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White House Turns Down Raw Milk Petition

The Obama administration delivered its official response last week to the 6,078 signors of a petition on WhiteHouse.gov who requested federal-level legalization of all raw milk sales. The response indicated that the White House continues to support the current regulation of raw milk sales, which allow states to determine legality but prohibits its sale across state lines.

The response was written by Doug McKalip, White House senior policy adviser for rural affairs, who said the administration recognizes the importance of letting consumers control their own food choices. The 143 illness outbreaks associated with raw milk since 1987, however, underscore the dangers of its consumption.

“This administration believes that food safety policy should be based on science,” McKalip wrote. “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.”

McKalip went on to state that the nutritional and health benefits of raw milk have not been scientifically verified, referring to purported claims that raw milk can cure or treat conditions such as lactose intolerance, asthma, allergies, immunodeficiency or digestion problems. He wrote that as a science-based regulatory agency, the Food and Drug Administration “looks to the scientific literature.”

He said the FDA’s position on raw milk is shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics —  that raw milk is comparable in nutritional quality to pasteurized milk, while the health risks of raw milk “are clear.” 

The petition was posted to WhiteHouse.gov’s “We the People” site on September 23 and gained momentum on social networking sites and web forums, eventually surpassing the 5,000-signature requirement to receive a response from the Obama administration. As of October 3, WhiteHouse.gov now requires petitions to reach 25,000 signatures within 30 days to receive a response.

Currently, 30 states allow the sale of raw milk while 20 prohibit it. Although the FDA does not allow interstate sales of raw milk, McKalip reiterated that transporting unpasteurized milk across state lines for personal consumption is legal, and that the government “has never taken, nor does it intend to take” action against individual consumers.

Raw milk has been the vehicle in illness outbreaks involving a range of pathogens, including E. coli O157:H7, Listeria and Campylobacter. Between 1987 and September 2010, the CDC linked raw milk to 2,659 cases of illness, 269 hospitalizations, 3 deaths, 6 stillbirths and 2 miscarriages. 

The original petition and McKalip’s full response can be read here.

© Food Safety News
  • Roger Bird

    Move on, folks. There is no news here.
    We expected the crony-capitalist-in-Chief to side with the people with the most money. Their scientific argument was a lie. There was no mention of the health benefits of raw milk in the WH’s reply. My son no longer has allergies thanks to raw milk.

  • Rick

    Love the part about 143 illness outbreaks in the last 25 years.
    How may case did we have with processed, USDA inspected foods in the last 10 years?
    It is all about SHOW ME THE MONEY.

  • Good decision.
    For once the whackos aren’t having a say in the laws of the land.

  • Jake

    Rick asks: How may case did we have with processed, USDA inspected foods in the last 10 years?
    One has to look at the number of cases per items consumed. If raw milk is 1:5,000 and pasteurized milk 1: 5,000,000 that means the odds of getting sick from raw milk are 1000x that of pasteruized milk. But if 2000x as many people drink pasteurized milk the number becoming ill from pasteruized milk would be 2x that for raw milk.
    But the chances of a person getting ill from drinking raw milk is still 1000x that for pasteurized milk.
    (Numbers for illustration purposes only)
    So Rick, drink it yourself, but if you give it to your kid and he dies I am voting for a voluntary manslaughter conviction.

    • NotTheFDA

      Sure, do it that way. Just don’t pick your figures out of the air like you are doing. The most we got to go on from above is that over the course of 26 years there were a mere 143 illness outbreaks for Raw milk. That is most probably literally 143 tummy aches. But even if you considered it to be 10x or 100x more illnesses per outbreak, it still doesn’t get close to the 1:5000 estimate you are making here, that’s just a silly estimate.

      More importantly, you are comparing apples and oranges. Clearly, if you irritate and pasteurize your foods then you kill more bacteria. So, you would expect less bacteria related illness from such processed foods. But you lose other health benefits (like beneficial bacteria) and accommodate unhealthy environments for animals that introduce other health problems into these foods (like hormones and antibiotics, among other things).

      In an ideal world what you would like is to keep all of those other benefits and yet still have zero illnesses, right? But how about 1 occurrence of illness in 25 years? Wouldn’t that also be pretty much ideal as well? How about 1 person gets a tummy ache every year? Would we need the USDA/FDA to destroy an entire industry and impose such great cost to farmers just to keep 1 person a year from getting a tummy ache? What we are really dealing with is a cost to benefit issue, how much illness should we tolerate before we deem something risky enough to stop its production and distribution? Like, we might ask, “How much alcohol should we allow people to produce and distribute?” What is its benefits? What is its cost to society? If we do that we probably would conclude that alcohol should be illegal, but for some reason our society concluded that its benefit outweighs the costs and thus it is in nearly ever store we shop in these days. And that’s fine, so we should do similarly with Raw Milk production. But then its just silly because why would you even regulate Raw Milk at all if alcohol is so freely distributed? Still, we should try to think that way.

      But then this idea of 143 illness outbreaks in 26 years really starts to matter. I mean, if that is just 143 people that got sick then that is only 6 people a year getting sick from Raw Milk. The USDA would have to be run by morons to put that much effort into preventing 6 tummy aches a year. Right?

      Now, I suspect that it is more than 6 people a year. I mean, if it isn’t like 1,000 or 10,000 times more than that then this whole issue would be a joke. Right? I mean, you gotta agree that if it is just the USDA trying to keep 6 people a year from getting a tummy ache that they must be complete morons, and that they are just wasting everyone’s time, right?

      So, the real question is whether Raw Milk consumption is actually risky or not, and that determination should be based on a real probability (one in a million, one in one hundred thousand, whatever) and it should be based on the severity of the illness (tummy ache or what?). But that determination should NOT be based on a comparison with pasteurized milk because they are different products. Raw milk is either risky or not risky on its own. Whether drinking completely naturalized and sanitized milk is less risky is of no importance. Such only becomes the alternative to Raw Milk, if Raw Milk is determined to be risky. I think you will find that Raw Milk is far from being risky if you look into the actual figures. You can get sick from milk labeled Raw, and you can get sick from milk labeled Pasteurized, but the likelihood of getting sick is not significant enough for the USDA/FDA to destroy the industry.

  • pablo

    Hey Shelley, the “laws of the land” state that we have the right to drink raw milk (federal law supports “the importance of letting consumers control their own food choices” and “has never taken, nor does it intend to take action against individual consumers”).
    This is an instance where I’d prefer to see federal trump state, but oh well.

  • NotTheFDA

    Shouldn’t 143 tummy aches in over 25 years be considered a good record?