Raw milk prosecution draws protesters to downtown LA


Authorities raided the Rawesome Foods market and made the arrests Wednesday. The whole thing was caught on video and posted on YouTube. At the time of the arrest, authorities also confiscated and destroyed a large amount of raw milk and cheese products.

The market's operator, James Cecil Stewart, was arrested and was arraigned Thursday. He and employee Eugenie Bloch pleaded not guilty to felony and misdemeanor charges. The judge reduced Stewart's bail from $123,000 to $30,000.

Two others were also arrested. Sharon Ann Palmer and Eugenie Bloch of Healthy Family Farms in Ventura County are charged with producing the raw dairy products without any type of business license or permit and selling them through Stewart, who is charged with operating without a license. Bloch was set to be arraigned Thursday. Arraignment was not set for Palmer.

The protesters argued that the raw milk sold at Rawesome is safer and better for you than pasteurized milk.

"I'm not concerned about the raw milk. The body protects itself from most pathogens when it's healthy, and what makes us unhealthy is drinking processed foods," said raw-food advocate Brian Zerega.

Police said they made a number of undercover purchases at Rawesome, pretending to be customers and purchasing unpasteurized dairy products. The products included unpasteurized goat milk, cheese and yogurt. It is not illegal to sell such products in California, but businesses need proper licensing and submit to regular veterinarian inspections of the animals as well as follow equipment and sanitation requirements.

The people behind Rawesome and Healthy Family Farms are accused of operating without proper permits and precautions. Rawesome's supporters think these rules are just too burdensome and should not apply to them.

In several instances, undercover agents who asked to buy raw dairy products from Healthy Family Farms at farmer's markets were told that it was illegal to sell unpasteurized dairy products there and were told to pick them up "after hours" at a parking lot.

Authorities are concerned about the health and safety of the products, but protestors said everyone who buys the milk and cheese signs waivers accepting the risks.

"If you really care about your health, you're going to go down there, you're going to get to know your farmer, you're going to get to know the people that are producing your food. It's about reclaiming your health," said raw food advocate Robert Tew.

Healthy Family Farms and Rawesome have been the focus of an investigation involving several agencies dating back to March 2010.

Officials raided and inspected both locations last year and described what they saw as unsanitary conditions, such as raw, uncovered chicken stored near dairy products at the farm's refrigerator which could lead to potential contamination.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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