I saw where the Minneapolis Star Tribune was asking customers of Michael Hartmann’s raw dairy to call in so public health authorities could identify and question them about possible illnesses. The paper didn’t say how many had called, but I would be surprised if many volunteer for that particular brand of civic uprightness
They won’t, for the same reason Janeen Covlin decided to avoid the hospital emergency room and instead treat her 11-month-old’s possible pathogen with coloidal silver and other holistic remedies (described following my May 27 posting). She was afraid of consulting with medical authorities about the illness. She feared the treatments they might want to use, or perhaps even force her to use, and I presume she was also nervous about how the information about illness might be used in the future.
There was a time we all were only too glad to help public health authorities in their work of fighting disease. That was a time when they were seen as friends, public servants. No longer. Increasingly, they are seen as overbearing arrogant bureaucrats with questionable agendas. Janeen’s reaction is a sad commentary on an ever-thicker wall of mistrust between the public health/medical communities, and ordinary people, including parents.
As many of the comments about my previous post suggest, the distrust extends not only to tracking of food-borne illness, but to the causes and evolution of food-borne illness, stemming from the fact that there is much about pathogens and foodborne illness that the scientific community doesn’t fully understand, but would have us believe it does understand.
Having said all that, I believe it’s important to make a distinction in the intense debate that’s been going on here. That’s the distinction between what I might call generally accepted standards of investigation and assessment of food-borne illness, and the larger matter of the origination and mechanisms of pathogens, perhaps exemplified best by Miguel’s commentary and hypotheses. I don’t know enough to add a lot to the latter discussion, and I think it’s worth having…yet I worry it can be distracting as well.
Right now, I am trying to stay focused on the immediate problem at hand, and in my view, that problem is unequal enforcement of regulations and laws affecting food-borne illness, borne of prejudiced public health and medical communities. Brandon Peak says it well,”It seems that the only people that don’t want to talk about safety is the government who is in bed with big ag. The only thing they want to talk about is eliminating raw milk.”
Lykke used to express frustration that arguments about raw milk safety got sidetracked into areas of science that weren’t well understood, or were at odds with established scientific thinking. While it’s clear there is much we don’t understand about food-borne illness, the reality is that there are certain things we do understand or, to put it another way, there are certain generally-accepted criteria about food-borne illness that are applied to all foods. It’s a little like accounting principles in business–executives have all kinds of ideas about how profits and losses should be accounted for, but in the end, everyone must abide by so-called “Generally accepted accounting principles” of reporting revenues and expenses.
In public health, one such generally accepted principle is that epidemiological studies–commonalities about the origins of illness–have credibility. Such studies helped scientists trace the causes of mass outbreaks of cholera and other diseases beginning in the mid-1800s to problem areas like contaminated water supplies. Epidemiological studies are used today to help investigators track culprits in all varieties of foodborne and other illness.
We also know that genetic linkages are quite reliable in associating certain pathogens with specific outbreaks. People may disagree with their validity, but the fact that pathogens with the same DNA fingerprint were found in four Minnesota individuals with food-borne illness is generally acceptable evidence the individuals all became ill from the same food. The question is whether that food is Michael Hartmann’s raw milk, and I’ve questioned a rush to judgment when there seem to be a number of uncertainties, such as over how many of the four may have consumed raw milk from the Hartmann dairy. Having said that, it’s not generally accepted, as Violet Willis says, “If there is no E. coli O157:H7 DNA match in the FLUID milk…then there is no case and you should look elsewhere for the source of the outbreak…” If the matching E.coli 0157:H7 is found in any of the milking cows’ manure, that would be compelling evidence the Hartmann milk was the culprit.
On the matter of the origination of E.coli 0157:H7, it may have started in feedlots, or it may have been a rare previously existing version of E.coli that simply thrived and multiplied in the feedlot environment. What is important now is that it can get into food in many different ways aside from feedlot cattle. As one primary example, which I describe in some detail in my book, The Raw Milk Revolution, the 2006 spinach outbreak was very likely caused by feral pigs contaminating organic spinach on a California farm. No direct feedlot involvement.
Moreover, people can become very ill from food-borne illness, as Mary McGonigle-Martin has movingly explained once again, in anticipating how one family with a very sick youngster in the Minnesota outbreak may be reacting. That’s a reality that happens rarely, but it does happen. No one knows exactly why it happens to certain people and not others. Yes, it could be a function of their immune system status, but it could also be a function of genetic makeup or some extreme allergic reaction, or a number of other things. The point is, though, that it happens, with any number of food carriers, including raw milk, raw spinach, and ground beef.
All of which leads me back to the opening of this post. There is enough uncertainty and complexity in the world of food-borne illness that raw dairy farmers and consumers shouldn’t be confronted with a regulatory system that, in addition to all the various knowns and unknowns, is totally prejudiced in its approach to certain foods. I think that’s where well-meaning individuals like Mary McGonigle-Martin have blind spots–they don’t fully appreciate how destructive the public health community’s prejudice against raw milk is, or how deeply it runs.
I would very much like to see, as Mary suggests, a common effort involving members of the public health community and dairy farmers to implement a reasonable and fair milk safety plan. Her biggest challenge, unfortunately, will be bringing public health and state agriculture officials to the table. That’s something else I’d be thrilled to be proven wrong on. As Steve Bemis, WI Raw Milk Consumer, Joseph Heckman, and others argue, there is lots of interest by the raw milk community in improving safety. Unless the regulators are willing to get off their “harass-raw-milk-producers” bandwagon, the best way to go is probably the direction Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy Co. advocates in his comment proposing a National Raw Milk Producers and Consumers Association. Until there’s a commitment by the public health community to treat food-borne illness in raw milk the same as that in any other food, the self-regulation approach makes much more sense.
There’s a risk here for the public health authorities, which Jerry Gregory begins to articulate following my previous post. They are dependent on public trust to be effective. As trust erodes, so does relevance. And as relevance erodes, so does budget. And budget is going to be scarcer than raw milk if public health people continue working with blinders on.
Wisconsin agriculture and public health regulators have a message for the state’s raw dairy farmers in lieu of the governor’s veto two weeks ago of the legislation that would have allowed direct-from-farm sales: We’re in charge here and we have the hammer.
Today, inspectors from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, and from a local public health department, accompanied by six sheriff’s deputies, descended on the Grazin’ Acres farm owned by Vernon Hershberger. He says the search appears to be in connection with raw milk made available from his dairy, and a demand that he have a retail establishment permit for his store, which sells goods from the farm.
The inspectors had a “special inspection warrant” signed by a local judge, and proceeded to spend more than five hours going through the farm’s coolers and refrigerators cataloguing the farm’s dairy and other food offerings. The inspectors obtained the warrant after Hershberger initially refused to let them conduct an inspection. Near the end of the search, the inspectors prepared to take dairy samples.
Grazin’ Acres has been distributing raw milk to consumers under previous exemptions allowed by DATCP for some raw dairy producers, including a 2004 decision signed by Rod Nilsesteuen, secretary of agriculture. Since last fall, though, “DATCP has been harassing us.” This included a lengthy request for information several months ago that sought information on the dairy’s customers and suppliers going back many years. Hershberger says, “We answered it, but did not give any information. “