Federal agents raided a local market in Los Angeles, with guns drawn.
Officials combed through Rawsome Foods, swat team style, and arrested owner, James Stewart. His crime: selling raw milk. Sound odd? Bizarre even? Not really.
"The farmers and the people who help produce it, are often treated like drug kingpins," said raw milk activist, Claudia Keel. "They're being arrested. There are swat teams coming in. It's crazy."
Keel is part of a group in New York City called Weston Price. The organization advocates for the production of traditional foods. Raw milk fits into that category, since it's an untreated food. The milk is taken from the cow and transferred into a carton or bottle, without being pasteurized. Those who love raw milk, swear by and go to great lengths to get it.
However, raw milk, or "Moo Shine", as some call it, isn't that easy to get. Farmers risk being thrown in jail just to sell it.
The sale of raw milk is prohibited in 20 states including New Jersey. Unpasteurized milk can only be bought and sold on dairy farms approved by the state, in New York. People can sell raw milk at retail stores or from their farm in Connecticut, but federal law prohibits the sale of raw milk across state lines. An infraction of the law could lead to jail time.
The Raw Milk Freedom Riders is a nationwide group dedicated to overturning what they claim is the FDA's ban on interstate raw milk sales.
"Rah Rah Rah Rah, leave our food alone," they chant at a protest.
The Long time raw milk activist and New York mom, Jill Cruz, is a part of the Raw Milk Freedom Riders.
"They were trying to make a statement," Cruz said.
Recently Cruz took part in this protest, where riders defiantly broke federal law by transporting raw milk from Pennsylvania into Silver Spring, Maryland.
"We all rallied in front of the FDA," Cruz said. "We don't want the government telling us ‘you can't eat this' and ‘you can eat this' and ‘you should eat this'. No. I don't think anybody wants that."
Dean of Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Doctor, Kathryn J. Boor, said it's not about making criminals out of raw milk drinkers, but about basic public health.
"The big problems with drinking raw milk, is the possibility that raw milk or unpasteurized, may have been contaminated on the farm or whether when it was placed in the container, or in that drive home if the product isn't properly refrigerated," Dr. Boor said.
Food and Drug Administration officials warn of the hazards of drinking raw milk. In fact, they say since it's not heated to kill harmful bacteria, which is basically what pasteurization does, raw milk can carry dangerous bacteria such as salmonella, e. coli and listeria, all of which are responsible for causing numerous foodborne illnesses. Nevertheless, advocates balk at the FDA's health warnings. They say the key to drinking safe raw milk is to know the supplier, and argue pasteurization destroys the health benefits of drinking milk.
"It kills all the bacteria," Claudia Keel said . "It changes the proteins in the milk. It deactivates a lot of the protective factors in the milk."
Dr. Jose Sotolongo, a Urologist and raw milk drinker, said he has some degree of lactose intolerance and finds pasteurized milk is much more difficult to tolerate, and that drinking raw milk is safe.
"If you know the source, and I know this farm gets inspected on a regular basis and they culture the cows, and the source to make sure that there are no harmful bacteria, then it's perfectly safe, it's actually quite safe," Dr. Sotolongo said.
Dr. Sotolongo is one of many devoted customers who buys his raw milk from F & C Brooks and Sons Farm, in Stone Ridge, New York. It holds the distinction of being one of a handful of farms approved to sell raw milk. Owner Cindy Brooks, a raw milk drinker herself, takes pride in how they treat their cows.
"We're very cautious about the cleanliness of their living environment, where they stay," Brooks said. "We're making sure that no bacteria is getting up inside their utters."
Farmers still have had their fare share of troubles from raw milk inspectors. Prior to selling raw milk, F & C Brooks and Sons Farms was inspected only one time in their first year operating as a dairy farm, but were visited by inspectors 12 times in just the first 6 months once they decided to start selling raw milk .
The American Dairy Association said they follow advice from the Federal Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control.
"We do not lobby," said Brenda Betram. "We are prohibited from lobbying. Right now the science and research conducted by associations like the FDA and CDC clearly state that we should only drink pasteurized milk. And so therefore the Dairy Association promotes that advice,"
Raw milk advocates in New Jersey continue to push for new measures that would make it legal to sell in the garden state. It does not appear, though, that the federal law that prohibits farms from distributing raw milk across state lines will change any time soon.