This weekend, food safety is pitted against food freedom as two groups – Raw Milk Freedom Riders and Lemonade Freedom Day – take to Washington to protest the government’s interference in raw milk sales and neighborhood youth-organized lemonade stands.

“This issue is not just about raw milk and it’s not just about lemonade. It’s about every individual’s right to consume the food of their choice,” Robert Fernandes, founder of Lemonade Freedom Day told The Washington Times.

For these food freedom-fighters, the issue revolves around customers wanting alternatives to supermarkets and big-brand products without running into strict government limitations. Government officials, however, see the issue as a food-safety hazard. Many states limit sales of the unpasteurized product, and the FDA prevents raw milk producers from selling across state lines to areas where the product is illegal.  

Evidence supports the FDA’s concerns. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report indicating that raw milk is 150 times more likely to cause an illness outbreak than pasteurized milk. The CDC also reported that between 1998 and 2009, it found around 1,800 illnesses related to raw milk. Of those illnesses, 200 required hospitalization and two were fatal.

“Restricting the sale of raw milk products is likely to reduce the number of outbreaks and can help keep people healthier,” said Dr. Robert Tauxe, director of CDC’s division of foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases. “The states that allow sale of raw milk will probably continue to see outbreaks in the future.”

An outbreak this spring in Oregon left nearly 20 people sick after drinking raw milk, including four children. The mother of one of these children told Oregon Public Broadcasting that “no matter how good of a farmer and how good of a dairy operation you think they have, there’s always a slim chance that there’s going to be bacteria in that [raw] milk. The only way to make sure there’s not that chance is by pasteurization.”  Read more here.

Despite the risks, raw milk fans are adamant about their love for the unpasteurized product. They petitioned the White House earlier this year to change raw milk policies, but the petition was rejected.

“This administration believes that food safety policy should be based on science,” Doug McKalip, senior policy adviser for rural affairs, wrote in a reply to the petition in January. “In this case, we support pasteurization to protect the safety of the milk supply because the health risks associated with raw milk are well documented.”

The groups are holding a workshop on Friday and plan to gather – informally – on Saturday.

“In some ways, it may be considered a protest but I like to look at it more as a celebration,” he said. “We’re going to go out there, and we’re going to barter, sell. It’s going to be kind of grass roots. We’re encouraging others to bring things to sell, so it’s going to take its own shape and form.”