The two main agencies charged with overseeing food health issues have been on the warpath against raw dairy. 

Let’s begin with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. It’s made a federal case (quite literally) out of a single instance of illness last November from the RB51 vaccine that wound up in raw milk produced by a Pennsylvania farm. The CDC and state agencies have issued multiple press alerts about the illness, which is their job, but then last week, the CDC put out a media alert saying that the farm’s milk had turned up in 19 states, suggesting there had been some kind of large-scale outbreak. While it never used the term “outbreak”  (an outbreak is when there are two or more illnesses from a particular incident, and in this situation, there was only one illness), its language was vague and provocative enough that media lacking the expertise to properly interpret what was happening fell into the intended trap and made a huge deal out of possible exposure to disease in 19 states, one even erroneously reporting that people had been sickened in 19 states. 

According to the Real Food Consumer Coalition (RFCC), a food rights advocacy group that has been supporting the farmer whose raw milk caused last year’s illness: “The statement that ’19 people across the country have gotten sick from drinking [MBF raw milk]’ is reckless and false. Again, to the best of our knowledge, since the early 1960s to date, there are only three known cases of the RB51 vaccine related illness recorded. This information comes from multiple state and federal agency sources. Again, the milk from MBF has been thoroughly test multiple times by the PDA (Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture).” 

The CDC’s warning is reminiscent of an FDA warning in late 2017 that anyone who drank milk distributed by Udder Milk, should be examined by a physician. This warning came after a single illness as well from the RB51 pathogen. 

In other words, it’s business as usual at the CDC and FDA. No surprise, you might say, except during the 2016 president campaign, there was talk that we might see change on the food rights front, since candidate Donald Trump was so outspoken about reducing regulation. Indeed, he put out a policy statement during the campaign that came down hard on “the food police” at the FDA. 

Here’s a link to one article describing his position, about how he saw the food police unnecessarily clamping down on small farms.

This had the potential to lead to real change, since the FDA sets the agenda for state farm and public health regs. While many regulations affecting the environment and workplace rules and consumer banking have been loosened considerably, I challenge you to try to find Trump’s “food police” policy paper online today. Big prize if you do. 

What happened? My guess is someone (or a few someone’s) had conversations with Trump and let him in on the facts of life. In any event, his only references to food since then have been in the form of photo ops of him eating Kentucky Fried Chicken and putting out a spread of Quarter Pounders and fish filets at the White House for the Clemson football team a few weeks back. (Great free advertising for fast-food makers, for sure.)

Something similar happened with Barack Obama after he was elected in 2008. He had gone around Iowa during the primaries promising to help smallfarms, to break up the meat oligopoly. After he was inaugurated, he felt some obligation to follow through on his promises. He had his people begin drafting legislation to help small farms. Then he heard from some powerful Senators that that wasn’t a good idea, and if he pursued such outlandish ideas, he wouldn’t get anything done in Congress. He took the hint, and abandoned the ideas. (It’s all spelled out in the Intro of “The Meat Racket”, which is an excellent book.) 

Big Food apparently continues  to have an outsized amount of influence on the regulators. Some things, it seems, never change.