Later that day, as Stewart, Palmer, and Bloch languished in jail, Cargill issued its voluntary recall, four months after people began getting sick, of 36 million pounds of ground turkey traceable to an Arkansas plant. Cargill has a history of deadly outbreaks, is a major supplier to the nation's public-school meal programs, and sells turkey under dozens of brand names, none of which include the word "Cargill."
The labels at Rawesome don't say much either, but records in the club's office sourced each batch of raw milk. This information, before it was seized, was available to members. If a contamination issue were to have flared up, members contend, it could have been much more quickly traced than, say, that Cargill turkey. Buttery says that in 12 years there hasn't been a reported problem.
Despite a lack of victims, Rawesome stands accused. And while Cargill has no shortage of victims, nobody at the company has been charged with a crime over the turkey recall. The government has fewer options against multinational corporations than it does against neighborhood food co-ops. USDA oversees the safety of meat products but can only encourage "voluntary recalls" of products that have been infected with antibiotic-resistant pathogens, reports Tom Philpott of Mother Jones. The final decision to recall was left to the company, which inevitably considered the bottom line as well as public safety when making its decision.
While Cargill self-polices, the Rawesome club has been under more intense scrutiny than members even realized. "Since the raid it's come out that we've been under investigation since June 30 of last year," Buttery says. "They've been monitoring us from unmarked vehicles; they have agents who have become members."
The L.A. County prosecutor's office has advised defense attorneys to expect a "voluminous discovery period" for the trial, in part because there were two sets of undercover investigators. And they have made motions to add new charges, including tax evasion, money laundering, and illegal resale of food.
The proceedings against the "Rawesome Three" have been compared to the trial of the Chicago Seven, as well as a street corner shell game. The new charges are unrelated to the initial raid on raw milk, and they threaten to distract from the heart of the issue: whether consumers can enter into private leasing arrangements, which are similar to arrangements commonly used on a daily basis by all kinds of businesses in the U.S., to obtain their food. The Rawesome situation seems barely different from, say, a group of co-workers going to a colleague's house for lunch, and they drop him some paper in return.
Despite massive financial problems in California and Washington, D.C., the government was able to find enough money for a multi-year, multi-agency undercover investigation to root out information that nobody was trying to hide. Details on the provenance of Rawesome's raw milk is available to all members, including the undercover government agents.
While the Cargills of the world get to help decide the rules, tax dollars are being used to do away with freedom of choice. This is the state of food freedom in America today: It's being sacrificed in the name of food safety.