Magazine | October 17, 2011, Issue

Mad Cow Disuse

Britain’s main export now consists of stories about a people cowed by dunderheaded bureaucrats or political correctness: A shopkeeper’s fined for selling a Miss Piggy doll within three miles of a mosque, a homeowner who takes a bat to a burglar’s brainpan gets charged with unlawful self-preservation. We read these tales as previews of coming attractions, the logical result of socialistic paternalism and an enfeebled national character, and we steel ourselves: We’ll fight back before it gets that bad. Wait until 2012! The forces of statism will crumple with dismay as Herman Cain, Secretary of Plain Ordinary Common Sense, goes around the country and yells at bureaucrats to knock that off, already.

What if we’re already too far down the road? Every summer brings more tales of lemonade stands shut down by regulators. (Next summer’s twist: While clamping down on illegal stands, the government was actually selling Sunny D to Mexican cartels.) The story hits the wires, people get mad, and they go so far as to write comments on webpages. But nothing changes. A week later you read about someone being fined for hanging a bird feeder in violation of the Transient Avian Nutritional Guidelines — the first lady was concerned about all that suet, and demanded a national conversation about pheasant obesity — and people get spun up about that. And nothing happens. The Bureaucrat-American community never demonstrates a jot of shame; candidates talk about the top-level regulations that garrote the economy; and the myriad codes and diktats pile up, criminalizing everything. Check your facial-tissues box: Some say “It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.” Wearing the box as shoes when you go as Howard Hughes for Halloween? You’re looking at hard time, brother. No one says “There oughta be a law” anymore, because we know there probably is.

Speaking of being cowed: A recent controversy in Wisconsin has revealed a new front in the diminution of personal liberty. Turns out you don’t have the right to drink raw cow milk. Some people believe raw milk conveys certain advantages, and these may include seeing the inside of a hospital you might otherwise not visit, since pasteurizing milk can prevent TB and diphtheria, and raw milk can have all kinds of gut-gripping wee beasties like salmonella and E. coli. Many states allow its sale. California hasn’t gotten around to banning it yet. It’s legal for pets only in Florida. Wisconsin bans it entirely, so they have to cross the border to get it in Minnesota. (Somehow this has not produced hyper-violent milk cartels. Yet.)

The raw-milk group gives off a faint whiff of the anti-vaccine crowd, and the fact that their website has a protest song is enough to turn off many. Visions of some hairy Bolshie warbling about Tom Dooley’s Pail or something. You’d think progressives would be split on a raw-milk ban — on one hand, regulating life in the name of Health is good; on the other hand, pasteurization interferes with the Natural Way of Life, which was practiced by noble indigenous people who didn’t drink soda or eat processed grains, paving the way for a healthy life right up to the moment when they died from an abscessed tooth at age 27.

#page#Anyway. Even people who prefer their milk in a plastic gallon bladder from an industrial dairy — irradiated, preferably, to nuke any residual offal — would probably say that raw-milk enthusiasts ought to be able to exercise freedom of choice. It’s their bodies, after all, and isn’t there some penumbra in the Constitution emanatin’ about that? If you own the cow, shouldn’t you be able to drink the milk? After all, if you buy the cow in ground-up form, and decide to eat the hamburger extra rare, the state can’t bust into your kitchen and slap it out of your hand.

Give them time. The Wisconsin case involved “herd sharing,” an ingenious response to the raw-milk ban. Regulation was the mother of invention: The cows were sold in pieces — normal for cows, but in this case they’re still alive. Everyone who had an interest in the cow could have its milk, since they owned it. Clever! But doomed. A judge ruled against the herd-share concept, because he could see what they were up to. If his decision had consisted of “C’mon. Really? Nice try” it would have been unremarkable. But no. He had a point to make, and you fools had better listen and listen good. In a clarification of his ruling, he pounded the facts of life into the thick heads of these serfs who bother the court: “No,” he wrote, “no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a dairy herd; no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow; no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice.

Got that? Your right to drink milk from a cow you own is granted by the state. Which, incidentally, declines to grant it.

Don’t worry, raw-milkers. In ten years the people who believe the difference between people and animals is just semantics and bipedal hubris will lobby for interspecies marriage, and once that’s in place, there will be demonstrations to GET THE GOVERNMENT OUT OF MY BARN. You can marry the cow and have free milk. Marrying a chicken you raised so you can eat the meat, though, that will still make people sick. Literally sick. You have to cook it to 160 degrees! It’s the law.

James Lileks — James Lileks writes the Athwart column for National Review magazine and is a frequent contributor to the National Review website. He is a prominent voice on Ricochet podcasts.

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