In golf, when you slice the ball into the other fairway, or dribble it into a pond, you may decide to take a “mulligan”–pretend the errant shot didn’t happen and just take another shot.
The state of Wisconsin seems to have decided to take a mulligan over the “poisoning,” (a favorite term of the food safety lobby when people become ill from food-borne illness) of 18 people, many of them children, in Wisconsin…from raw milk last week.
This is the story that was breathlessly broken by Bill Marler on his blog last week. “I expect to hear that it is part of a FDA sponsored conspiracy against expanding raw milk sales in Wisconsin. Raw milk is not ‘magic.’ It has real risks.” When the story first broke, commenters on his blog and on a food safety list serve were practically apoplectic. “There should be a FEDERAL LAW against serving raw milk in a school,” one of the hysterics stated.
Yes, as long as he and his groupies assumed the milk was provided by a wacko raw milk dairy, it was fun to blame raw milk advocates and their supposed focus on “conspiracy” and “magic.” But once the facts of the story began dribbling out, and it became possible that the the milk was provided by a red-blooded American dairy farmer that serves the huge dairy processing establishment, well, suddenly the tone changed.
A number of the food safety blogs published a press release that regulators in Wisconsin had genetically linked the campylobacter found in the sick children to that found on a Wisconsin dairy. But no name calling and sarcasm and holier-than-thou scolding. Instead, radio silence by the food safety lobby/anti-raw milk hysterics.
Why did the busybodies suddenly go stone silent? It’s pretty obvious when you learn the story of what happened, as I did yesterday when I spoke with Donna Gilson, the press spokesperson at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection. (She says, by the way, that the number of sick people is up to 18. While most are children, some adults have apparently contracted the campylobacter via secondary infections from their children.)
What happened is that a relative of a Wisconsin dairy owner stopped by the farm several weeks ago and, unbeknownst to the owner, filled a few jugs with milk from the dairy’s bulk tank. This individual went off to a public school function, where the milk was served. DATCP won’t reveal the dairy’s name, but Gilson says, “It’s not one of the farms that has sold raw milk.” This dairy is “a larger farm that has a good record with us.” In other words, it’s a member of the club; its milk is sold commercially to a processing plant that pasteurizes and homogenizes it. It’s part of the huge dairy establishment, selling unprocessed milk, often at a loss, to keep big processors profitable.
Now, anyone who knows anything about milk production knows that unpasteurized commercial milk is dangerous. That’s why any number of people on this blog and elsewhere continually reiterate that there are two raw milks in this country. There have been any number of studies showing that unpasteurized milk destined for the processing plants has a significant chance of containing pathogens. Here’s what I say in my book, The Raw Milk Revolution: “Raw milk of the first kind, which is really almost all milk produced in the U.S., has significant rates of pathogen contamination before pasteurization. A study published in a 2004 issue of the Journal of Dairy Science found that in milk samples taken from 861 bulk tanks in twenty-one states around the country, 2.6 percent contained salmonella and 6.5 percent tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes…the Journal of Dairy Science noted that the contamination ‘highlights the need for vigilance in maintaining hygienic conditions in milking and processing environments’…”
You’d think that 18 people becoming ill with campylobachter from raw milk in a major dairy state like Wisconsin would be a big deal to these busybodies who are certain they are better judges of what we should eat than we are. They can’t tell us often enough that it’s all about protecting the children. I’ve come out here on this blog and in talks and pushed raw dairies to pay closer attention to their sanitation practices and to focusing on reducing and eliminating illnesses.
Now, if we were living in a less-hysterical country where people were still at ease about the idea of being able to consume the foods they choose to consume, I wouldn’t be terribly upset about what just occurred in Wisconsin. No, it’s unpleasant, but as I’ve said any number of times, we can get sick from pretty much any food, and screwups of the type that occurred in Wisconsin can occur anywhere by honest well-meaning people.
But since we aren’t living in that type of country any more, I feel compelled to point out the obvious hypocrisy and double standard at work here. If the food safety establishment was being consistent and as concerned about safety as they always tell us when they feel real nutrient-dense food is creating a problem, there would have been lots of tears here, where raw milk was served in a public school to children whose parents had no idea what was being served. I mean, I can’t think of a recent situation where that occurred with milk intended to be served unpasteurized.
In addition to the illnesses, this little screwup in Wisconsin has some practical consequences. It’s very likely the 18 Wisconsin illnesses will become part of the database of illnesses attributed to raw milk by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and then waved in our faces during hearings about whether or not to legalize sales in various states, including Wisconsin, where such legislation is pending. Just like the two deaths since 1998 that the CDC always includes in its data to fearmonger about raw milk–these were almost certainly due to the same sort of raw milk as in Wisconsin–commercial milk sold to individuals who concocted home-made queso fresco cheese.
So what should be done to learn from this episode? Here are a few off-the-cuff suggestions:
— DATCP should issue a warning to all Wisconsin residents to never drink unpasteurized milk from a commercial dairy.
— Commercial dairies should be required to place warning signs on their bulk tanks, “This tank contains a bio-hazardous substance. It should not be consumed by any person, at any time.”
— The CDC should commit to not attributing these illnesses to raw milk, but rather should create a new category, something like “Unpasteurized commercial milk.”
Why aren’t the busybodies making these kinds of suggestions? They’ve moved on. This case doesn’t fit their theology of kooks pushing raw milk and complaining about a concerted government effort, alas, maybe even a conspiracy, when state and federal agents try to shut them down. Their view is very much the view they attribute to raw milk producers and consumers: So what if a few kids got sick. Collateral damage. Leave this one go. Since it will count as a black mark against raw milk in any event, it’s a win no matter which way you slice it. Very sad.