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Natural foods co-op gets a raw deal

Acting in concert with federal officials, authorities in Los Angeles raided a local natural foods buyers co-op and arrested three people for distributing raw milk and dairy products, reports Ian Lovett of The New York Times and Stuart Pfeifer and P.J. Huffstutter in the Los Angeles Times. Authorities also seized $70,000 worth of inventory from the Venice co-op, Rawsome, on the grounds that the shop was selling unsafe and unlicensed products to consumers and doing so without a business license. Operators of the co-op maintain that the products in question weren’t being sold to unknowing consumers, but distributed to members of a buyers’ club who specifically sought out unadulterated foods and were well aware of the risks. Because the operation wasn’t open to non-members and was run by volunteers, its trustees claim they aren’t required to have a business license.

Amusement surrounding the co-op’s legal hair-splitting and the knowing shrugs about another Left Coast fad aside, advocates for restoring connections between farms, farmers, and city dwellers say that the USDA is engaging in a heavy-handed campaign against those trying to reverse the industrialization of agriculture (arguments that are explored in the documentary Farmageddon).

The irony here is that the raid happened the same week that federal authorities asked — not told, not ordered, but asked — agribusiness giant Cargill, Inc. to recall 36 million pounds of ground turkey tainted with salmonella, reports Christian Nordqvist of Medical News Today. The voluntary recall comes a whole five months after the first of 77 illnesses in 26 states were reported. One person is known to have died from the tainted turkey. While the amount of product being recalled is huge, virtually all of it was likely eaten months ago. But then again, according to, Cargill has spent about $6 million on lobbying Washington over the past three and a half years. Rawesome, its safe to assume, has spent less.

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