Some folks who drink raw milk probably already see themselves as risk-takers, but they may not have thought about the fact that drinking their favorite beverage increasingly means not just taking risk but, for the producers, also “going bare.” “Going bare” is what the insurance industry calls it when someone opts to go without coverage either because they cannot afford it or because it is just not available. For at least the past two years, reports have popped up around the country about raw-milk producers having difficulty obtaining or continuing insurance coverage. One example came early in 2012 when the Farm Bureau-owned Rural Mutual Insurance Co. sent out notices about all Wisconsin farm policies it covers specifically advising policyholders that their coverage does not provide for “the sale and/or distribution for offsite consumption of unpasteurized (commonly called raw) milk from cows, sheep and goats for human consumption.” Retail sales of raw milk are illegal in Wisconsin, but off-site consumption of unpasteurized milk bought on the farm is legal. However, raw milk picked up on the farm has apparently become too risky for insurance coverage in Wisconsin. What began as decisions by individual carriers who sell policies directly to small farms is now a concern for the big re-insurers such as Kansas City, MO-based Aon Risk Solutions. It is more of an insurance company for insurance carriers and helps to keep the industry solvent by spreading risk. “Most of the entities we work with are larger commercial operations and are not engaged in the sale of raw milk,” explained Tami Griffin, deputy national director for Aon’s Food Systems, Agribusiness & Beverage Group. “That said,” she told Food Safety News, “we do work with, and have relationships with, underwriters who are in the business of insuring farms, and I would say that they are increasingly concerned about what farmers are selling to consumers through farmers markets, farm stands, etc.” “Because of the press that raw milk gets, it is definitely on the radar of insurance companies, and I have heard some carriers are not willing to provide coverage for those selling it,” Griffin added. Insurance coverage going away is still coming as a surprise for some raw-milk producers. Dog Mountain Farm near Carnation, WA, outside Seattle — a stop on many a foodie’s tour itinerary — recently learned that its carrier was dropping its raw-milk coverage. Dog Mountain runs a farm-to-table café offering a menu for three meals a day, with patrons being a mix of those food tourists and area residents. They had invested $75,000 in a USDA-certified raw goat milk dairy and then found they had lost their liability insurance. Owner Cindy Krepky said the farm would proceed with its many other activities — producing cider, apple butter, and 15 varieties of apples, pears, and quince — while hunting down a carrier willing to sell insurance for its raw goat milk production. Krepky was philosophical when learning her raw-milk policy was cancelled, noting that farming is always risky. For a raw-milk producer, going bare carries the same risk as going without automobile or home insurance. It means being responsible for any kind of damages or injuries without being able to share that risk with an insurance company. It is not uncommon for treatment of a child or senior citizen injured by a pathogen such as E. coli O157:H7 or Listeria to result in direct medical costs exceeding $1 million. It makes the decision to go bare literally a bet-the-farm kind of decision. While tough to get, raw-milk insurance has not totally gone away. Kendall Turner, a Denver insurance broker, advertises on the web that such coverage is still available. “Recently, it has become very difficult for dairy farms to obtain liability coverage for the sale of raw milk,” Turner said, adding that he can determine in about 20 minutes if someone qualifies for coverage. He said that the “biggest challenge for the farmer is to understand is that the insurance company sometimes has more rules than the state … .”

  • Angela Grabowski

    What is the data they are basing this decision on? What profit threat has triggered their dropping liability insurance on farms, just because they are selling a product? Where is their data showing the substantial increase in lawsuits against farms who sell raw milk, and people got sick from drinking that raw milk? What is causing this panic to drop liability insurance for small farms?

    • Rex_X

      For an overview with links to other information, see
      Claeys et al. “Raw or heated cow milk consumption: Review of risks and benefits”
      Food Control, Volume 31, Issue 1, May 2013, Pages 251–262
      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095671351200535X

    • mjv64

      Not just any product, a product that of high risk. See what would happen if you tell your car insurance carrier that you drive without seat belt on all the time or drive 20 miles over speed limits. Any one remember what was like before the pasteurization? It’s common sense now that you cook raw animal products before you eat them. I know there are people eat raw or rare steak or fish, but no one feed those things to a child. I agree that cooking or pasteurization does destroy some of the nutrients in the food, but the benefit of kill pathogens out weight that. Ultra pasteurization and homogenization process that prolong the shelf life to infinite are to blame. Just my opinion.

      • Astoria Shackelford

        If you review the article Rex posted, you will see that the process does not destroy the nutrients in milk. That claim has been debunked.

  • Tara

    As I write this reply, I am looking at the sidebar listing recent Food Recalls (botulism warning on pesto, listeria contamination in meat breakfast products). The manufacturers of those, and similar, products that are routinely tainted and at risk of being tainted, are surely not losing their liability insurance coverage. Products that are mass distributed put tens of thousands of people at risk of sickness, disability and death, compared to the relatively few people who buy products directly from their local farm. I would like to see the actuarial defense of this move to drop coverage for farms. Oh wait, we never will, because … there is no such defense.

    • FoodSci

      I believe the pesto was a “boutique” product, similar to raw milk and not something mass-distributed to tens of thousands. I’d suspect they are losing liability coverage, if they even have it, if they don’t have a process in place to manufacture safe food. Many small producers haven’t the foggiest about food safety, GMPs, etc. (Yet small producers are exempt from FSMA.)

    • Astoria Shackelford

      You explained the difference right there in your post without even realizing it. Millions of people consume meat, tens of thousands consume pesto, and very few get sick. These are not inherently risky products, they just happen to be the foods that were tainted this month, with specific errors or accidents at specific companies. They represent a tiny percentage of the overall consumption of these products over the decades that we consume them.

      Raw milk, on the other hand, is consumed by relatively few. And yet, From 1998 through 2011, 2,384 illnesses, 284 hospitalizations, and 2 deaths occurred from its consumption. While that may not seem like much in terms of raw numbers, in terms of the PERCENTAGE of people who drink raw milk, it’s huge. Raw milk is an inherently risky food.

      There’s a reason the CDC states that raw milk is unsafe, the same way it cautions you to wash your hands after touching raw chicken. And there’s a reason it doesn’t make the same claim about pesto or sausage links. http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/rawmilk/raw-milk-questions-and-answers.html It would be great if we could magically predict which company or which product would get tainted this year. But we can’t. So until then, we just have to look at percentages, avoid foods that are inherently unsafe, and vigilantly watch for recalls of everything else.

  • KC Monarch

    Consuming raw unpasteurized milk is a considerable risk. Insurers should not assume that risk. The consumer here is the risk taker and should be held fully responsible for their ill advised behavior. As there is no suicide insurance, there shouldn’t be raw milk insurance. The farmer cannot guarantee safety, as there is no kill step for a well known pathogen vector.

  • Karen G Lyke

    still perpetuating the myth that presumably all raw milk is dangerous…. This must be from that new Biblical translation, where God tells Man about all the glorious abundance provided for food, but wait! first you have to sterilize the life out of it because God didn’t realize how badly Man would trash the soil, deplete the nutrients from the plants then genetically modify them, convert them to pellets to be fed to animals confined in filthy crowded feedlots eating stuff their digestion was not designed for. Surprisingly the animals, lacking the basic nutrients to function, became extremely susceptible to disease. Put a touch of germ phobia in there too.

  • Karen G Lyke

    hm waiting for FSN to approve this. Truth isn’t a threat to an honest person, asks only to be heard, not that others be silenced.

  • whoisoutthere

    I drink it and don’t consider myself a risk taker. Now, eating chicken from one of the mass industrialized “farms”… THAT is being a risk taker.

    • its_science

      Well, honestly, that isn’t being a risk taker…as long as you fully cook the chicken to the recommended temperature. Cooking is a kill step for the bacteria that is present in raw animal products. No one would eat raw chicken, from ANY farm. Why would you drink raw milk? It is the same concept.
      The scary thing is that you don’t recognize the risk you are taking when you drink raw milk. Those who have spent a lifetime studying food safety/food preparation processes (or the lack thereof, in this case) are trying to tell you the risk, but you are deaf to the facts and the science surrounding them. Farm animals produce fecal matter. Farm animals do not use a toilet, or have a sanitary means to dispose of their fecal material. Farm animals live in, eat near, lie down in, walk through, their own fecal material on a regular basis. Fecal matter contains harmful bacteria that causes illness. Those illnesses have the ability to cause lifelong health problems or even death. The cleanest, most careful farmers still have difficulty keeping fecal matter from contaminating their raw milk. Eventually, it happens at every farm. The increased incidence of contracting an illness from drinking raw milk as opposed to pasteurized milk are STAGGERING when one compares the relative numbers of people consuming raw milk products to those consuming pasteurized milk products. As a health official, I have seen countless cases of severe illness associated with consuming raw milk, even raw milk that comes from small farms with the most conscientious farmers.
      And with respect to the benefits of raw milk and the pasteurization process removing nutrients….read the labels. The fact is that very little nutritional content is lost during the pasteurization process. Vitamin C is the only thing significantly reduced, and milk isn’t a primary source of this nutrient for anyone to begin with.

      Please do your research. Please consider the scientific FACTS. And for heaven’s sake, please, please do not give these raw milk products to small children, immune compromised individuals or the elderly. The science is quite clear. Drinking raw milk simply isn’t worth the risk.

      • whointheworld

        Hmmm. Countless huh! Lol. In terms of your assumptions I have a food science and safety background as well as clinical. I am not a “health official” tho.
        So raw milk is riskier than mass produced industrialized chicken that is 99 percent contaminated, but oh really just shove the responsibility onto the consumer for that kill step of our poison? Gotta just cook that chicken to a crisp huh. Oh and don’t let it touch anything else and be sure to bleach the crap out of everything just in case it does. Wonderful.

        • Astoria Shackelford

          Yes, raw milk is riskier, since people actually consume it raw. Since people actually *do* cook chicken, and most know enough to clean surfaces, the risk is mitigated in a way that milk’s is not. I wouldn’t touch chicken with a ten foot pole and I know that (by the way, it isn’t just “mass produced industrialized chicken that’s infected: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16300088)

          If a farm were selling chicken and endorsing the idea that it could be consumed raw, touting the benefits of how raw chicken “boosts immunity” and making claims about how cooking it “destroys nutrients” you had better bet they wouldn’t get insurance coverage either.

        • its_science

          Of course raw chicken has bacteria. That actually has little to do with the size of facility where it is raised and slaughtered. You could raise it in your backyard and it would still contain harmful bacteria. And it doesn’t have to be cooked to a crisp…just cooked (165 F, food safety genius!) And I’m a little frightened that you claim to have a food safety background. Clearly, you are uniformed.

          • whoisoutthere

            Clearly, not. Your pompousness is amusing.

  • Mark McAfee

    Dear Food Safety News,
    Much to the contrary, raw milk producers can get reasonable insurance from several large insurance carriers especially if they have a risk reduction plan ie…RAMP plan. The Raw Milk Institute specializes in this type of risk reduction training. In fact last year, several of the RAWMI LISTED producers renewed their policies at greatly reduced rates.
    One thing for sure, insurance companies know risk exposure and some carriers have made it an area of special coverage. Raw milk is a very low risk food if managed properly. Insurance companies know this and provide insurance to RAWMI LISTED producers and others when a producer demonstrates low risk through his plan and track record of bacteria counts.

  • Jackie Schmidts

    Raw milk sales direct to consumers should be outlawed. If the farmer selling the milk really cared about his consumer, then the would not sell raw milk, cheese or other dairy products that haven’t been pasteurized. Instead they are only looking to make a fast buck. They really don’t care if their customers could get sick from consuming or eating their products. I’m glad insurance companies have finally wised up to the situation. I feel bad for the next person who gets sick from raw milk and has medical bills, and can’t get recovery costs from the farm that caused the sickness. Next step one of those high paid lawyers looking for these kind of juicy cases.