VIROQUA, Wis. (AP) — Max Kane Farley believes unpasteurized milk saved his life.
The Chicago native, who goes by Max Kane, was diagnosed with the chronic digestive disorder Crohn's disease at age 10.
He suffered abdominal and joint pain. He had thin bones and only 110 pounds on his 5 foot 10 frame.
"I looked like someone who came out of a German concentration camp," Kane said.
After 13 years, he heard about the primal diet — raw meat, raw eggs, raw milk. He gained 80 pounds, and his symptoms went away, he said. He hasn't needed medication or seen a doctor in five years.
He credits raw milk and has devoted himself full-time to promoting its benefits and helping others get it. He rode his bike 3,600 miles, mostly on a raw dairy diet. He's working on a film about raw milk.
The 32-year-old, who now lives in Viroqua, Wis., also founded a Chicago-based club through which members could buy unpasteurized dairy products.
That's put him at the center of a legal battle over the state's authority to regulate food sales.
The thirst for raw milk has been growing over the past decade, attracting the notice of both lawmakers and health officials. Even as a bill to legalize the sale of unpasteurized milk makes its way through the Wisconsin Legislature, the state is cracking down on black market sales.
Kane's case started in March, after the mother of an ill 16-year-old told health officials he'd drank raw milk she got from Kane's club, Belle's Lunchbox. Although lab tests did not link the illness to milk, Illinois officials notified the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Just after finishing a cross-country bike tour promoting raw milk, Kane received a letter requesting details about his club, his providers, processing and handling practices, and licenses, as well as his tax returns.
Kane responded with a "cease and desist" letter stating the department had no jurisdiction over his private club and accusing officials of violating the Constitution and state law. He threatened to sue.
The state subpoenaed him.
The day before his deposition, Kane delivered a four-page letter to Assistant Attorney General Phillip Ferris that accused him, among other things, of violating his oath to uphold the Constitution.
The deposition itself went off the rails, as Kane attempted to argue the constitutionality of the investigation even as Ferris tried to explain that a judge was the proper person to make that decision.
Kane will get his chance Monday in Vernon County Circuit Court.
Raw dairy proponents say unpasteurized milk is tastier, healthier and easier to digest. It has been touted as curing everything from asthma to lactose intolerance and childhood behavior problems.
Federal and state health officials say uncooked animal products are inherently dangerous and can carry bacteria capable of causing illness and death.
"All it takes is a fleck of manure on a cow's teat and you've got contamination," Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Donna Gilson said.
Raw milk advocates say the benefits far outstrip the risks.
State Rep. Chris Danou has introduced a bill with bipartisan support that would allow farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers. The Trempealeau Democrat points to a study that showed people are more likely to get sick from deli meat than raw milk.
"Any raw food has some risk to it," he said.
American raw milk consumption has swelled in the decade since the Weston A. Price Foundation began campaigning for it, President Sally Fallon Morell said. She estimates a million people consume raw milk.
Twenty-eight states allow on-farm sale. In nine, consumers can buy raw milk in stores. Another four allow raw milk to be sold as pet food.
Wisconsin allows "incidental" sales but not on a regular basis or with advertising.
The Department of Agriculture estimates a couple dozen Wisconsin farmers sell raw milk.
The department initially sends a warning letter that usually is sufficient to stop sales, Gilson said. If not, the state can revoke licenses, assess fines or seek criminal charges, though no one yet has been prosecuted.
The state has seven open investigations, including Kane's.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.