Globe Editorial

Raw milk: Don't make a federal case of it

May 23, 2011

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For many years, nearly all the milk sold to consumers in the United States has been pasteurized to kill harmful microbes, and the Food and Drug Administration banned the interstate sale of unpasteurized milk in 1987. The ban is well-intentioned. But how aggressively the federal government should enforce it, and how many resources to devote to the task, are separate questions entirely.

A number of natural-foods enthusiasts rallied at the US Capitol last week in support of Dan Allgyer, an Amish farmer in Pennsylvania who’s suspected of selling raw milk to customers from Maryland. Last month, the FDA filed a 10-page complaint in federal court, seeking to shut Allgyer down. That followed a yearlong investigation into his farm, which at one point culminated in a 5 a.m. “inspection’’ by FDA agents, US marshals, and a state police trooper. According to news reports, Allgyer has tried to steer clear of the interstate sale ban by designating customers as shareholders entitled to a portion of the farm’s produce. The government’s lawsuit will likely turn on whether that gambit is ruled legal.

Still, this is an awful lot of energy and manpower to invest in a seemingly minor matter. It’s one thing to require vendors to post prominent warnings about the dangers of raw milk. But it’s another to make a federal case out of a small farmer’s sale of milk straight from the cow to customers who want it that way.