There’s a quiet revolution building in America that’s pitting small farmers against government officials who use spy-like tactics to infiltrate and bust up food operations they deem illegal.

So what’s the government’s target? Raw milk.

That’s right. As it turns out, the debate over whether raw or unpasteurized milk poses a public health threat is, surprisingly, somewhat heated (pun completely intentional).

As consumers become more interested in back-to-the-earth foods like raw milk, which advocates tout as being more nutritionally dense than its pasteurized version, regulators are taking an increasingly hard line toward raw milk production, a growing issue that journalist and author David E. Gumpert examines in his book, The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights (Chelsea Green Publishing, $19.95).

Gumpert takes readers behind the scenes of government regulation of this mostly illegal trade by speaking to a number of raw milk players — from producers and consumers to government regulators and scientists — in an effort to discover whether the public health threat that regulators claim raw milk poses is legitimate, or has gone sour. Along the way he paints a sufficiently disturbing picture for readers to see how the government’s efforts to regulate the raw milk industry could easily cross the line from protecting citizens to policing them.

Despite the book’s potential to be a shocking exposé of the government’s covert tactics to bring down these raw milk “fiends” — who appear to be mostly small-time farmers trying to make a living by providing their customers with a healthy product that they choose to consume — Gumpert loses his readers by relying too heavily on anecdotal evidence, largely ripped word-for-word from his business and health blog. Instead of coloring the story, this cut-and-paste dialogue only slows it down, leaving readers curdled.

In addition, the majority of the sparse research Gumpert digs up supporting raw milk’s case comes from noticeably biased sources like the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes nutrient-dense foods like raw milk. There is an argument to be made that since raw milk is somewhat of a “fringe” food that it’s somewhat difficult to find independent research organizations willing to devote funds to studying raw milk; however, Gumpert touches on this issue only briefly.

Unfortunately, using mostly biased research to make his case for raw milk isn’t the only journalistic tenet that Gumpert violates. On page after page Gumpert injects his own pro raw milk opinion into the debate, a tactic that will make it difficult for readers to trust whether the author is providing the whole raw milk story, or just his version of it.

Most disappointing, however, is that by filling up the book’s pages with lethargic dialogue and underwhelming statistics to discern if raw milk is a boon or bane to public health, Gumpert misses the intriguing story he hints at in his subtitle, Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights. That is, what the raw milk debate means in terms of future battles over food rights.

The question that Gumpert poses but never penetrates is this: Will the government’s never-ending quest to sanitize the food supply eventually lead us to a place where consumers are forced to find nutritionally dense foods through underground channels? And, more importantly, how many of our civil liberties are we willing to sacrifice in the name of public health and safety? This last question is one that will continue to bubble up each time we have food poison outbreak.

Only time will tell if Americans will be willing to give up basic food choice rights in exchange for the veneer of safety. 

Thumbnail photo: Jupiterimages; MNN homepage photo: msheldrake/iStockphoto 

'The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America's Emerging Battle Over Food Rights'
Journalist David E. Gumpert dives into a battle by consumers and producers against government restrictions. The author's approach might leave a sour taste in yo