Suit challenging raw milk rules dismissed

Since it is not homogenized, raw milk's cream rises to the top and must be skimmed before drinking. (Chiot's Run/Flickr)

Fans of unpasteurized dairy who went to court for the right to buy raw milk have gotten their way – for the most part.

A federal judge in Sioux City, Iowa, rejected a lawsuit this week brought by raw milk drinkers, producers and distributors, but many raw milk advocates still see positives from the ruling.

The suit challenged the legality of laws that prohibit selling raw milk across state lines and plaintiffs include two Iowa women, Laurie Donnelly of Sloan and Jennifer Allen of Council Bluffs.

Judge Mark Bennett said the raw milk fans didn’t show they were injured by the regulations. Still, the ruling may have advocates bringing unpasteurized dairy products home without fear.

Gary Cox, an attorney for the group that brought the suit against the government, said they succeeded in getting federal regulators to clarify the rules.

“We lost the battle but we won the war,” Cox said. “Our case was dismissed, but now we have FDA on record. And we have a judge agreeing with FDA that this regulation … is unenforceable, and FDA has no intention of enforcing it against an individual.”

The Food and Drug Administration prohibits the sale of unpasteurized milk across state lines because of health risks from dangerous bacteria. But the agency told the judge it is focusing enforcement of those rules on distributors and producers, not individual buyers.

Advocates for raw milk say they prefer the flavor and believe it offers health benefits. They’re working to legalize sales of raw milk nationwide. Raw milk sales are illegal in many states including Iowa, but legal in Nebraska.

Now, raw milk adovcates from Iowa can cross state lines in order to buy their dairy products.

“Those people in Iowa can go to Nebraska where it’s legal to buy and sell raw milk,” Cox said.  “They can buy raw milk in Nebraska and go back to Iowa and consume it in Iowa, and they will not be sued by FDA.”

The lawsuit was filed by the non-profit Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which advocates for the direct sale of farm goods to consumers. The group sued the FDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2010, hoping to get the FDA regulations struck down.


The above image, used with a Creative Commons license, can be found on the farm blog Chiot's Run.