Usually, I hold my opinions until the weekend, but this week it dawned on me that we may be experiencing the winter of raw milk’s discontent. I thought it best to speak up immediately.
State capitols are hot during the coldest weeks of winter because state lawmakers are introducing bills they hope will get them attention. In many years past, we’d be tracking bills to expand raw milk sales in a half dozen or more states by this time of year.
Raw milk action is currently on the burner in Tennessee, with a senator’s determined effort to shut down raw milk sales by eliminating, through statute, the cow- and herd-share loopholes. An E. coli O157: H7 outbreak linked to raw milk in Knox County, TN last summer did severe harm to ten children.
Dr. Richard Briggs, who represents the outbreak area in the Tennessee Senate, has decided to do something about it. He faces equally determined opposition from dairies that sell raw milk through share agreements.
Tennessee seems to be the exception this year because raw milk isn’t making many appearances in legislative halls. We are going to keep checking. Each state has its deadlines for when bills have to be introduced and heard by a committee. Roughly stated, they have until “the cows come home.”
But it is possible that as with the Korean War, we are finally at the point where more fighting is not going to result in changing the facts on the ground. The USDA’s Economic Research Service recently reported that raw milk can now be legally purchased in 38 states, up from 25 states a decade ago.
Put another way, during the past legislative session, raw milk advocates won more sales options, mostly for on-farm and cow-share arrangements.
Being a little perplexed, I decided to check up on what the writer David Gumpert, author of “The Complete Patient” has been saying lately. Gumpert’s blog is where the country’s best known raw milk advocates are known to hang out.
I was hoping David might shed some light on what’s occurring in our “Laboratories of Democracy,” as Justice Louis Brandeis once referred to the 50 state Legislatures. I was not expecting to find the raw milk community happy with their progress as they are not generally a happy lot. But I was not expecting to find David bemoaning the federal government. “The two main agencies charged with overseeing food health issues have been on the warpath against raw dairy,” Gumpert wrote in his Feb. 17 blog.
I found Davis is upset about the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta putting public health alert about “a single instance of illness last November from the RB51 vaccine that wound up in raw milk produced by a Pennsylvania farm.”
At first, I began to pick apart David’s complaints about CDC’s public health alert and how the national media covered it. Yes, the alert concerned a single confirmed illness. But that illness sent ripples out to 19 states with people at risk who need to know what the hell is going on.
The Food Safety News story “People in 19 states exposed to Brucella bacteria from drinking raw milk” by Coral Beach was spot-on. Near the end of Beach’s story is where my eyes focused:
“The CDC alert urges people who consumed Miller’s Biodiversity Farm raw milk or other unpasteurized dairy products made from it to watch for the symptoms of infection. Also, people who served raw dairy products to children should monitor them for symptoms. Anyone who served raw dairy products to guests should notify those people of the risk for Brucella infection.
Initial symptoms of brucellosis can include fever, sweats, loss of appetite, headache, fatigue, muscle, and joint pain, and potentially more serious complications.
Symptoms can start anywhere from five days to six months after exposure. In some patients, symptoms may develop and then appear to subside, only to develop again repeatedly during the following months.
In pregnant patients, brucella infections can lead to miscarriage. Children are at increased risk because their immune systems are not fully developed.
People who are infected but are not treated can go on to develop more serious complications like arthritis; heart problems; enlargement of the spleen or liver; and, in rare cases, nervous system problems, like meningitis.”
When raw milk’s best advocate has no more to say than the feds are on the “warpath” for just putting out a public health alert, it made me wonder if something else is occurring. I’ve decided to chalk it up to raw milk’s winter of discontent.
Maybe they are all glum about the federal investigation into Miller’s Biodiversity Farm because it is finally going to bust the illegal interstate transpiration of raw milk that’s been going on among those 19 states.
“Federal law requires pasteurization for interstate shipments of all milk and milk product intended for direct human consumption,” says USDA’s new report on intrastate sales of raw milk.
I’ve also wondered if the gains raw milk has made during the past decade have really done much in terms of increasing sales or production capacity. I also wonder if the up and coming generations have much of a taste for raw milk. Fewer and fewer people are around who can say they grew up on a farm and drank raw milk all their life.
“Public health authorities unequivocally advise consumers to avoid consuming raw (unpasteurized) milk,” USDA’s report says. “Raw milk can carry harmful bacteria and can pose serious health risks, particularly for people with weakened immune systems, older adults, pregnant women, and children. Pasteurizing milk — heating it for a specified period of time — kills dangerous bacteria and pathogens.”
One thing we know at Food Safety News is that younger generations are consumers of health-related information.
All of which adds up to my conclusion that raw milk is experiencing a winter of discontent. If there’s any hope for it carving out a niche in the ever-changing food world, it’s going to have to change. It’s going to have to stop fighting science and the bad publicity it gets from its many mistakes.
Mark McAfee, CEO of California’s Organic Pastures Dairy LLC, offers comments on David’s blog, saying “consumer popularity” for raw milk “continues to grow.” As I said, I wonder about that. It would be helpful if states would report on their raw milk production on at least a yearly basis.
I do understand David’s disappointments with the likes of Donald Trump and Barack Obama. He calls out the fact that Trump promised to do something about the “FDA Police,” but there has been no let up in food regulation by the current administration. He also recalls that Obama campaigned in Iowa promising to be the small farmer advocate, but dropped the idea once in office.
“Big Food apparently continues to have an outsized amount of influence on the regulators. Some things, it seems, never change,” says the discontented Gumpert.
I’m sure they’ll get over it.
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