At 7 a.m. on June 30, 20 agents raided a Ventura County farmhouse and confiscated the family's computer. That same morning, the FDA and the FBI raided Rawesome, a private food club in Venice, California, and seized several thousand dollars worth of raw honey and raw dairy products. These incidents, along with the June shutdown of Traditional Foods Warehouse in Minneapolis, mark an unsettling series of events. More and more frequently, judges have been approving search warrants that target producers and distributors of raw and nutritionally dense foods.
The conflict stems from the FDA's concern over the safety of unpasteurized dairy products sold by private food groups around the country. Because these groups only sell to contracted members, they generally avoid having to apply for retail and public health licenses. Nonetheless, the warrants keep coming; as Pete Kennedy of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund has said, "I haven't seen an agency turned down yet." If you or anyone you know work with raw foods, here are some suggestions from Grist about how to prepare for an unannounced raid:
- Have a video camera at the ready: Since search warrants are usually specific as to what can be searched and/or seized, a video recording of events inhibits abuses by regulators and other law enforcement personnel. Regulators and law enforcement officials definitely don't appreciate being videotaped, and sometimes will simply disconnect videos or order targeted individuals to put the videos away. According to Aajonus Vonderpanitz, in the June raid of his Rawesome Foods outlet, "They unplugged our surveillance camera to hide their actions. They threateningly refused video capture of their raid when members commenced filming."
- Read the search warrant fine print: Sometimes there are limitations on the search warrants that targets can exploit. Vernon Hershberger, the Wisconsin dairy farmer, was able to slow the regulators down because he knew the search warrant in his case likely wouldn't allow forcible entry, so when agents returned a second time, after he cut the seals on his fridges, he locked his farm store doors and they were forced to leave. They eventually returned with an amended warrant that specifically allowed them to take his computer.
- Keep computer backups: In nearly all such raids, the authorities confiscate computers so they can document transactions and customer interactions. If you don't have a backup of what's on your disk, you can literally be put out of business. Moreover, it's advisable to monitor what information you keep on the computer in the farmhouse or in your food club. There's something to be said for backing up every few days onto another computer kept off-site.
For more tips, check out the original post on Grist.
Image courtesy of Grist.