©Doreen Hannes 2010
This is the second of three articles to demonstrate the effects that Senate Bill S510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, will have on all of us. The third article in this series will be devoted to Senate bill S 510. As you read this article, it’s important to keep in mind that while the US Congress was on August recess, Senate bill S510, that will completely control the production of food, was resubmitted as a bipartisan complete substitute for the original.
On June 30th of this year, a private food co-op named Rawesome, founded by a rather iconoclastic individual by the name of Aajonus (pronounced odd-genus) Vonderplanitz was raided in Venice, California. The co-op’s members prefer to eat all raw food and have many personal testimonies of the benefits they have received from following the paleo-diet and eating all things raw. The raid involved multiple agencies – the FBI, FDA, California Department of Food and Agriculture and the Health Department among them. The agents entered with drawn guns and seized all products from the private food club. Among the products seized was raw cheese from the licensed and inspected Morningland Dairy in Mountain View, Missouri.
Morningland Dairy is a small raw cheese company that has been in business for 30 years with no reports of illness from their products ever being levied. They milk cows on site and use that milk to make their cheese in a separate building. Denise and Joe Dixon took over operation of Morningland Dairy several years ago and expanded the operation to include goat cheese made from Missouri family-run goat dairies. The cheese is sold directly to consumers and to grocery stores across the nation. According to Joe, nine families are dependent upon Morningland for their livelihood.
On August 24th, fifty-five days after the cheese from Morningland Dairy was seized by agents at Rawesome, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) tested the cheese and reported that they “detected” listeria monocytogenes and staph aureous in two cheeses. The CDFA then reported this “detection” to the Missouri Milk Board and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). On August 26th, the Missouri Milk Board contacted the cheesemaker from Morningland Dairy, Jedadiah York, and told him they were coming by to discuss a problem with some cheese. Denise and Joe Dixon were at the American Cheese Society convention in Seattle when this call occurred. Jedadiah called them and told them that Milk Board Inspectors, Don Falls and Roger Neill, were coming to the plant to talk about a problem and the Dixons said to fully cooperate and find out what the problem might be. And that’s when things began to get interesting.
The Missouri Milk Board Inspectors had no batch numbers or paperwork to show to Mr. York, but they pulled up the report from CDFA on Morningland’s computer and show Jedadiah the picture of cheese that was definitely under a Morningland label. However, the codes, which would tell the Plant Manager the dates of the batches, were not visible in the photos nor recorded on the CDFA report. Details were completely lacking. No levels regarding the amount of bacteria detected in the cheese were indicated on the CDFA report, no chain of custody regarding the product, no explanation of sample temperature controls or the lack of such were delineated, and no reports or complaints of illness had been made. Mr. Falls of the Missouri Milk Board told Jedadiah they would be back in the morning and that he expected to have this all taken care of very soon. The inspectors checked into a hotel and came back the next morning.
When the inspectors returned, Jedadiah was told that the FDA would be coming and heading up the investigation and that Morningland would need to suspend all operations until the investigation was complete. Their cheese was put under embargo by Missouri Milk Board and immediately inventoried, and an official notice taped to the cooler door to not remove any product. Jedadiah thought that if he simply went along and did all things the agents asked, that Morningland would be up and running again in a matter of days. This was on August 27th, and two weeks later he sees things a bit differently.
On the 27th, Michele Thompson, the Recall Coordinator for the FDA, sent Jedadiah an email asking that a recall notice of all product from 2010 be sent to the Associated Press immediately. The Dixons, General Managers for Morningland LLC, told Jedadiah to just wait until they returned from the American Cheese Society convention they had attended so they could get a better understanding of the situation by being there in person. Again, no illnesses or complaints had been reported from any consumers of Morningland’s products, and it is a very serious action to recall half a year of work based on the findings of an agency with no detailed information on the tests performed.
Nonetheless, over the weekend the FDA prepared and released a press release stating that Morningland Dairy was –voluntarily- recalling ALL of their product made from January through June 2010 nationwide, even though Morningland had not authorized the recall. This release went out at 12:01am Monday morning before the FDA showed up at Morningland in camoflauge to inspect the cheese plant. At that point, there had been no communication to the heads of Morningland regarding the lot numbers that were tested in California and no agreement to recall a half year’s work on an unsubstantiated test. The FDA’s Michele Thompson later communicated to Morningland that the FDA did not have the authority to “push for a recall” as that was against the law. She requested Morningland change commentary on their website to be in line with FDA policy. The fact remains that the FDA issued a press release announcing a recall prior to Morningland approving a recall. In other words, Morningland hadn’t volunteered to be bankrupted, yet the FDA issued a national notice stating that they had.
Joseph and Denise Dixon are committed to making a safe product. Joe says, “If we have a problem, we definitely want to deal with it, and we are willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure that we provide our customers with a trustworthy and healthy product. We do all the tests that we are required to do and are committed to our customers well being. We want to provide living, healthful food that blesses people.”
Back to the ‘facts of the case’, as it were. As mentioned before, Morningland has dairy cattle on the same property as the cheese plant, and they use that milk to make their cow cheese. When the issue of potential contamination first reared it’s ugly head, the Missouri Milk Board Field Inspector, Don Falls, told the Dixons that they would be able to sell their cow milk into the normal commercial (pasteurized) chain without much difficulty. They would simply need to find a co-op that would put them on their route and get their barn inspected and graded by the Milk Board as a Grade A dairy barn. As it turns out, that wasn’t quite accurate.
The Dixons found two milk co-ops that would pick up their milk as soon as they were graded and inspected by the Milk Board. Then the Milk Board told them that until the FDA “cleared” Morningland, they wouldn’t inspect their dairy barn. So the Dixons are left dumping their milk, unable to bring in any compensation for their labor, and still required to labor. The milk dumping might end up bringing in the EPA as they have recently declared that milk is oil because of it’s fat content.
Thus far, I’ve visited Morningland four times since the embargo on the cheese and the recall notice. My main objective is to determine the definitive procedures and timelines, with a clear chain of command, from the agencies involved, that are necessary to clear Morningland for production. The clarification of this process would ensure agency accountability and delineate a specific course of action for Morningland to follow that would give them a reasonable expectation of being allowed to get back into production and distribution of their product. It seems I would have better luck nailing fresh Jell-o securely to the wall.
The FDA and the Missouri Milk Board are playing hot potato with explaining the process. The FDA says that the Milk Board and state of Missouri are responsible for the decision that will allow Morningland to return to shipping in interstate commerce, yet the only reason for the FDA’s presence is interstate commerce. The Milk Board says that the decision must be made by committee including the inspector, his supervisor, the State Veterinarian, two microbiologists from Jefferson City, and the FDA. All discussion of procedure is couched by terms like “normally”, “usually”, “I think”, “we’ll have to see” and “probably”. The process of being cleared is as clear as mud.
So right now, the FDA is awaiting results from the swab tests they did of the cheese plant and the legs of the milk bulk tank in the dairy barn last week. When those results are in, recommendations for clean up of the environment (if necessary) will be made, and then, should the Dixons want to test the 40# blocks of cheese in their cooler, they can. However, the Milk Board says that “due to statistical probability” if Morningland tests their cheese inventory and the tests come back showing clean product, those tests are not considered official. So there is no guarantee that Morningland will be able to ship the cheese at all. It depends on whether or not “the committee” and the FDA agree that the product is ‘safe for human consumption’. The products produced by Morningland are all ‘suspect’ for adulteration by FDA definition. FDA’s definition is so broad that according to information on the FDA’s own website, all food could be considered adulterated. [Look under Legal Aspects at the previous link (4) and you will find this: “Hence, to be adulterated, food need not be shown actually to contain filth or other contaminants; a demonstration that the food was prepared, packed, or held under conditions whereby it would, with reasonable possibility emphasis added, become so is legally sufficient to prove adulteration and provide grounds for taking action against the lot”].
When one considers the FDA’s documented opposition to raw dairy, and this most sensational germophobic testimony of John Sheehan (head of the Plant and Dairy division of the FDA that oversees cheese plants like Morningland) and then the cooperative agreements, the Memoranda of Understanding (MOU’s), the guidance documents between state and federal agencies along with the federal Food Code and the initiatives outlined therein, the likelihood of Morningland being declared “clear” and moving forward without continued harassment is slim.
Remember that there is an inspection process that is ongoing in both the milk barn and the cheese plant on Morningland’s property. The milk barn must be inspected, and the cheese plant must be inspected. In my experience, if an inspector wants to find a problem, he most certainly will. The number of flaming hoops that Morningland must jump through to be re-approved for full operation are currently indefinite and could be nearly infinite.
Stepping back from the particulars surrounding the Morningland Dairy, and another Missouri fresh milk dairy under prosecution, we must look at the agency objectives revealed in their Food Code, their Motion to Dismiss response in a raw milk suit brought against them, their Healthy People 2020 program, and the international standards and guidelines of the World Animal Health Organization (OIE), Codex Alimentarius and International Plant Protection Convention(OIE) that are embedded in Senate Bill 510 to ascertain what kind of regulations S510 will allow the FDA to write to ”protect” the food supply. Senate Bill 510 will expand the authority of the FDA beyond any common sense; and I believe they’ve already illustrated they lack common sense.
What we have here is the continued destruction of food freedom, food choice and food availability. The federal government does not believe that people are capable of deciding what to eat themselves and have “erected a multitude of New Offices and sent forth swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance”. Literally. That citation from the Declaration of Independence couldn’t possibly have been more true at any time in history than it is today. Remember, no farmers, no food.