by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Raw-milk

Apr 3 2014

Raw milk: coming soon to a state near you?

I haven’t said much about raw milk in a while, but not because nothing is happening with it.

Tarini Parti writes in Politico that a bipartisan coalition of House members wants to end the long-standing ban on interstate marketing of raw milk.

Raw milk, Parti says, is “bringing together some of the most anti-government libertarians and left-leaning liberals.”

Politics makes strange bedfellows!

What unites them?  Freedom of choice, of course.

“It’s nice to see that people are now advocating for their right rather than science,” said Baylen Linnekin, executive director of Keep Food Legal, a group that describes itself as “the first nationwide membership organization devoted to food freedom—the right of every American to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of their own choosing.”

In a statement on his two bills, Massie [Rep-KY], too, highlighted the right to choose argument. “Today, many people are paying more attention to the food they eat, what it contains, and how it is processed. Raw milk, which has been with us for thousands of years, is making a comeback among these discerning consumers,” he said. “Personal choices as basic as ‘what we feed our families’ should not be limited by the federal government.”

As for the pesky matter of science, take a look at Bill Marler’s website, Real Raw Milk Facts, where he collects:

As a reality check, take a look at the answer to the question, How many people get sick from raw milk compared to pasteurized milk?

But never mind all that.  ProPolitico’s Morning Agriculture report (behind the paywall, alas) listed states that are working on bills to make it easier to get raw milk.

– California: AB 2505 was introduced Feb 21 and would allow dairies to sell or share raw milk from cows on that facility directly to consumers. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Agriculture March 13: http://bit.ly/1e16K5u

– Georgia: HB 718 would set requirements for the sale of “ungraded milk” to consumers as long as it is labeled: http://1.usa.gov/1af433N

– Hawaii: HB 1987 and its companion S 2562 would allow the distribution of raw milk as part of a cow share, goat share or sheep share program. The measure was approved by the House Agriculture Committee, Jan. 27, but the House Committee on Health, the next hurdle for the legislation, has deferred on taking up the bill. S 2562 has yet to see any committee action: http://1.usa.gov/1djbG47

– Iowa: SF 61 was carried over from 2013, and would put a moratorium on the enforcement of all state rules governing the sale of raw products, including produce, honey, nuts eggs and milk: http://bit.ly/1cJOujV. SF 2306, meanwhile, would allow for the sale of cheese produced from raw milk and details labeling requirements for the product: http://bit.ly/1mCTtbr.

Louisiana:  HB 247 seeks to allow the sale of raw milk and unpasteurized cheese on the farm where it has been produced, though it would require the milk be clearly labeled as raw and deny liability by the state or farm in the case of illnesses from consumption. The bill, filed Feb 20, also would prohibit advertising: http://1.usa.gov/1mkdPDj

– Maryland: SB 1092 was introduced Feb. 28 and would require producers of raw milk to have a written contract with consumers of the product and set up testing, safety and labeling requirements. It also would require producers to register with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: http://1.usa.gov/1ptnqtf. However, HB 3, which would have allowed for the distribution of raw milk to a cow share or Community Supported Agriculture agreement member, was withdrawn March 24 after an unfavorable report by the Health and Government Operations Committee: http://1.usa.gov/1djegqR

– Massachusetts: HB 3857 would allow for the home delivery of raw milk to members of a cow share or a CSA agreement, and allow for farmers to sell raw milk from farm stands that are not on the site of where the milk is produced: http://1.usa.gov/1aSLUta

– Michigan: HB 5336 would prohibit federal regulation of any food, including raw milk, that is produced and then sold in the state: http://1.usa.gov/1fCGgaQ

– New Jersey: AB 543 would create a permitting program to allow farmers to sell raw milk, though only on the property where the milk is produced. The bill also seeks to set up testing requirement, storage temperature requirements and would mandate warning labels: http://bit.ly/1fmdbRv

– New Jersey: S 1285 would permit the sale of raw milk and milk products to individuals and retail stores and sets inspection and testing standards, in addition to requiring that producers do not use growth hormones on the cows: http://bit.ly/1pEsMjO

– Oklahoma: HB 2595 would amend the state’s Milk and Milk Products Act to ensure it does not prohibit the sale of raw milk. The measure would take effect Nov. 1, 2014: http://bit.ly/1oeBgTo

– Rhode Island: S 2224 would require the state’s milk commission to establish rules for the sale of raw milk, but the Senate Health and Human Services Committee recommended the bill be held for further study on March 11: http://bit.ly/1fAIQk2

– South Dakota: SB 126 would have created an exemption from state laws governing dairy products for raw milk that is packaged on the farm where it is produced and sold by the farmer, but the measure was tabled Feb. 21 by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee in a 5-1 vote: http://1.usa.gov/1bhvrt4

– West Virginia: HB4274 would have permitted the sale of raw milk in the state as of Jan. 1, 2015, and HB 4273 would have allowed for participants in cow share programs to receive raw milk. However, the bills did not make it to a vote before the West Virginia legislative session ended, March 14: http://bit.ly/1lunSck and here: http://bit.ly/1bQGUQj

How’s that for an impressive list.

 

Aug 4 2010

We need S. 510 to pass, despite tea bagging

My policy is to ignore snippy comments on this site but I recently received one that raises an issue worth attention.  In response to my most recent post about the endless—and to my mind, appalling—delays in passing S. 510, a bill that will give the FDA authority to require safe food production, a critical reader, Harry Hamil, writes:

Dr. Nestle, your statement, “What’s holding up this bill? Nothing but politics of the worst kind,” is absolutely false and you know it.  As you well know, there is broad, deep and large opposition to the industrial-size-only approach to food safety that S 510/HR 2749 will make the law of the land….And, once again, I challenge you to a debate of the actual provisions of the bill. Your previous blogs demonstrate a remarkable ignorance of the actual provisions and little understanding of the real world consequences.

As readers of this blog know, I believe that all food, no exceptions, from large producers and small, should be produced safely, meaning that producers should follow food safety plans that involve preventive controls.  But this comment raises another issue: the unhelpful tone of this debate.

Bill Marler, the Seattle lawyer who represents the victims of food poisonings, gets such comments all the time.  In a post on FoodSafetyNews.com, he deals with the tone issue in response to rather nasty comment about his views of raw milk.  Marler says:

Actually, I get more than a few emails like this.  Most do a bit better at spelling and punctuation, but nearly all are from raw milk proponents, producers, or consumers (although there are a few from the anti-S. 510 cabal).  Some, but not all, have a level of passion that borders on violence.  Perhaps not directed at me, but generally in the “do not tread on me”–“tea party” shouting that we have been subjected to over the last year.

Frankly, I was perplexed at the “yell fest” that passed for discussion of whether we should expand health care to the 40 million of our fellow citizens without health insurance.  I am shocked at how we scream at each other via email or blog comments about raw milk or honest differences about how food safety legislation should be modeled.  It is like screaming at and belittling each other at the dinner table–albeit, a very large table.

What is with all this anger over food?  I mean, honestly, it seems like there are bigger fish to fry.  What about the wars?  Global warming?  Energy policy?

But, folks are angry about their view of food–especially the proponents of raw milk (affectionately, “raw milkies”) and the anti-S. 510 folks (affectionately, “organic tea baggers”).  Both groups view themselves as victims of big government and big business bent on reducing them to servitude or extinction.  They cannot see that perhaps, just perhaps, people who see the dangers of raw milk or the value of S. 510, might simply have an honest disagreement with those that see raw milk as the nectar of the gods or S. 510 as more than a method of lining the pockets of Monsanto.  But, hey, that is just me.

So, do the yelling, threats and belittling of the anti raw milk/pro S. 510 crowd actually work?  Are some convinced that those that yell the loudest have the best arguments?  Or, do some simply shy away from their positions after being the target of a nasty blog post or scathing email or comment?  I think some do.  I know I have been tempted to simply focus on other pressing issues surrounding food safety–there are many–and let folks guzzle raw milk to their heart’s content and let S. 510 die a lingering death.

But, that is not my style.  Even as a child when told to do A I usually did B.  When the raw milk party calls me a tool of big dairy or an ambulance chaser, I come back with reasoned pros and cons of raw milk consumption, videos of raw milk consumers sickened, and a website–Real Raw Milk Facts–dedicated to having a reasoned discussion about raw milk.  I am also beginning to work on a raw milk retail sampling project to test its safety.

As for S. 510, the nastier the emails from small producers who want little or no food safety regulation, the more money I donate to political campaigns, the more trips I take to DC, and the more often I fund victim visits to their favorite senator.

And, to do the above, I hardly raise my voice.  Well, once in awhile I do.

Me too.  Thanks Bill.
Jul 26 2010

Food safety: what about Pasteurized milk?

Taking about raw milk stirs up a can of worms, with plenty of ideology governing opinions on all sides.  My posting of Bill Marler’s list of recent raw milk outbreaks a couple of days ago elicited much heat and one appropriate question: How do raw milk outbreaks compare to outbreaks from Pasteurized milk.

People must be asking Marler the same question, because he has just answered it.   Outbreaks from pasteurized milk products do occur, but they are rare, especially because far more people drink Pasteurized than raw milk.    Here is his summary table.  He puts the supporting documentation on the real raw milk facts website.

And here is the CDC’s Q and A on raw milk.

My view: yes, people should have the right to drink raw milk if they want to, but they need to know—and take responsibility for—the risks.  And everyone who produces raw milk should use a HACCP (preventive control) plan and stick to it in letter and in spirit.

Addition: I’ve just been sent links to three Los Angeles Times stories about a raid (with drawn guns, yet) on a Venice grocery store selling raw milk.  A long piece explains what this is about and includes a video of the raid.  A third story talks about the debates about raw milk, also with a video.

Jul 24 2010

Recent food safety problems caused by raw milk

It’s a hot weekend and I’m feeling lazy, so I will do a bit of borrowing and reproduce Bill Marler’s summary of year-to-date illnesses caused by raw milk products (click on the chart to make it bigger and easier to read).

On his website devoted to the topic, www.realrawmilkfacts.com, Marler presents a litigator’s view of the issues related to raw milk, with plenty of documents to back of his position.

My view: everyone who produces food should produce safe food.  If I were producing raw milk, I’d be testing it like mad to make sure it didn’t harbor dangerous pathogens, but that’s just me.

Jun 7 2010

The raw milk fights: economics, ideology, or both?

Today’s New York Times has an op-ed, “Crying over raw milk“, about the political fights over raw milk in Wisconsin.  The Wisconsin legislature has introduced a bill allowing dairy farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers.  The conventional dairy industry is not happy about that.

The author of the piece, Michael Feldman, is dubious about the purported health benefits of raw milk but is quite clear about its economic benefits: “you can’t get $6 a gallon for pasteurized milk.”

Crass economics is behind much of the politics of raw milk these days.  The conventional dairy industry is in trouble: too many cows, too much milk, and not nearly enough regulation of supply.  In contrast, raw milk has passionate advocates willing to pay premium prices.

Not fair, says the dairy industry, which wants raw milk to be regulated:

In a letter to two senior members the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, the dairy groups called for a measure obliging all facilities producing raw or unpasteurized milk products for direct human consumption to “register with FDA and adhere to the tried-and-true food safety requirements that are followed by all other facilities producing milk products”.

As for the safety of raw milk, it is useful to take a look at Seattle attorney Bill Marler’s website: “Real Raw Milk Facts.”   There, he summarizes recent cases of illness caused by toxic E. coli and Salmonella contaminants in raw milk.  These constitute a full employment act for attorneys like Marler who represent victims of foodborne illness.

My position on raw milk has long been that people have a right to drink it but it had better be produced safely.  I believe that all foods–no exceptions–should be produced under well designed and carefully followed HACCP plans (or their equivalent) with pathogen testing at intervals commensurate with the level of risk.

But food safety experts tell me that raw milk can never be tested frequently enough to be confident it is safe.

Raw milk carries a greater risk of bacterial contamination than pasteurized milk and people who buy it should know what those risks are.  The risk may be small, but it is finite.  Putting a child at risk of hemolytic uremic syndrome from toxic E. coli just doesn’t make sense to me.

Like Michael Feldman, I’m dubious about the claims made for the health benefits of raw milk.  No question, it tastes better and that may be reason enough to want it.  But until I can be sure that the producer is scrupulous about safety, my personal choice favors pasteurization.

But that’s just me.  You?

Mar 26 2010

San Francisco Chronicle: Listeria bacteria hysteria

My most recent column in the San Francisco Chronicle appeared later than usual (March 14) so I forgot to post it when it came out.  It deals with Listeria in pregnancy:

A guide to avoiding Listeria

Nutrition and public policy expert Marion Nestle answers readers’ questions in this monthly column written exclusively for The Chronicle. E-mail your questions to food@sfchronicle.com, with “Marion Nestle” in the subject line.

Q: I miscarried at 19 weeks of pregnancy. My doctor said my placenta was infected with Listeria, only her second case in 20 years of practice. I am your typical Bay Area food lover. I thought if I knew the sources of most of my food, I’d be safe. What is safe for pregnant women to eat in the post-Michael Pollan era?

A: Thanks for allowing your personal tragedy to alert others to this hazard. Losing a wanted pregnancy is a heartbreak. Losing one to a food-borne illness is especially tragic. Such illnesses should be preventable.

Food should be safe before it gets to you. That it sometimes is not is a consequence of our inadequate food safety system, which does not require food producers to test for harmful bacteria. The House of Representatives passed legislation that does so last summer, but the Senate is sitting on it. As an individual, you cannot easily protect yourself against invisible hazards in food. Congress must pass that legislation.

Without federal requirements, you are on your own to keep yourself and your unborn infant safe from food pathogens, especially Listeria. Much as I hate to add to what the French sociologist Claude Fischler calls “Listeria bacteria hysteria,” I must. Listeria preferentially affects pregnant women. If you are pregnant and want to stay pregnant, you must avoid Listeria.

This will not be easy. Listeria is widely dispersed in foods. Infections from it may be rare, but they are deadly. Listeria kills a shocking 25 percent of those it infects and is particularly lethal to fetuses.

Most people, including pregnant women, are immune to Listeria and do not feel ill when infected. But unlike most bacteria, Listeria penetrates the placenta, and fetuses have no immunity. The first sign of an infection can be a miscarriage or stillborn infant – too late for antibiotics.

How worried should pregnant women be about Listeria? Given our ineffective food safety system, I’d advise caution. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 2,500 cases a year and 500 deaths. These numbers are minuscule – unless your pregnancy is affected.

Cases occur mainly among the young, the old and others with poor immunity. But the cause of miscarriages is not typically investigated, and I’m guessing that fetal deaths from Listeria are badly underreported.

Animals and people often excrete Listeria from their digestive tracts, even when they show no signs of illness. The bacteria get into food from infected animal waste and unwashed hands.

As a result, unpasteurized milk products and contaminated raw vegetables are frequent food sources. Other sources depend on yet another of Listeria’s nasty features – Listeria grows, reproduces and flourishes at refrigerator temperatures that stop other bacteria cold.

This explains why the CDC strongly advises pregnant women not to eat potentially undercooked foods stored in refrigerators: hot dogs, lunch meats, deli meats, patés, meat spreads and smoked seafood (salmon, trout, lox, jerky); soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, those with blue veins, and especially Mexican “queso blanco fresco”; and raw milk or foods containing unpasteurized milk.

Even though some of these foods were cooked or pasteurized to begin with – blue cheese, for example – they can become contaminated after processing. Days or weeks of refrigeration give Listeria ample time to reproduce. Just about any food sitting around in a refrigerated package can be a source, with meat, fish and dairy foods especially suspect.

The CDC advises following safe food handling procedures to the letter at home. Avoid cross-contaminating raw and cooked foods, and use refrigerated perishables right away.

Listeria infections were virtually unknown 25 years ago, so view this hazard as collateral damage from the consolidation and centralization of our industrialized food supply.

Do not despair. There is some good news. Cooking kills Listeria. Pregnant women still have plenty of options for good things to eat that are safe.

Anything cooked hot is safe. So are hard cheeses, semisoft cheeses like mozzarella, pasteurized processed cheeses, and cream and cottage cheeses. These were cooked or are now too dry and salty for bacterial growth. Anything canned – patés, meat spreads, smoked fish, other fish – also is safe.

When it comes to food hazards during pregnancy, Listeria is unique. A sip of wine every now and then is not going to induce fetal alcohol syndrome, nor will your baby get mercury-induced brain damage from an occasional tuna sandwich. The risks from such hazards accumulate with amounts consumed over time.

But the risk from Listeria is acute. With so much at stake, and so many other food choices available, why take chances?

Just last month, the Food and Drug Administration reported recalls of queso fresco, blue cheese and bean sprouts because of possible Listeria risk. The FDA is doing its best, short of legislation. To keep Listeria out of the food supply, Congress needs to act. Write your representatives now.

Marion Nestle is the author of “Food Politics, “Safe Food” and “What to Eat,” and is a professor in the nutrition, food studies and public health department at New York University. E-mail her at food@sfchronicle.com and read her previous columns at sfgate.com/food.

Aug 8 2007

Raw Milk or Raw Deal?

This must be the week for talking about raw milk. The Washington Post and the New York Times both ran stories about the push to be able to drink raw milk, legal or not. Why do people want raw milk? Some like the taste, some swear by its health benefits, some believe in a natural, raw food ideology, and some just don’t like the government telling them what not to eat. The health benefits are supposed to be that raw milk contains enzymes and good bacteria that get destroyed by pasteurization (which heats milk to a temperature that kills most bacteria, bad and good). Food safety officials, on the other hand, cringe at the idea of feeding unpasteurized dairy foods to anyone, let alone children. Cow’s milk is not sterile and there are all too many instances in which harmful bacteria in whole milk made people sick, and sometimes very sick. Drinking raw milk is risky. How risky? It’s hard to say. If you know your dairy is following rigorous food safety procedures, there’s a good chance that its products are OK. But what if you don’t? When it comes to milk, I prefer mine pasteurized. The enzymes in milk get destroyed during digestion anyway, so why take a chance? Cheeses, however, are another matter. As long as they are properly aged and salted, raw milk cheeses ought to be just fine. Even so, I’m happier about eating them when I know that their producer is following a carefully designed safety plan with monitoring and testing for harmful bacteria. If I don’t know this, I just have to trust the seller and hope for the best. Raw milk generates intense passion on both sides. But why so much? Do tell.