter, sell. It’s going to be kind of grass roots. We’re encouraging others to bring things to sell, so it’s going to take its own shape and form.”

In an election year, the food freedom movement is also tinged with politics.

The White House earlier this year rejected a petition by fresh milk supporters to try to get him to change his mind.

“This administration believes that food safety policy should be based on science,” Doug McKalip, senior policy adviser for rural affairs, wrote in a reply to the petition in January. “In this case, we support pasteurization to protect the safety of the milk supply because the health risks associated with raw milk are well documented.”

It’s unclear where Mr. Romney stands, though advocates said they don’t expect him to change the current enforcement priorities.

Mr. Romney’s campaign didn’t respond to messages seeking comment on his stance.

Winton Pitcoff, coordinator of the Massachusetts Raw Milk Network, said Mr. Romney didn’t have the chance to weigh in on the issue while he was governor between 2003 and 2006.

Mr. Fernandes said he won’t be voting this year because he doesn’t see much of a choice offered by Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama — though he said he is a fan of Rep. Ron Paul, whose presidential campaign stumbled but who continues to have a dedicated following.

Mr. Paul has introduced legislation to end the federal role in governing interstate milk sales.

The taxpayer-funded Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier this year that a 13-year review of disease outbreaks shows fresh milk is 150 times more dangerous than pasteurized milk.

“Restricting the sale of raw milk products is likely to reduce the number of outbreaks and can help keep people healthier,” said Dr. Robert Tauxe, director of CDC’s division of foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases. “The states that allow sale of raw milk will probably continue to see outbreaks in the future.”

In a 2010 study led by professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison interviewed buyers of raw milk and found most of them found it to be more healthy — despite the government’s conclusions otherwise.

Half of the consumers told the researchers said they particularly prized their relationship with the farmers they bought from, and said they liked knowing who produced their food.

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