Warning: Texas Authorities Threaten Food Liberties
- Is your local health department restricting your access to healthy foods and infringing upon your food liberties? Discover more…
- Do health inspectors have the right interrogate you? Find out today!
- Learn how to connect with a non-profit that will keep you updated on food freedom issues
Dear Living Well Daily Reader,
Personal food choices are an intimate and important part of life.
The foods you decide to put in your body greatly affect your health and often the health of those you love.
And that’s why it’s so vital to protect your right to eat as you wish.
Unfortunately, some government agencies don’t think personal food liberties are important — or, in some cases, relevant.
Furthermore, they don’t see the value in supporting local food networks, build community bonds, and — perhaps most importantly — sustaining the economy for small family farms.
That’s why we have invited Judith McGeary to join us today. She will explain more about the current assault on local food in her hometown of Austin in just a moment.
First, let me tell you a little about her…
Judith is an attorney, activist, and sustainable farmer. She is the creator and executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy organization that promotes common sense policies for local, diversified agricultural systems.
In addition, she is on the board of directors for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF), a grassroots organization that protects the rights of farmers to sell their products and the rights of consumers to buy the foods of their choice from any source they wish. FTCLDF receives zero government funding.
While in Austin for the Paleo f(x) conference, Jasmine LeMaster, quality assurance guru here at Living Well, and I got to hear Judith speak about the importance of food freedoms and how to protect yourself from the meddling of health departments.
During this discussion, she brought up a sticky situation in Austin revolving around raw milk deliveries.
Raw milk is milk that hasn’t been pasteurized or homogenized. This means it may contain more nutrients and enzymes than processed milk since it’s never heated. It typically comes from pasture-raised cows and goats on family farms. Plus, some folks just prefer the taste of raw milk versus the taste of process milk.
Raw milk happens to be totally legal in the state of Texas. Yet two government agencies are doing their best to stop its legal distribution and continue to harass local food producers, consumers, and advocates.
[Ed. note: Raw milk is just an example here. As you will read in the second part of this interview, which will be out on Monday, this can happen with all sorts of food. . Be sure to check your inbox, you won’t want to miss this!]
Today, let’s talk about what’s happening in Austin…
Natalie Moore: If you could first just introduce yourself and tell the readers about what you do.
Judith McGeary: My name is Judith McGeary and I’m the executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. We do lobbying and advocacy work for small farmers to the barriers for producers and local food consumers.
Moore: Cool. If we could get into what happened in Austin with the raw milk sales? I guess my first question is — is raw milk illegal in Texas?
McGeary: Raw milk is not illegal in Texas, which makes this situation particularly egregious.
In Texas, a farmer can get a Grade A license to sell raw milk to consumers. However, there’s a regulatory restriction saying that the sale must occur at the point of production, i.e., on the farm.
It’s absolutely legal for me to drive out to a licensed farm and buy however much milk I want for my family. The problem is that’s very inconvenient for many people. For some people, it’s just not feasible to drive two or three hours to a farm weekly. So they have made different arrangements. Some folks take turns driving to the farm and brining the milk back for each other.
In the case we’re dealing with right now, groups of consumers have gotten together and hired someone to drive to the farm for them, which is also legal under basic principles of law. I can hire someone to do anything that I can do. I can hire someone to go sign a contract for me, to go buy my groceries, etc.
So, since it’s legal for me to drive to the farm and buy raw milk, it’s legal for my designated agent to do so.
The regulators are claiming that this is illegal but there’s really no basis for that claim. They simply don’t like the fact that more people are getting access to raw milk.
Moore: When you say regulators, which regulators are you referring to?
McGeary: We’re dealing with two sets of regulators, the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Austin Health and Human Services Department.
Moore: And they’re the ones that were responsible for calling the police?
McGeary: Yes. But we don’t know which of those two actually called the police.
Moore: So did they arrest anyone? Or was there any legal recourse?
McGeary: They didn’t arrest anyone. Presumably, because they realized that they had zero grounds for arresting anyone.
But they had the police pull in and block the van where the raw milk was being delivered as well as the car of the woman who has been coordinating this. Then they proceeded “interrogate” these individuals, including a woman who was involved purely as a volunteer so she can have raw milk and so that people in her community can have raw milk.
She had two of her children there, and the city of Austin health inspector started questioning her and asking her for her name and her driver’s license. She gave him her name and then said she wasn’t comfortable giving him the rest of her information and asked if she had to…
The correct answer to that question is no you don’t have to.
The city of Austin health inspector should’ve told her that or stopped questioning her immediately. Instead, he called the police over to tell her that she had to give him her info. Before the officer said anything, the inspector waved him aside and instead started taking pictures of her car with her children in it.
At which point she became very upset and her children were scared their mom was about to be arrested.
She gave her driver’s license to the health inspector, and he took down the info. She then asked him to delete the picture. He refused to delete a picture and continued questioning her and was trying to find out the names and locations of other drop points, which raises two more problems. First, it was inappropriate to be questioning her at all.
Secondly, we’ve been told repeatedly by the health department that they’re not actually out to get raw milk. They’re simply responding to complaints. If that’s the case, though, then asking about other drop points is completely irrelevant. It is pretty obvious this was not simply about responding to complaints.
Moore: Yeah, it doesn’t exactly sound very friendly, either.
McGeary: He was quite rude, actually. One of the people got me on the phone and was trying to get the inspectors to speak with me because I’m an attorney and I know the legal situation.
None of the agency officials would speak with me.
In fact, the same one who questioned the woman did take the phone briefly and told me I was supposed to call the city attorney, which is wrong. The appropriate person for me to call was his supervisor. But rather giving me his supervisor’s name and contact information, he gave me useless false information that I should call “the city attorney “ (there are about 40 attorneys for the City of Austin) and then tossed the phone back at the driver.
Moore: Oh, wow. Did they do anything with the milk?
McGeary: They refused to let people get their milk. These people had already paid for their milk, but they were told they were not allowed to take possession of their property.
Moore: Has anything like this happened before in Austin when it comes to the health department and food?
McGeary: Nothing this egregious. But the Austin Travis County health department has been one of the most aggressive towards local foods, in its inspections of farmers markets, nonprofit fundraisers for groups like mine, and generally taking a very restrictive approach towards local food…
We’re going to stop there for today. We’ll pick back up with Judith on Monday. She will reveal exactly how you can protect yourself from aggressive health enforcement and maintain food freedom for yourself and loved ones.
You can read more about the safety and benefits of raw milk on the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance’s website. The site also has information on a range of food rights’ issues, free email alerts, and resources for people to become effective advocates for local foods. Click here to find out more.
If you’re interested in getting raw milk in your area, the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund has an interactive map that displays a state-by-state review of raw milk laws.
Interstate sales of raw milk for human consumption are banned by FDA regulations, but the ability to sell raw milk within each state varies based on state law.
This map can help you decipher what’s legal in your area. Click here to check it out.
Managing editor, Living Well Daily Insider
P.S. Don’t forget to tune in Monday to hear Judith’s insightful and helpful tips on how to protect your food, your families, and your farmers! If you care about food freedom, this maybe one of the most important articles you read this year! You can’t afford to miss this!
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