Liberals often deal with issues that seem trivial to others. I remember years ago the liberals and their obsession with things like “drinking raw milk”. What makes raw milk such a big deal? If a Wisconsin farmer is told he can’t make or drink pasteurized milk, why fuss? Aren’t there more important things to worry about?

At the material level, yes, there are more important things than the type of milk one drinks. But the object level is not always the correct view. Seemingly trivial matters can turn into matters of great importance in the end, and the raw milk incident is one such case. It’s worth seeing why.

Briefly, a couple who owned a small dairy farm wanted to be able to sell raw milk from their herd to shareholders through their private shop as well as drink the milk produced on their farm. The government said, no, the case went through the courts and the farmers lost. To some this may look like an unfortunate verdict but still nothing to worry too much about. But a closer look reveals why this case is far more significant than it might appear, because of exactly what the court said when it made its ruling.

In ruling to dismiss Farmers’ appeal, the court agreed with the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services’ claims that, among other things, “there is no general right to bodily and physical health” written in support. The claim that “plaintiffs have a ‘fundamental right to their own physical and bodily health, including what they choose to eat and not to eat for themselves and their families'” is likewise unavailable because plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to have the food they want.” The Court Also agreed that “there is no fundamental right to freedom of contract.”

Seeking to clarify the court’s position in a later ruling, Judge Patrick Fiedler wrote:

No, the plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or dairy farm;

No, the plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to milk their own cows;

No, the plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume food of their choice.

Notice how strong the language is in these judgments. Courts are not (relatively) moderate in claiming that people have the right to eat as they wish or to protect their health as they see fit, or to engage in voluntary private contracts, but that these rights may be overridden by some compelling public need. And this is one such case. Instead, the courts, FDA and HHS maintain that you have No such rights To begin with. To the extent that you currently eat as you wish, or as your health deems fit, this will only be allowed if your chosen means are consistent with what the state has decided. But if the state decides that everyone should eat a vegetarian, plant-based diet according to this rule, you’ll have no reason to object. After all, what kind of food you eat, apparently, was never yours to decide in the first place. That choice is the state’s.

So seemingly trivial concerns over raw milk actually involve serious questions about bodily autonomy and free choice, with implications far beyond the milk offerings available in a private shop on a small farm. To interpret a poet badly—

At first they came for raw milk, and I did not speak, because I did not drink raw milk

But they didn’t just come for the raw milk. They came and took bodily autonomy, contract rights, property rights, health rights, and even the right to decide how you want to eat. That’s why raw milk matters—and why libertarians were and are right to be alarmed by its violation.

Kevin Corcoran is a Marine Corps veteran and a consultant in healthcare economics and analytics and holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from George Mason University.

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