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Feds raid organic food stores

Published time: August 04, 2011 14:58
Edited time: August 06, 2011 01:18

Feds raid LA organic food stores

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For a year, undercover agents in the hippie-hub of Venice, California had been investigating an illegal retail operation happening only a mere mile from the Pacific shore.

This isn’t the story of Medical Kush Beach Club & Hashbar or THC Delivery, two of the premiere medical marijuana dispensaries on the West Coast beachfront.

No, this is something even udderly more ridiculous.

Authorities have filed charges against three different people associated with raw food retailers in the Los Angeles area, all stemming from allegations that they were selling unpasteurized milk.

James Cecil Stewart, Sharon Ann Palmer and Eugenie Bloch were all apprehended on Wednesday at the culmination of a sting operation that for the better part of a year tried to take down the dairy retailers. According to prosecutors, retailers were operating illegally by offering products that did not meet health standards, were unpasteurized and were produced at unlicensed facilities.

Stewart’s shop, Rawesome Foods, was raided last year, at which point a volunteer at the shop told the Los Angeles Times, “I still can’t believe they took our yogurt.” Even after federal agents stormed the store in 2010, guns drawn, raiding the retailer for unmarked jugs of raw milk, patrons have continued to graze over to Rawesome for all their natural goat milk needs.

All this is over now as the proprietors await trial. Stewart is reportedly being held on $123,000 bail.

Los Angeles’ KTLA News reports that agents spent a year purchasing raw milk, cheese and yogurt at the shops while undercover. If the sight of federal agents decked out in hemp anklets and reeking of patchouli isn’t funny enough, how’s this one: Stewart is facing a 13-count complaint, including conspiracy, for operating Rawesome.

Palmer’s affiliation with Healthy Family Farms, LLC of Santa Paula, CA has earned her charges in nine of those counts.

In the 21-page complaint, agents allege that one retailer kept unpasteurized goat milk in a cooler in the back of a van in the parking lot of the store which it made available for purchase. By selling unpasteurized milk products, consumers are at risk of salmonella, e-coli and other health issues. Just recently, 76 Californians fell ill due to a salmonella outbreak stemming from some ground turkey gone bad.

Joanne Whittle of Rawesome told The Associated Press that patrons of the shop were required to sign legal forms stating that they agree to purchase products that did not receive governmental approval.

"I guess that's their bone of contention, that they can't control us," Whittle said to the AP.

"It seems highly aggressive considering how tiny we are and for what we're actually doing," Whittle added. "We're not selling crack cocaine or drugs or alcohol."