This summer armed government agents raided Rawesome Foods, a Venice, California health food co-op. What were the agents after? Unpasteurized milk, it turns out. Raw milk raids are happening all over the United States.
Raw Foods Raid: the Fight for the Right to Eat What You Want Sharon Palmer: This is a peaceful serene place and this people come from Los Angeles County and invade. Female: There was a loud banging on the back gate. Jarell Winterhawk: And I said ‘What's going on?” He goes “We have a warrant search premises.” James Stewart: And then they drew their guns. Female: I was scared. I didn’t know what was going on. Sharon Palmer: One of my worst days, one of my families worst days. Zach Weissmueller: At this armed raid uncovered a weapon stock file foiled a terrorist flat, no. Well, government agents were after was this, raw milk, a danger to society, also the Food and Drug Administration tells us. The FDA warns raw milk can cause vomiting, diarrhea and worst but not everyone is so worried about this. Male: All raw meat, raw cheese, greens, eggs, honey, milk. Female: It’s pure and healthy and makes me feel good. Male: This is Rawesome Foods, a private membership club in Venus, California. Before entering, a member signs a waiver stating they actually want food that has not been heated or pasteurized. In fact, that’s the whole point explains the club’s manager James Stewart. James Stewart: It’s how nature provides the food without man becoming involved in pasteurization, homogenization, processing of any kind. The class of foods most scrutinized it seems to us is anything having to do with raw dairy, raw milk whether it’s cow or goat. Zach Weissmueller: In the past three years, there have been at least eight government raids across the U.S. involving raw dairy according to the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund. In the security camera footage, we see agents entering Rawesome’s kitchen, guns drawn. Jarell Winterhawk, a manager has worked for Rawesome for four years and was there at the morning of the raid. Jarell Winterhawk: We heard a banging on the backdoor. One of my workers, helpers, he went out and he says “Hey, there are cops out here.” Zach Weissmueller: The police presented a warrant, so Jarell let them in. Female: They made me get out of the kitchen and I had to go sit over there on a chair and they searched me. Jarell Winterhawk: They started walking around. They drew their guns and I am like, “Why are you drawing guns? Female: I don’t know what was going on. I mean it seemed like they thought we had cocaine in the papaya’s or something. James Stewart: Guns drawn is way beyond and above the call of duty. Zach Weissmueller: The raid on Rawesome involved no less than five government agencies; the FDA, the Los Angeles Health Department, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, the Los Angeles District Attorneys Office and California Department of Food and Agriculture. All five of these agencies declined interviews for the story saying the investigation was ongoing. The agents proceeded to collect what they called samples for the case. James Stewart: They took 24 jars of the same kind of honey. For what purpose? You are taking a sample of something you need one jar of that honey, not 24. Female: They just went into our freezer and they just took galloons of cheeses and whatever they wanted. Jarell Winterhawk: The deliberately left this door open and the curtains open, so it would spoil the food and they knew this. By the end of the day, they kept it over for so long that a lot of stuff have gone hot and you couldn’t sell it. James Stewart: Thousands and thousand of dollars worth of food. Jarell Winterhawk: They don’t want to see this happen. They want to stop this from happening. They are going to shut us whenever they can and whatever way they can. Zach Weissmueller: The agents were collecting samples of goods supplied to Rawesome by this Santa Paula Farm. In this Santa Paula operation is where the story really begins. Sharon Palmer and her three children run Healthy Family Farms which have long been under the scrutiny of various agencies for its sale of raw goat milk. Sharon Palmer: Rawesome had a real desperate need for raw goat milk and we progressed in building our own dairy and raising our own goats. Zach Weissmueller: Because of Palmers work with raw goat milk, the farm was raided and she was arrested. Sharon Palmer: My children stood by and watched me in handcuffs. People that I had volunteers here just stood back. They took me down to the county jail, booked me, photographed me like a criminal. Zach Weissmueller: Palmer spent the night in the Ventura County Jail and was never charged. That happened in 2008. She was raided again in 2009 and again in 2010. That raid was coordinated with the raid 70 miles away at Rawesome Foods in Venice. Sharon Palmer: My kids were getting dressed. They were getting ready for school. A knock on the door, they proceeded to come on in to the house, get everybody out of bed in the pajamas, told us that they're searching and raiding the farm. They ripped my house apart, all of our records, volunteers on the farm, neighbors picking tomatoes chased off. This is a peaceful serene place and this people come from Los Angeles County and invade. You had over 50 state and county employees raiding this farm and Rawesome at the same time. To look at the money that these tax payers are paying for Los Angeles County District Attorney, Los Angeles County Police, the Sheriff’s Department, you tell me how much we pay for that. Zach Weissmueller: It was only after this last raid that the Sheriffs Department got around to charging her. The offence is improperly labeling her cheese products, a misdemeanor but still enough to suspend her dairy license. Are raw foods better for you than pasteurized ones? The science is out on that question but here is another question. Should we be allowed to decide what we put into our own bodies? Jarell Winterhawk: The hell, this is America. How are you going to tell me what I should and shouldn’t eat? Female: We are a private membership club and people who are here want to be a part of this club. James Stewart: This is about people putting food into their bodies and when it gets down to the point of people not being able to make a choice what they want to put in their own bodies, people are going to stand up and say “I don’t think so.” Sharon Palmer: We should have a right to choose if we want to eat raw salmon, sushi or cooked hamburgers, we should have the right to be able to go to McDonalds or go to Rawesome. Zach Weissmueller: For now, no charges have yet resulted from the raid on Rawesome but yet another agency, Los Angeles Building and Safety is threatening to shut them down this time for illegal structures on the property. Sharon Palmer plans to fight the misdemeanor charge stemming from her cheeses label. She is raising baby goats in the hopes that she will one day be allowed to sell her dairy. For Reason TV I'm Zach Weissmueller.