Texas is going through a dust-up, mostly over who can deliver raw milk. State law says raw milk dairies can transport raw milk purchases to a pickup location. At issue is whether an agent can carry out that delivery. PolitiFact Texas, the fact-checking service sponsored by the Austin American-Statesman, Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, weighed into the controversy last week not for the issue, but the rhetoric. “Our curiosity was stirred, though, by the legislators suggesting raw milk rarely poses a health risk,” wrote PolitiFact’s W. Gardner Selby. “After all, pasteurization kills the bacteria responsible for diseases including typhoid fever, tuberculosis and diphtheria.” Yet, 13 Texas legislators last month wrote the Texas Department of Health Services to make this claim: “Not one illnesses has been reported from raw milk in our state in more than four years. A total of six illnesses have occurred in the last 20 years.” It did not take Selby long to find that there were 10 reported illnesses from dinking raw milk in Texas as recently as 2015. Texas Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, is the top raw milk advocate in the state’s legislature. He was the principal author of the letter sent by the 13 lawmakers. His office said the letter’s claim was based on data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. That data included two illnesses in 2000 traced to drinking raw milk, and four 2011 cases of Salmonella linked by State Health Services to a North Texas dairy. PolitiFacts then asked CDC, and learned of two suspected outbreaks and seven illnesses with no deaths all occurring in March and April of 2015. Nationally, from 2005 to 2015, more than 421 illnesses and one death were linked to raw milk consumption. Some Texas officials say only a small percentage of foodborne illness are diagnosed and reported. Nationally, the fact checkers found the Food and Drug Administration counted 133 raw milk incidents 1987 through September 2010, which involved 269 hospitalizations, three deaths, six stillbirths and two miscarriages. The CDC reported there were more than 1,500 illnesses between 1993 and 2006 from drinking raw milk or eating cheese made from raw milk. The Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance in Texas has tried to keep the focus on the issue that has everything stirred up. It says state health “has undertaken a campaign of aggressive enforcement against raw milk farmers and their customers.” It contends Texas is:
- Using law enforcement to intimidate consumers;
- Changing the enforcement of the law based on a change in agency personnel — even though nothing has changed in the regulations and no illnesses have occurred; and
- Harassing raw milk producers based on complaints filed by competitors, not the public.
As for the “incomplete and too low” count of raw milk illnesses in Texas,PolitiFact rated the claim as “Mostly False.” (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)