What are we to make of the latest outbreak of illnesses attributed to raw milk?
In Wisconsin, some 35 illnesses from campylobacter seem to have been linked via testing on consumers and cows to raw milk provided to consumers who are leaseholders at Zinniker Family Farm. I couldn’t reach anyone at Zinniker Family Farm for comment.
The consumers have become ill with campylobacter, which is generally less severe than other pathogens, like E.coli O157:H7 and listeria. But occasionally individuals do become very ill from campylobacter, via a complication known as Guillain-Barre syndrome, and there are reports that one of the victims in this outbreak has GBS.
It seems to me there are three possible responses by all concerned:
One is the approach being taken by the authorities: use this for more fear mongering, as conclusive evidence that consumers shouldn’t drink raw milk. Wisconsin officials have done that and gone a step further, suggesting that herd share type arrangements shouldn’t be allowed.
A second approach, by the dairy owners and raw milk advocates, is to deny that the outbreak was caused by raw milk. I haven’t heard anyone among the pro raw milk contingent claiming that. In fact, Pete Kennedy, head of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, told me that in the state’s view, this looks like “an open-and-shut case” of illness linked to raw milk.
A third approach is one we rarely hear about on the part of authorities: Let’s figure out what might have gone wrong at Zinniker Family Farm, and help them and others correct the problems. Moreover, let’s help our raw milk dairies produce safe raw milk as a way to support dairy farming in the U.S., since conventional dairy farming is nearly untenable economically for small dairies.
I’ve suggested this economic development approach to regulators from a number of states—when I attended the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) session in July and the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments (NCIMS) session in April. Everyone I mentioned it to looked at me as if I was crazy. The comments were to effect, “We have to worry about safety.”
But when you think about it, that’s not how regulators treat other foods. They take the attitude that spinach, lettuce, and beef producers need to find ways to minimize illness, so they can continue as viable businesses.
Indeed, there were comments following my previous post about a federal initiative to liberalize meat distribution from small slaughterhouses, to enable interstate shipments. In other words, government officials taking a common-sense approach to make life easier for small producers, and give consumers wider access to specialized products from small producers.
Why not the same approach to raw milk?
It get back to ideology. The fact that there is an outbreak of illness from raw milk shouldn’t be taken as an excuse to make life more miserable for raw dairies. Yet that is what happens.
I’ve actually seen convincing evidence that the regulators welcome situations like what we are seeing in Wisconsin (more on that in a future post). They are aggressively trying to stamp out raw milk production, so every case of illness they can attribute to raw milk is further “evidence” for their cause, another piece of propaganda.
They’re not trying to improve safety, they’re waging war. So even when raw milk proponents like Pete Kennedy come clean, that doesn’t satisfy their concerns. They want more. They want total victory.
If you’d like a cogent explanation of the connection between raw milk and the food safety debate currently ongoing in Congress, take a look at the popular food blog, La Vida Locavore. There, Jill Richardson does a pre-publication review of my book, The Raw Milk Revolution, to provide as expert an explanation as I’ve seen, about the double standard imposed by regulators on raw milk versus other Big Ag foods.