Raw Milk and the Rise of ‘Food Freedom’ - Kanebridge News
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Raw Milk and the Rise of ‘Food Freedom’

Interest in unpasteurised dairy is soaring despite health risks, thanks to lifestyle influencers, commentators and politicians promoting its consumption

By SARA ASHLEY O’BRIEN
Fri, Jun 7, 2024 8:00amGrey Clock 7 min

Dairy farms have been in decline for decades, but you wouldn’t know it looking at Mark McAfee’s. Based in Fresno, Calif., his business has grown substantially since 2020, he said, and is on track to hit $30 million in sales this year.

His company, Raw Farm, is the largest supplier of unpasteurised milk in California. Gwyneth Paltrow is a fan of the brand, whose products can be found at the specialty grocers Erewhon and Sprouts. Podcast hosts and social-media personalities have fueled demand, claiming that raw milk is creamier, more nutritious and easier to digest than pasteurised dairy.

“Influencers have really driven us in the last four years to new levels we never imagined,” McAfee said in an interview.

The Food and Drug Administration has long warned Americans against drinking unpasteurised milk, which can expose consumers to salmonella, listeria and E. coli, and has the potential to cause rare and serious disorders. The FDA has said raw milk is not healthier than pasteurised and, in fact, raises the risk for harm. Selling raw milk is legal in California and more than half of U.S. states, but its sale across state lines has long been banned by the FDA, which warns that drinking unpasteurised milk can cause bacterial outbreaks that have resulted in miscarriages, stillbirths, kidney failure and death. It can be particularly unsafe for children, the elderly, immunocompromised people and pregnant women, the agency says. This year, the FDA warned about the risk of bird-flu contamination amid an outbreak that has infected dairy cows. Twenty states have laws on the books prohibiting raw milk in some form.

But in many corners of the internet, raw milk is presented as healthy, wholesome and cool. Some people brag about obtaining it in states where retail sales are illegal. “I have a dealer,” said Texas-based influencer Lauryn Bosstick on her popular podcast, “The Skinny Confidential Him & Her.” In an email, Bosstick said “I love raw milk.” As a guest on the show, Paltrow , who lives in raw-milk-friendly California, said she drinks raw cream in her morning coffee and that Raw Farm is her favourite.

Others have turned their preference into a political stance, a way of rallying against what they see as government overreach. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has voiced support for “food freedom”—a term that has come to encompass everything from intuitive eating to diets that the FDA has deemed dangerous. He has expressed solidarity with Amos Miller, a Pennsylvania-based Amish farmer whose business has run afoul of raw-milk regulations and faced consequences as a result. Kennedy said he “only drank raw milk” while on a 2022 panel at a conference for anti vaccine nonprofit Children’s Health Defense, which he chairs. His running mate, Nicole Shanahan , recently posted a photo on Instagram in which she smiles while hugging two people at a farmers’ market selling raw milk.

“Mr. Kennedy believes that consumers should be able to decide for themselves what foods to put into their bodies,” a spokesperson for Team Kennedy said in an emailed statement.

Trust in the U.S. government and American media are at near-record lows, driving people to seek alternative authorities and information sources. For many, influencers and self-styled experts have filled the void. As a growing number of them tout products that could cause harm, people across the country are drinking it up.

Farmers Against Pasteurisation

The federal government set its first safety standards for dairies in 1924, introducing regulations that states could adopt on a voluntary basis. This followed many disease outbreaks linked to milk, including typhoid fever, scarlet fever and tuberculosis. Pasteurisation, a heating process that kills harmful bacteria such as E. coli, listeria and salmonella, became the norm as dairy farmers and sellers sought to prevent food borne illnesses.

But soon a group of dissenters emerged, arguing that pasteurisation stripped milk of its nutrients. That cohort included the owner of the Monrovia, Calif.-based farm Alta Dena, which would become a major supplier of raw milk.

Unpasteurised milk appealed to the counterculture and became linked with the growing natural and organic food movement of the 1970s. But following various outbreaks, legal challenges and a 1987 FDA ban on interstate raw milk sales that remains in effect today, Alta Dena stopped selling unpasteurised products and sold its farm. The Alta Dena brand exists today but sells pasteurised milk and other dairy products. McAfee’s farm, founded in 1998 as Organic Pastures, stepped up to grab its market share.

“That really helped us to establish our business,” McAfee said. But he has run into some trouble. In 2008, McAfee and the company pleaded guilty to misbranding raw milk as pet food in order to sell it across state lines. A court order two years later demanded that the company cease selling its raw-milk products for any purpose between states and stop making drug claims about its products, unless authorised by the FDA. In 2023, the Justice Department alleged that Raw Farm had violated the court order by selling raw-milk cheese across state lines and claiming it could cure, mitigate, treat or prevent disease. Raw Farm agreed to settle the dispute. Now, the Justice Department is seeking to enforce the settlement following recent outbreaks of salmonella and E. coli it says were linked to Raw Farm’s raw milk and cheddar cheese ; Raw Farm denies there was E. coli in its cheddar cheese product. Raw Farm’s raw milk is only available in California; its unpasteurised cheese is sold beyond California, as well as a raw-milk pet food kefir.

In the early aughts, Mary McGonigle-Martin started seeing raw milk at her local health-food store in Temecula, Calif., where signs framed the dairy product as a cure for asthma, allergies and other ailments. Skeptical at first, she went to Organic Pastures’ website to learn more. “They talked about how they tested every batch of milk and they never found a pathogen,” she said. She decided the milk was safe for her 7-year-old son to drink. “It was very naive of me,” she said.

McGonigle-Martin’s son Chris became severely ill after drinking the milk for a couple of weeks. He was hospitalised, required blood transfusions, put on a ventilator and diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a rare but serious kidney condition. Though Chris survived, McGonigle-Martin and another family whose child became sick sued McAfee and Sprouts for negligence and product liability, claiming that their children suffered from E. coli. The parties settled for an undisclosed amount in 2008. McGonigle-Martin has since become an activist, working to warn parents about the risks for children.

McGonigle-Martin said she believes that farmers who advocate for raw milk have good intentions but are ultimately spreading what amounts to misinformation.

Meanwhile, interest is way up. GetRawMilk.com, which aims to help consumers find local suppliers, has experienced a surge in views in recent months. Its creator said in an email that the site’s traffic has been “hitting new all-time highs,” with nearly 97,000 visitors in May.

The Influencer Effect

At the upscale Los Angeles grocery store Erewhon, a 64-ounce jug of McAfee’s Raw Milk retails for $11.99. Each bottle carries a warning: “Raw milk and raw milk dairy products may contain disease-causing microorganisms.” According to the label, those at highest risk of disease include “newborns and infants; the elderly; pregnant women.”

The pandemic brought “explosive” growth to the business, McAfee said. “People got smart and they said, ‘Well, what is the most immune-system-building food on earth?’” One study, published by the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal in 2017, found that unpasteurised dairy products were associated with roughly 840 times more illnesses and 45 times more hospitalisations than pasteurised products.

On social media, where “What I Eat in a Day” videos are popular, doctors, nutritionists and lifestyle personalities have praised raw-milk consumption. “This is why you should be drinking raw milk,” says Paul Saladino, a doctor who once sold people on his “Carnivore Diet,” in a video on Instagram, where he has two million followers. In an April TikTok , the “Skinny Confidential” host Bosstick describes the “bowl of meat” she eats “probably twice a day,” crediting it for weight loss and hair growth. “I also do raw milk,” she says.

Tieghan Gerard, creator of the popular food blog Half Baked Harvest, incorporated raw milk into an iced peach-lemonade matcha latte recipe. Hannah Neeleman , a pageant queen and influencer whose @BallerinaFarm Instagram account has nine million followers, posts videos of herself and her children drinking raw milk directly from the udders of their cows in Utah. The farm she shares with her husband is slated to open Ballerina Farm Dairy in the coming weeks, Neeleman said. It will sell raw milk, among other unpasteurised dairy products, in the state.

Meanwhile, commentators for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ website Infowars have downplayed the risks of raw milk , chalking up warnings to collusion between the FDA and “Big Milk.”

McAfee says Raw Farm does not pay any influencers or celebrities to promote its products, but it ships free products to roughly 350 influencers a year. He says many more have been promoting products they paid for themselves. “They go crazy telling you how delicious it is,” he said.

Bill Marler, a personal injury attorney in Washington state focused on food borne illness cases, has sued McAfee on several occasions, including while representing McGonigle-Martin. “They’re a big player and Mark is a proselytiser,” he said.

Another big advocate is the Weston A. Price Foundation, an organisation founded in 1999 with the stated goal of bringing back “nutrient-dense” foods to Americans.

Sally Fallon Morell, its founding president, owns a farm in Maryland that sells raw milk for pets. Maryland state law prohibits the sale of raw milk for human consumption. She claims there is no scientific reason to oppose raw milk and offers alternative explanations for the few instances the FDA has said people died or became ill from drinking it. Through her Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and her website Real Milk, she advocates for the consumption of unpasteurised dairy and criticises federal food regulation and nutrition guidelines.

“We’re giving our children skim milk, processed foods, loaded with additives, industrial seed oils, lots of sugar,” she said. “We’re at the 11th hour, and things have got to change or there’ll be no people,” she added, calling it a “genocide” what children are being fed in school.

Her foundation made it a mission to make unpasteurised milk legal in every state . According to the foundation, raw milk can be obtained in 46 states, through retail or direct sales, herd share agreements or as pet food. According to the FDA, only 30 states can legally sell raw milk for human consumption.

On an October episode of the organisation’s “Wise Traditions” podcast, Fallon Morell spoke about Nevada, where raw milk for pets must be marked with dye. She shared a desire to “get them to lift that.”

Soon, McAfee said, he’ll be selling frozen raw milk labeled as pet food in all 50 states, using a label he said the FDA approved. The FDA did not confirm whether it had approved the label, but a spokesperson said that if the agency becomes aware of the diversion of raw milk labeled for pets into the human food supply, it will take the appropriate action.

“The influencers, all day long, they say, ‘I identify as an animal, get this stuff, this stuff is awesome,’” said McAfee. “They know that it’s exactly the same product they sell in California with a different label.”



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To Find Winning Stocks, Investors Often Focus on the Laggards. They Shouldn’t.
By KEN SHREVE 12/06/2024

These stocks are getting hit for a reason. Instead, focus on stocks that show ‘relative strength.’ Here’s how.

By KEN SHREVE
Wed, Jun 12, 2024 4 min

A lot of investors get stock-picking wrong before they even get started: Instead of targeting the top-performing stocks in the market, they focus on the laggards—widely known companies that look as if they are on sale after a period of stock-price weakness.

But these weak performers usually are going down for good reasons, such as for deteriorating sales and earnings, market-share losses or mutual-fund managers who are unwinding positions.

Decades of Investor’s Business Daily research shows these aren’t the stocks that tend to become stock-market leaders. The stocks that reward investors with handsome gains for months or years are more often  already  the strongest price performers, usually because of outstanding earnings and sales growth and increasing fund ownership.

Of course, many investors already chase performance and pour money into winning stocks. So how can a discerning investor find the winning stocks that have more room to run?

Enter “relative strength”—the notion that strength begets more strength. Relative strength measures stocks’ recent performance relative to the overall market. Investing in stocks with high relative strength means going with the winners, rather than picking stocks in hopes of a rebound. Why bet on a last-place team when you can wager on the leader?

One of the easiest ways to identify the strongest price performers is with IBD’s Relative Strength Rating. Ranked on a scale of 1-99, a stock with an RS rating of 99 has outperformed 99% of all stocks based on 12-month price performance.

How to use the metric

To capitalise on relative strength, an investor’s search should be focused on stocks with RS ratings of at least 80.

But beware: While the goal is to buy stocks that are performing better than the overall market, stocks with the highest RS ratings aren’t  always  the best to buy. No doubt, some stocks extend rallies for years. But others will be too far into their price run-up and ready to start a longer-term price decline.

Thus, there is a limit to chasing performance. To avoid this pitfall, investors should focus on stocks that have strong relative strength but have seen a moderate price decline and are just coming out of weeks or months of trading within a limited range. This range will vary by stock, but IBD research shows that most good trading patterns can show declines of up to one-third.

Here, a relative strength line on a chart may be helpful for confirming an RS rating’s buy signal. Offered on some stock-charting tools, including IBD’s, the line is a way to visualise relative strength by comparing a stock’s price performance relative to the movement of the S&P 500 or other benchmark.

When the line is sloping upward, it means the stock is outperforming the benchmark. When it is sloping downward, the stock is lagging behind the benchmark. One reason the RS line is helpful is that the line can rise even when a stock price is falling, meaning its value is falling at a slower pace than the benchmark.

A case study

The value of relative strength could be seen in Google parent Alphabet in January 2020, when its RS rating was 89 before it started a 10-month run when the stock rose 64%. Meta Platforms ’ RS rating was 96 before the Facebook parent hit new highs in March 2023 and ran up 65% in four months. Abercrombie & Fitch , one of 2023’s best-performing stocks, had a 94 rating before it soared 342% in nine months starting in June 2023.

Those stocks weren’t flukes. In a study of the biggest stock-market winners from the early 1950s through 2008, the average RS rating of the best performers before they began their major price runs was 87.

To see relative strength in action, consider Nvidia . The chip stock was an established leader, having shot up 365% from its October 2022 low to its high of $504.48 in late August 2023.

But then it spent the next four months rangebound—giving up some ground, then gaining some back. Through this period, shares held between $392.30 and the August peak, declining no more than 22% from top to bottom.

On Jan. 8, Nvidia broke out of its trading range to new highs. The previous session, Nvidia’s RS rating was 97. And that week, the stock’s relative strength line hit new highs. The catalyst: Investors cheered the company’s update on its latest advancements in artificial intelligence.

Nvidia then rose 16% on Feb. 22 after the company said earnings for the January-ended quarter soared 486% year over year to $5.16 a share. Revenue more than tripled to $22.1 billion. It also significantly raised its earnings and revenue guidance for the quarter that was to end in April. In all, Nvidia climbed 89% from Jan. 5 to its March 7 close.

And the stock has continued to run up, surging past $1,000 a share in late May after the company exceeded that guidance for the April-ended quarter and delivered record revenue of $26 billion and record net profit of $14.88 billion.

Ken Shreve  is a senior markets writer at Investor’s Business Daily. Follow him on X  @IBD_KShreve  for more stock-market analysis and insights, or contact him at  ken.shreve@investors.com .