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Raw Milk Seizure Stirs Debate in Michigan

Michigan farmers and some of their downstate customers are still talking about an enforcement action taken two weeks ago by the Michigan Department of Agriculture. The incident has prompted hundreds of comments on local newspaper and Facebook pages.

A delivery truck from Standish, MI-based My Family Co-Op was making its run south on Interstate 75 to Macomb and Oakland counties with products also from High Hill Dairy when it was stopped by state agricultural inspectors. Once they discovered what was in the truck’s load, they seized it, requiring the driver to dump 250 gallons of raw milk and smash about 100 dozen organic eggs. All totaled, about $3,600 in raw and organic products were destroyed.

High Hill is a raw milk dairy that sells “cow shares” to consumers in exchange for a portion of the milk that is produced. Raw milk is not pasteurized, and it is illegal to sell it in Michigan.

While this latest incident is coming in for attention, the state routinely conducts seizures. Last year, routine inspections led to 773 seizures of illegal food products.

Michigan cow-share agreements require customers to sign contacts stating they may “obtain” raw milk from the dairy — they don’t “buy” it. Deliveries are usually quick hand-offs in church parking lots.

My Family Co-op confirmed its deliveries were seized on July 15. A substitute driver allowed state agriculture inspectors to search the truck without demanding a warrant.

“They jumped on the truck, they whipped out their badges,” My Family’s owner said. “They said it was a licensing issue.”

State agriculture inspectors said the eggs were not clean, and butter, cream and buttermilk were not properly labeled and some were from a business that closed two years ago. The Michigan Department of Agriculture also wants the co-op to obtain a retail license.

Following the incident, some have charged that state inspectors are only targeting organic products.

Also, it appears the customers who were to get the deliveries already owned all the products destroyed. They were paying $9 per gallon for the raw milk.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that dairy investigators looked at outbreaks between 1998 and 2011 and found that 79 percent of them were due to raw milk or cheese. From 1998 through 2011, 148 outbreaks due to consumption of raw milk or raw milk products were reported to CDC. These resulted in 2,384 illnesses, 284 hospitalizations and two deaths.

© Food Safety News
  • Sue Blakeman

    An average of approximately 11 outbreaks per year, resulting in an average of fewer than 200 illnesses per year, slightly more than 20 hospitalizations, and about .15 deaths (per year). For these numbers to have real meaning one would have to know how many people are regularly consuming raw milk products. Is the margin of error for infection comparable to salmonella, which obviously may be produced by many foods, and has the potential to affect every person who eats?

    • LouWho

      Milk should kill exactly zero people ever because we have technology to ensure that.

      • J T

        It may directly kill zero people, but the highly processed milk you support creates all sorts of illness and heart disease, which will go on to kill many people.

  • Sansher

    considering the pervading work and enforcement models of Michigan, I am not surprised that this is going on. I worked in food safety in that state, briefly and was deeply shaken by their work models. Their adamant non regulation stance hurts their state tremendously. I am sure that the punishment mode for this event will be sorely lacking.

  • wehmeier

    In 13 years they had 148 outbreaks?? I bet there are more hang nail infections in a single year. How asinine. If people are willing to pay $9 ridiculous dollars for a gallon of milk, they either understand the risks, or are dumber than a box of rocks. Government control running amok again.

  • Jacki

    Why was it necessary to smash the eggs??? You can buy organic eggs at the grocery and I seriously doubt that they were dirty. And how do the health officials know for sure that a certain illness is directly traceable to raw dairy consumption? And where are many states where the retail sale of raw milk is legal so it must be safe. Finally I have been drinking raw goats milk for two years now and it’s never made me sick. Michigan needs to get with the times. People are sick from eating highly processed food. There is a high demand for nutritious, organic, unprocessed food. Entrepreneurs should not be punished for meeting a demand from a growing number of consumers for high quality unadulterated food. This is just WRONG.

  • Jennifer Johns

    Do any of you understand just how deadly a food-borne illness can be, especially in a child or elderly person. Yeah we have all had that minor bought of nausea or diarrhea, but when a child goes from perfectly healthy to dead in just 10 days, like what happened during the Jack-In-The-Box E. coli outbreak, that should have been our wake up call. Instead we have people who ignore or flat out deny the risks and serve their children unsafe and unregulated foods that could, and, in some cases does, kill them. People claiming that there aren’t that many outbreaks, should ask themselves why ANY outbreaks are acceptable. We should be a people who are demanding a safe food supply that results in ZERO illnesses and ZERO deaths.