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Crying Over Spilled Milk: MA Ag Bureaucrat in Desperate Maneuvers

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Even by Massachusetts political standards, which are quite low, the late-Friday maneuver by Massachusetts' agriculture commissioner was a curious one.

Scott Soares, the Massachusetts commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, is learning the hard way that people don't like arrogant bureaucrats messing with their food, especially their raw milk. Over the last week, he has been hearing from lots of consumers who aren't pleased about his ongoing efforts to interrupt the flow of raw milk by harassing buying clubs that fetch it for small groups of people from farms in the center of the state.

At 5 p.m. on Friday, likely on his way rushing out the door, he had his MDAR issue a press release suggesting he was hearing the noise, and was open to conciliation. It's only when you read the full press release closely that you realize MDAR is not only determined to stamp out the buying clubs, but equally determined to stifle debate--end the game when the opposition is on the five-yard line.

The press release starts out all goody-goody, as if MDAR is changing its tune by pulling its proposal "relative to specific prohibition of the purchase of raw milk anywhere but on the farm...MDAR's reason for doing so is so that it may conduct a broader inquiry into the milk market as it relates to raw milk...The passion and concern on all sides of the raw milk debate have led MDAR to plan for a broader look at issues associated with raw milk."

I can understand Soares wanting to de-fuse the uproar he's created. Life is tough when you piss so many people off. But his strategy seems to be based on the hope people won't read the release any further. If you do read further, you find two little nuggets:

1. MDAR is still determined to wipe buying clubs off the face of the Massachusetts earth. "A Milk Dealer is defined within the Milk Control Laws as anyone in the business of receiving, purchasing, pasteurizing, bottling, processing, distributing or otherwise handling milk. This is still the case, and MDAR will take such steps to enforce violations as they become aware of them."

2. MDAR is declaring off-limits discussion of the proposed regulation prohibiting buying clubs that it pulled off the table at 5 p.m. on Friday. It says, "...testimony will be limited to the draft of the regulations reflecting the removal of the aforesaid text." The only matters left, from what I can tell, are adoption of some parts of the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance.

What MDAR seems to be expecting is that come 10 a.m. Monday, the time for the scheduled hearing on prohibiting buying clubs, the agency will simply announce what's in the press release (most attendees won't have heard about the press release), and that everyone will nod and say, "Oh, okay, we traveled all this way and took off our morning for nothing. No problem, guys. We love ya all the same." I don't think so.

Here's what seems to be really going on, behind the scenes of this three-ring circus. Soares realized a few weeks back that the existing regulations, whereby buying clubs are considered "Milk Dealers," were not tight enough to survive a court challenge if he went after the buying clubs. So he tried to make his case air tight with the new reg by explicitly prohibiting buying clubs. That blew up in his face in a barrage of emails, phone calls, and media coverage, so now he's saying he'll take his chances with the existing reg, and see how he does in court.

And as for the promised opportunity for debate? That's all off the table. Maybe the "passion" he speaks of has him spooked.

All he and his cronies have done with this latest round of paper shuffling is stir up the hornet's nest even further. What a bunch of clowns. But the show must go on.

Demonstration at 8:30 a.m. Monday on Boston Common near the Part St. T stop. MDAR hearing at 10 a.m. Monday at 100 Cambridge St. Can't wait. I love circuses.

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