Full list: Milk News

New York Times: F.D.A. Rule May Alter Cheese-Aging Process

By STEPHANIE STROM and KIM SEVERSON
June 10, 2014
Full Article

A decision by the Food and Drug Administration to question the use of wooden planks to age some cheeses has produced a stink that rivals Limburger, prompting an uproar among the artisanal cheese makers and consumers who fear they might lose access to products like obscure blue cheeses from Vermont and imported Parmigiano-Reggiano.

The agency recently interpreted a decades-old regulation requiring that cheese-making equipment be designed and constructed of material that is “adequately cleanable” in ways that made it appear that wood, which has been used for centuries to help age cheese, was no longer sanitary enough.

“The porous nature of wood enables it to absorb and retain bacteria, therefore bacteria generally colonize not only the surface but also the inside layers of wood,” Monica Metz, chief of the dairy and egg branch of the Office of Food Safety, wrote in a letter to the New York State Agriculture Department at the beginning of this year.

For some styles of cheese, wood is an essential part of the process. It aids in the control of moisture that helps form rinds on big wheels of English Cheddar and small, delicate washed-rind cheeses. It also provides an amenable surface for the microbes that add flavor and character to cheese.

But the wrong bacteria can sicken consumers, which is what the F.D.A. was trying to control with its initial decision.

Cheese makers from California to Vermont took to social media in the last few days to express outrage. The hashtag #saveourcheese surfaced on Twitter. Chefs and cheese lovers took to Facebook and blogs to rebut the notion that wood was harmful.

Tuesday evening, the agency seemed to backtrack, saying that it planned to work with artisanal cheese makers “to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving.”

To take away wood as part of the cheese-making process would mean wholesale change for more than a third of the cheese makers in America and could have implications for imported cheese, about half of which is aged on wood, said Nora Weiser, the executive director of the American Cheese Society, an organization that represents the nation’s farmstead and artisanal cheese makers.

In Wisconsin alone, more than 33 million pounds of cheese — of the 2.7 billion pounds produced in the state — is sitting on wooden shelving, she said.

“Wood is a perfectly safe surface,” she said.

The F.D.A., however, says wood could be a potentially hazardous surface, and recently cracked down on one small cheese maker in New York, which prompted state officials to seek clarification from the agency.

The issue began during an F.D.A. inspection in 2012, when the Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese Company in Trumansburg, N.Y., was barred from making cheese after Listeria monocytogenes, a type of bacteria that can cause fatal illnesses, was found on one of the wooden boards on which cheese was aged, as well as on other surfaces.

Ms. Taber Richards cleaned and disinfected her equipment and kitchen yet again, conferring with the F.D.A. about what cleaning products and processes she was using. “It was kind of like trying to hit a moving target in the dark,” she said. “I never knew explicitly what they wanted done.”

So in October 2013, she was surprised to receive a letter from the F.D.A. demanding that she agree to a consent decree stipulating that she could not receive, prepare, process, pack, hold or distribute food until she developed a program to rid her operations of listeria once and for all or face a lawsuit.

“I thought I had been cooperative and responsive,” she said. “But when I called, they said, ‘You didn’t get rid of your wooden aging shelves.’ Well, no one had ever told me I needed to get rid of them.”

State regulators then wanted to know whether that prohibition on wood applied to all cheese makers, and in January, Ms. Metz sent them her interpretation of the federal regulation requiring equipment that was “adequately cleanable.”

She did not definitively state that wood could not be used to process cheese, however, and cheese makers in New York continued to fume.

“Were they going to enforce a ban on wood in New York but not Wisconsin, in Pennsylvania but not France?” said Robert Ralyea, a senior extension associate in the department of food science at Cornell University and a cheese maker himself. “All we knew was that a ban was enforced on Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese.”

So on Thursday, Mr. Ralyea started an email blast “to a relatively large crowd,” which lit up social media and the blogosphere.

Vince Razionale of Jasper Hill in Greensboro, Vt., where a series of aging caves are lined with wooden shelving that hold prizewinning cheeses, said, “We’re feeling really nervous about this whole situation. Like a lot of other cheese makers, we’re feeling very exposed.”

Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont, now plans to attach an amendment to an agriculture appropriations bill moving through Congress that would prohibit the F.D.A. from spending any money to enforce a ban on the use of wooden shelves in cheese making. He said he expected widespread support from lawmakers in Wisconsin, New York and other states with large cheese production.

“The F.D.A. is mixing up the hygienic practices of a producer with the materials being used in production,” Mr. Welch said. “If you have an unhygienic operation in the production of food, probably everything is going to be infected, so is the F.D.A. going to ban the use of stainless steel when it finds listeria on it?”

He said the issue was creating a tremendous amount of financial uncertainty among cheese makers, noting that Jasper Hill would have to spend about $20 million to replace the wooden shelving it uses for aging.

He said a ban on wood also would affect the taste of cheeses that rely on it for aging and kick off an international trade war. “Many European cheeses are aged on wood, so if the F.D.A. enforces this rule, it will mean those cheeses cannot be imported into the United States and that will surely lead to retaliation,” Mr. Welch said.

The statement issued by the F.D.A. on Tuesday noted that the ban was not a new policy because the regulation on “adequately cleanable” utensils and surfaces dated back to 1986. “Historically, the F.D.A. has expressed concern about whether wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in inspectional findings,” the agency said, adding that it was “always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese.”

Mr. Welch snorted when the statement was read to him. “They should be able to give a definitive point of view one way or the other rather than creating more ambiguity and uncertainty with their wishy-washy statement,” he said.


WCSH: Food sovereignty fight taken to Maine’s highest court

By Tim Goff
May 13, 2014
Full Article and Video

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — A fight over local control and food sovereignty that began in the fields of Blue Hill more than two and a half years ago, spilled over into the state’s highest court on Tuesday.

Justices with the Maine Judicial Supreme Court heard arguments from lawyers representing Dan Brown, a small farmer fighting against sanctions imposed by the Maine Department of Agriculture that stem from his sale of raw milk on his farm without a license.

“I can’t give my neighbor a half gallon of milk. This is crazy talk,” exclaimed Brown as he stood outside the Cumberland County Courthouse.

Brown says it was about ten years ago when he and his wife, Judy, decided to start a small farm operation on their land at their home in Blue Hill. They had a handful of chickens and added a couple of cows.

“I loved it. It was a way of life,” said Brown.

They were producing more milk than they could consume, so Brown says he approached the state to see if they could sell the raw, unpasteurized milk, he was told he could on his farm as long as he didn’t advertise he was doing it.

“I was following their directions,” he explained. “I asked them what can I do? Where can I sell my milk? ‘If you sell from your farm, we don’t need to know you’,” he says he was told.

For several years he says they’re weren’t any problems. His operation grew to roughly 300 chickens and eight cows. He invested money in a farm stand and started making cheese and other products along with selling vegetables. Brown says he never worked so hard in his life, or was as content working as when he was fixing things on the farm.

In 2011, an inspector with the state paid his farm a visit. Brown says he was told he needed to make numerous improvements to comply with state regulations. He estimates it would have cost between $20,000 and $60,000 to meet the requirements.

“To produce a couple gallons a day, how could you ever recoup that?” he wondered. “It is the infrastructure needed to produce the milk to fall under a commercial dairy license.”

Brown closed his doors for about a week. Other farmers in the area reached out to him and told him the laws had not changed and that he should continue operating as he had been. So he reopened and was soon sued by the state.

Dan Brown says paying for the required license was never the issue, but the amount of money he would have had to invest to build the infrastructure to fall under a commercial dairy license was beyond his capabilities and something he was not interested in doing.

“This is about more than one man, milking one cow and selling its milk to his neighbor,” stated State Representative Brian Jones, at a rally before Brown’s hearing outside the courthouse. “We support the right of communities to determine how they will manage the production and distribution of food among themselves and the rights of individuals to determine what foods they will eat.”

Jones joined Brown and roughly two dozen of Brown’s supporters on the courthouse steps before his case was heard. All of them support local food sovereignty ordinances like the one passed in Blue Hill back in 2011. The ordinances seek to protect small scale food producers from having to comply with state and federal regulations and inspections.

“I am here because I believe food raised by a community, for a community, within a community should be regulated by that community,” said Heather Rhetberg, who traveled to Portland from her farm in Penobscot to show her support for Brown.

Eleven Maine towns have passed food sovereignty ordinances in recent years in an effort to support their local economies and keep them in business supplying their friends and neighbors with food grown or made in their own backyards.

Gary Cox, a lawyer with the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund traveled from Ohio to Maine to represent Brown before the Supreme Court. He says if Brown is successful in his appeal it will “be a huge victory for food sovereignty”.

The state, which imposed a fine of $1000 on Brown for selling raw milk without a license, believes state and federal statutes supersede local ordinances.

“The department really does support local food sales and these kinds of transactions between farmers and individuals,” stated Randlett. “But, again as I pointed out, it can’t be without rules.”

The Maine Judicial Supreme Court is expected to issue its findings in the coming weeks.


Burlington Free Press/USA Today: Got (raw) milk? Advocates want you to get the choice

By Mary Bowerman
May 5, 2014
Full Article

Public health officials will tell you that drinking raw milk is not worth the risk of suffering a food-borne illness. But advocates — who contend raw or unpasteurized milk can battle everything from autism to allergies — are behind bills in a number of states to open the door to raw milk sales. Further, Congress is entertaining two bills to make it easier to buy and transport raw milk across state lines.

While 30 states in the U.S. allow consumer sale of raw milk in some form, a 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that unpasteurized products are 150 times more likely to cause food-borne illnesses than pasteurized versions. But advocates say the health benefits outweigh the negatives, and people should have the right to choose what they want to eat or drink.

Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to kill microorganisms. Typically milk is held at 161 degrees for 15 seconds, a process called flash pasteurization. Under a 1987 federal law, products made from unpasteurized milk may not be sold or traded across state borders.

Currently states are divided into areas where the sale of raw milk for human consumption is illegal to states that allow some form of sale, whether for pet food, retail sale, farm sales or herd shares (where consumers purchase a share of a farmer’s herd in exchange for raw milk).

Rep. Thomas Massie, R- Ky., recently introduced two bills: The first would end the interstate ban on raw milk sales, and the second would allow interstate transport between states where raw milk is currently legal.

According to The Conference of State Legislatures at the state level, 40 bills to allow raw milk sales or ease current restrictions have been introduced in 23 states.

Sally Fallon Morell, the president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit education foundation and advocate of raw milk, said if consumers want to drink raw milk they will find a way, many times going to states where it is legal.

“It’s grossly unfair for farmers in states where it is illegal to sell raw milk,” Fallon Morell said. “It doesn’t mean people will stop drinking it. It just means those farmers cannot profit from the enthusiasm for raw milk.”

The foundation fights for the legal sale of unpasteurized milk and a ban on soy-based formulas for infants, based on the theories of Weston Price, a 20th-century Cleveland dentist, believing that pasteurizing milk destroys vitamins and damages health-giving enzymes in milk.

Much of the information on raw milk is based on anecdotal accounts of its benefits. RealMilk.com, a website by the Weston A. Price Foundation, says that in addition to helping grow children’s nervous systems, raw milk produces bacteria that help break down lactose, making it easier to digest for people with lactose intolerance.

“We have thousands of testimonies from people who can’t drink pasteurized milk but have no problem with raw milk,” Fallon Morell said.


A Tale of Two Milks: A Farmer’s Perspective: Op-ed by Lindsay Harris

Art Credit: Phil Herbison

Art Credit: Phil Herbison

A Tale of Two Milks: A Farmer’s Perspective
Ran in the Rutland Herald 5/4/14 (view post)
By Lindsay Harris
4/28/14

As the Vermont Legislature considers S.70, a bill that would allow the delivery of raw (unpasteurized) milk to farmers’ markets, there has been a spirited discussion on the value of raw milk sales as part of Vermont’s agricultural economy. As the founder and former operator of Family Cow Farmstand, a raw milk micro-dairy in Hinesburg, I’d like to share a farmer’s perspective. We Vermonters are blessed to have an abundance of local foods; however we are at a crossroads in building a local food system that is truly sustainable. Raw dairy production can be a part of the solution, if Vermont has the courage to move forward and not stay stuck retelling a story that dates to the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Raw milk and raw dairy products have sustained many cultures across the globe for thousands of years. Raw milk in its various forms is mentioned in the bible over 50 times. Pasteurization is a recently developed technique only becoming a widespread practice within the last 60 years. Despite this, we often hear how pasteurization is essential for food safety. This disparity has everything to do with modern production methods.

In the early 1900’s the rise of industrial milk production was the cause of a terrible public health crisis. Confinement dairies started popping up next to whiskey refineries so the waste grain mash, called “swill”, could be force-fed to cows, producing low-cost milk for poor city dwellers who no longer had access to fresh milk from farms. These early industrial dairies were terrible places where both the cows and the workers were filthy and often sick. Illness spread to people who drank the raw “swill milk” and something had to be done. Instead of requiring cows be healthy and milked on small, clean farms, regulators allowed low-cost, low-quality swill milk to remain on the market, and required that it be “cooked” (pasteurized) before sale so it wouldn’t spread infectious disease. For a long time there were two milks in America: “Certified” raw milk that came from clean rural farms, and low-cost, cooked swill milk produced in the cities. With the gradual industrialization of most dairy production, milk became a commodity and pasteurization became the norm and the law.

Dairy regulation has come a long way since then, but it still allows for: large, confinement housing systems; feeding cows with concentrates, industrial food wastes and GMO’s; co-mingled milk from many thousands of cows; regular use of hormones and antibiotics; and milk from unhealthy cows to enter the food supply. The feasibility of industrial milk production depends on pasteurization. But there is another way to farm where pasteurization has never been necessary. It is the way humans have been successfully raising dairy animals for many thousands of years, in small herds fed on grass.

Cows with a grass-based diet are much less likely to harbor pathogens.1, 2 A recent UVM study tested over a hundred milk samples from 30 small-scale, Vermont farms. 3 The results consistently showed outstanding milk quality and zero pathogenic cells in any of the samples. Recent data from the US Centers for Disease Control show a person is many times more likely to get sick from consuming seafood, chicken, beef, spinach and many other common perishable foods than from drinking raw milk.4 Furthermore, recent studies show significant health benefits to drinking milk that has not been pasteurized. 5

Current regulations surrounding raw milk production and sale in Vermont reflect a fear and bias that is not supported by scientific evidence. This fear and bias is evident in the Vermont dairy industry’s vehement opposition to allowing sales of high-quality raw milk from small farms. Currently, Vermont’s raw milk producers are held to a higher standard of testing and inspection than conventional dairies and they are unfairly restricted from selling their product even when they meet these regulations. Let’s follow other states’ lead in allowing farmers who produce excellent, high quality food to sell it and return control over food choices to informed consumers.

Please contact Governor Shumlin and ask him to support greater economic opportunity for raw dairy farmers by signing S.70, and by directing his Agency of Agriculture to develop policies that encourage and support the development of micro-dairies and regulates them fairly.

1. Russell, J.B., F. Diez-Gonzalez, and G.N. Jarvis, Microbes Infect 2, no, 1 (2000) 45-53.

2. Bailey, G.D., B.A. Vantelow et al. (2003) Commun Dis Intell 2003; 27(2): 249-57.

3. D’Amico, D.J., and C.W. Donnelly. J. Dairy Sci.93:134-147 (2010)

4. Centers for Disease Control. (2007). “FOIA 06-0819 Line list of foodborne illness reported to CDC’s National Foodborne Outbreak Surveillance System from 1973 to 2005” Available online at http://www.davidgumpert.com/files/Cdc-foodborne-i.pdf (accessed April 27, 2010)

5. Waser, M., et al. Clinical and Experimental Allergy 37.5 (2007): 661-670.

Lindsay Harris
Mountain Home Farm
213 Bicknell Hill Rd
Tunbridge, VT 05077
(802) 989-2813 or lindsayjharris@yahoo.com

Lindsay Harris is a dairy farmer who founded and ran Family Cow Farmstand in Hinesburg for the past five years. She now farms in Tunbridge where she is producing artisanal butter, buttermilk and ricotta cheese.


The Complete Patient: A Farmer, and Mom, Pleads for “Common Sense” Raw Milk Regs

Intro by David Gumpert, Article by Rural Vermont Board Member Tamara Martin
4/18/2014
Full Article

The  Vermont legislature is considering very narrow legislation (S 70) that would allow the two largest raw dairies in the state to deliver raw milk to customers at farmers markets. Not sell it, mind you, just drop it off to customers, so they don’t have to trek to the farms to pick it up. A Vermont House committee has been holding hearings on this proposal, listening to both proponents and opponents of raw milk. I was among proponents offering testimony. But in addition to outside “experts,” the legislative committee has also heard from a number of raw dairy farmers. I thought the testimony offered by one of them spoke very well to the issue of risk, as well as to the hidden economic implications of reduced raw milk availability. 

by Tamara Martin

 

Tamara Martin with two of her childrenTamara Martin with two of her children

My husband and I are co-owners and managers of Chandler Pond Farm in S. Wheelock, VT in the Northeast Kingdom. We are a diversified farm of 200 acres. We grow five acres of vegetables and berries, process 1,000 pastured chickens a year, as well as pastured pork, grass-fed beef, eggs, maple syrup, hay, and lastly, raw milk. This diverse model works for us as we direct market all of our products and are able to provide a wide variety of nutritious food for our local community, while keeping the family tradition of farming going strong. It also allows us not have all our income in one basket and lets our enterprises complement each other.

My husband is the fifth continuous generation in his family making a living farming in Vermont… There is a blue milk pitcher in our fridge feeding us and our three children, 8, 7 and 5, fresh milk since we began our family and started farming.

We currently market our products through several avenues—all local. We have a 45-member CSA, a farm stand on the farm, and we attend two farmers markets. The raw milk, of course, is only sold at the farm. We are a micro dairy. We milk two to four heritage breed cows, American Milking Devons, which don’t produce in large volume, but their milk is incredibly high quality. Milking Devons are known for their higher protein content as well as higher CLA’s and Omega- 3s, than most any other milk. Buying a product like this, pure Devon milk, anywhere but directly from the farm, is virtually impossible in Vermont. 

We don’t sell a large amount of milk, largely because of the location of our farm. Even if we were able to meet reasonable guidelines to sell at drop off points or markets, our dairy herd would never grow as large as many in Vermont. We chose this path of a micro dairy because it allows us to produce a high quality milk, and we are able to take care of cows and our milking systems to the degree of cleanliness and sanitation that we feel best about.  

Fresh milk sales in Vermont feel particularly challenging. I have personally done plenty of research and reading about regulations in other states such as New Hampshire, Maine, as well as accompanying statistics. I understand the desire for food safety, but only when balanced by common sense and the idea that people have an inherent right to choose the food that is best for their family, whether we agree or not. We can choose raw milk or Diet Coke, understanding the risks. It’s our choice. 

One has to realize that even before being a farmer, I am a mother. I am not interested in feeding my children an unsafe product. But I also am not interested in fear. I like to understand the risks and benefits and how it fits into the scheme of daily life. It is easy to read one scary story and have a knee-jerk reaction. When this happens to me, I force levelheadedness to take over. There are risks in everything. Do I allow my children to each poached eggs? Can they jump on a trampoline? Will I feed them raw milk from a source that I know to use the highest standards of sanitation and precaution? Do I allow them to visit Grandma in the hospital during flu season? Should they touch the grocery cart when norovirus is going around our small town? 

I can’t fear everything. I make decisions based on facts and risks. With all that said, we drink raw milk from our farm and have from others that we trust when we aren’t milking. I guess I feel the need to explain this, because I would never knowingly sell something I personally wouldn’t drink or feed my children just for economic benefit.

So let’s talk economics. It is hard to sell milk when your farm is just six miles out of town. I can’t imagine farms that are twenty miles out that have an excellent quality product and no customers.

In order to make your micro dairy profitable, you have to be able to sell a certain volume, with a certain bottom line. This is a business and our expenses are real,  as is our time. If it’s established that this product is safe, please, let us sell it and support our families by farming. If we’re selling lots of it, then the regulations should be appropriate. If we are just selling a few quarts a day, then let’s use our common sense in those regulations. Scale-appropriate rules are ideal in risk and economics.

I get dozens of requests from customers every summer who know I have milk for sale at the farm, to sell it at the market or even just bring it to town. I am constantly explaining to them that this is illegal. They’re always disappointed and sometimes even frustrated. They want to drink fresh milk, for their own reasons, but can’t afford the time and gas to come out to the farm every week.

Now I want to address really quickly what some of the realities of milk delivery to a market or central drop-off locations might look like at our farm. First off, understand that we currently bring a truckload of vegetables, eggs, as well as two or three coolers of frozen meat to two markets a week all summer. As well, bi- monthly winter markets. Keeping products chilled and high quality is always a concern and the biggest effort of farmers markets for many reasons. Number 1 being that NO ONE wants to sell (or try to, rather) substandard product. 

Bringing the meat in coolers frozen solid has always worked like a charm. The meat stays frozen even on the hottest days. We leave the lids on with a price list and open to let the customers choose their product then close them. No problems. Vegetables can be a difficult at times but we have found if they are prechilled prior to loading up for market with cold towels they do very well. Based on those experiences, I could imagine several scenarios for transporting and keeping milk chilled. I am always amazed at farmers’ ingenuity. For example the many different ways small micro dairies like ours have figured out how to chill milk in the time limit given to the right temps.

The initial ideas for us when thinking about transporting milk to market or central locations involve making sure the milk is adequately chilled ahead of time, plenty of ice packs and possibly an ice water bath with a small cooler of secondary ice packs to change out on particularly hot days. A min/max thermometer in our cooler etc. I urge you to allow drop off points and farmers sales and with a few COMMON SENSE guidelines and let us try at our hand at how we’ll do it. 

Currently there is a law to allow delivery to homes. In allowing drop off points and market sales, the last concern is what happens to the milk from the time it leaves the farmer to when it gets to the fridge. I tend to trust people to make good decisions. I know you or I would. At market currently I am constantly talking to people about keeping their product. Most customers, for example, when purchasing meat but maybe lingering at the market for lunch, will leave their meat in my cooler until they are ready to head home, I don’t tell them to do this, and they do it themselves because they are smart and can be trusted to figure out how to take care of their food. Others bring insulated bags or coolers in their cars with ice packs, the same goes actually for folks who buy milk at our farm. I don’t see how drop off points or markets really change anything. At some point we have to assume when making laws that people are smart, just like we assume they wash their cutting boards after cutting meat and wash their hands.

Lastly, one of the things that gets me most frustrated about food rights is the poverty and justice side of this issue. We’ve passed a law that says folks can buy this product, it is safe enough for that, BUT they’ll need to go to the farm, or live in the delivery area of the two farms delivering milk, AND be home when that delivery is supposed to come. What that says to me is, if you don’t own a car and have the gas, money and time to drive five to twenty miles or more you don’t actually have that right. It means this is a product available only to those who can afford it. It isn’t the market price that is not allowing them to feed themselves in the best way they believe possible, it’s the laws around the product, which by default have eliminated the families or persons who don’t make enough money to get it.

Many family and friends we know and love have been drinking raw milk for years. Hopefully, the disconnect of what is legal to eat at any given time and what generations of Vermonters have been eating and continue to eat is closing as we close the culture gap and the legal gap with common sense regulations and allow ALL Vermonters access to the food of their choosing whether they live near a farm or not. 


WCAX: Should Vermonters have more access to raw milk?

Apr 15, 2014
By Shelby Cashman
Full Article & Video

MONTPELIER, Vt. -A Vermont great dairy debate– raw milk versus pasteurized milk.

“People really desire a raw product, something that hasn’t been altered by pasteurization or been altered in the name of profit more often than not,” said Nathan Rogers, who owns Rogers Farmstead.

The sale of raw milk in our region is allowed, but there are restrictions aimed at protecting the public from getting sick. Tier 2 dairy farmers can sell up to 40 gallons a day of raw milk from their farms, but now they say it’s about taking it to market.”

“If you’re gonna do this and do this safely, you have to have the ability to move the product,” Rogers said. “And if it’s sitting around, that doesn’t help. It’s all about being able to create an economic business model that will work for the farmer.”

The House Agriculture Committee heard testimony Tuesday on bill S.70. If passed, the bill would allow tier 2 or larger dairy producers to deliver to farmers markets.

Critics say if the bill passes, consumers may not know the risks of what they are buying. But raw milk producers say their product is completely safe and thoroughly tested, and drinking and buying raw milk is a choice.

“It’s all about what you as an individual feel is safe, what you as an individual choose to do with your own body and your family,” Rogers said. “And that’s really for us what it comes down to, the fundamental right to make the decision yourself.”

Raw milk producers say they represent a small fraction of dairy farmers in Vermont and they serve a niche market, but they want to be able to sustain a viable business through the expansion of their method of sale.


Politico: Raw politics drive milk wars

Got raw milk?
By TARINI PARTI | 3/29/14 3:12 PM EDT
Full Article

Although not a campaign slogan just yet, a bipartisan coalition of House members is pushing for the overturn of a decades-old ban on the interstate sale of raw milk. A controversial topic within the food industry, it has slowly evolved into a pet cause that’s bringing together some of the most anti-government libertarians and left-leaning liberals.

Loosening regulations on raw – or unpasteurized — milk, which the Food and Drug Administration believes poses too many health risks, has been gaining steam on the state level in recent times, with at least half of states now allowing the sale of raw milk directly to consumers and several more seeing raw milk-related bills being introduced in the previous two sessions.

Now, with the introduction of two new bills in Congress by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), proponents of legalizing raw milk are making strides on the national front, too. Massie’s first bill, the “Milk Freedom Act of 2014,” would overturn the interstate ban on raw milk, and his other bill, the “Interstate Milk Freedom Act of 2014,” would allow interstate shipment of raw milk only between two states where raw milk sales are already legal.

The swing in momentum can, in part, be attributed to a transformation of the argument that advocates are using. The debate used to be centered on the health and nutritional benefits of raw milk versus the safety of pasteurized milk, but the likes of Ron Paul — who mentioned the issue in several speeches during his 2012 presidential run and introduced similar bills when he was in Congress — have turned it into one about freedom of choice.

“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, 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.”

Massie’s bills already have nearly 20 co-sponsors, including Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Tom McClintock (R-Calif.).

It’s a strange alliance.

Pingree, in particular, doesn’t typically share the same views on food-related policy as Massie or other Republicans, having fought recently against food stamp cuts and the use of pesticides that are endangering the Monarch butterfly population. But, in 2011, she wrote FDA to express her concern over the agency’s diverting of precious resources to “prevent consumers from choosing the type of milk that they drink.”

“When Ron Paul introduced his bill, he had trouble even getting one sponsor,” said David Gumpert, author of The Raw Milk Revolution, a 2006 book that paints an unflattering view of the government crackdown on raw milk producers. “This is quite an about-face. It speaks to the huge political change that as many representatives would go on record in support of raw milk just a few years after Ron Paul did this. It’s pretty impressive.”

The two new bills follow Sen. Rand Paul’s proposed amendment to the farm bill that would have allowed the direct sale of raw milk across state lines. The Kentucky Republican also made the food freedom argument, but he was unsuccessful in gathering support for his amendment.

In the past, raw milk advocates have argued that the product is actually healthier than pasteurized milk, but the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have countered that claim by pointing to data that shows the number of foodborne illnesses that can be attributed to raw milk.

Pete Kennedy, president of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, the major national group advocating for raw milk, argues that the statistics paint a misleading picture. He says there are several other products that aren’t banned that contribute to diseases, such as cigarettes, alcohol and even pasteurized milk in some cases.

“The trouble is that raw milk is the only food that is held to a standard of perfection,” he said.

Kennedy’s group, the advocacy arm of The Weston A. Price Foundation, more than doubled its fundraising — a measure of the growing interest in raw milk — between 2009 and 2011, according to the group’s tax filings. It raised about $240,000 in 2009 and nearly $530,000 in 2011.

Another factor now driving the movement is consumers’ growing disdain for Big Ag, said Bill Marler, a Seattle-based attorney and food safety advocate who has represented several clients made sick by raw milk.

“There has certainly been a more vocal movement to consume raw milk as people have turned away from mass produced agriculture,” he said.

“The reasons why (clients) were consuming raw milk was because they believed it was healthier, and they were supporting small farmers and poking a stick in the eye of Big Ag.”

Despite the growing grassroots movement in favor of loosening raw milk regulation and bipartisan support, getting a bill through Congress will continue to be an uphill battle, especially with strong opposition from the dairy industry. The National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association — usually on opposite sides of dairy policy — have repeatedly compared consuming raw milk to “playing Russian roulette.”

Chris Galen, spokesman for NMPF, said his group will be educating members of Congress on the risks associated with raw milk to deter Massie’s bills from gaining traction. NMPF joined with state dairy associations in Wisconsin earlier this year to keep a raw milk bill from advancing in the state legislature and push Gov. Scott Walker to veto the legislation.

Kimberly Hartke, a spokeswoman for The Weston A. Price Foundation’s Campaign for Real Milk, acknowledges that any changes on raw milk regulation on the federal level might be tough to achieve, but she remains confident her side will prevail.

“It’s basically just the grassroots’ hard work, energy and enthusiasm that’s making the difference,” Hartke said. “And ultimately that will win the day.”


Randolph Herald LTE: Why Many People Now Choose To Drink Raw Milk

By Robert Luby
Full Article

Dear Editor:

I am writing in respectful rebuttal to Dr. M. Kathleen Shaw’s and the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association’s position on raw milk. I believe a more complete picture of this issue is in order.  What is critically missing from the VVMA’s opinion is a balanced assessment of:  the reasons why consumers choose raw milk and the short term and long term health risks of milk consumption, as well as a relative risk assessment of the consumption of raw milk versus the consumption of other animal products.

The VVMA focused only on the consumer perception that raw milk has health benefits.  It is true that scientific studies have demonstrated that raw milk is protective against the development of asthma and allergic diseases.1, 2   In addition, raw milk from properly raised animals is also full of beneficial bacteria.  Literature in the field of human nutrition is increasingly recognizing the value of eating foods with such beneficial probiotic species.

But there is also a negative reason why people are deciding not to consume conventional pasteurized milk, and this has to do with long term health effects.  While it is relatively straightforward to measure rates of acute food-borne illness which occur shortly after consumption of a particular food, it is not such a simple matter to measure the long term harms of slowly acting substances.  Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that “You are what you eat”.  In the case of conventional milk from conventionally raised animals, it is also the case that “You are what you eat eats”, and “You are what has been sprayed on what you eat eats”, and “You are what has been injected into what you eat”.

The point is that the short-term safety of any animal product depends upon how it is handled and processed.  But the safety of any animal product with regards to long term effects on human health depends upon practices of animal husbandry, an issue truly worthy of championing by an organization such as the VVMA.  Consumers of raw milk are choosing it in large part because of informed decisions based upon the superior animal husbandry practices of the farmers who produce raw milk for human consumption.

Finally, if the VVMA or any organization is concerned about the risks of acute food-borne illness due to the consumption of animal products, it must adequately explain why raw milk has been singled out.  Based on quantitative microbial risk assessment, on a per-serving basis, the risk of food borne illness from chicken is 57 to 1,181 times more likely to cause food-borne illness than unpasteurized milk.3  The consumption of hamburger is 7 to 34 times more likely to cause food-borne illness than unpasteurized milk.4

With the precarious status of the safety of our food supply in mind, (even spinach is 6 to 28 times more likely than raw milk to cause food-borne illness5,6,7), consumers must make difficult choices regarding the short term and long term health consequences of their dietary choices.  Informed professionals such as veterinarians and physicians have an obligation to represent a balanced viewpoint to assist the consumer in this endeavor.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert Luby, MD
43 Brookes Avenue
Burlington, VT 05401
802-881-1796

1. O. S. von Ehrenstein, E. et al., Clin. Exp. Allergy 30, 187 (2000).
2. A. H. Wijga, et al., Thorax 58, 567 (2003).3. Uyttendaele, et al., Int J Food Microbiol, 2006, 11(1); 149-163.
4. Cassin, M. et al., Int J Food Microbiol 1998, 4(1); 21-44.
5. Tromp, S.O. et al., J Food Prot 2010, 73(10); 1830-1840.
6. Franz, E. et al., 2010, 73(2); 274-285.                                                                                                       7. Giacommetti, F. et al., 2012, J Food Prot, 75(7); 2363-2369.

Robert Luby, MD, ABHM

Doctor Robert Luby grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, and completed his undergraduate education at Dartmouth College in 1985. Columbia University was the site of his MD degree in 1989. Postgraduate training in a family medicine residency program in Seattle, Washington was completed in 1992. Dr. Luby has been board certified in family medicine since 1992, and became board certified in holistic medicine in 2002. He is among the first cohort of physicians to qualify to be certification-eligible in Functional Medicine.  His medical training has included time spent on Native American reservations and in war-torn Guatemala.

For 24 years Dr. Luby has practiced the full scope of family medicine in Latino community health centers in Massachusetts and Washington. Additionally, he has practiced in integrative health centers in Vermont and Massachusetts for over a decade.

Dr. Luby also maintains an active presence in the academic medical community. He is the Director of Outpatient Medicine, the Integrative Medicine area of concentration, and the Associate Director of the Integrative Medicine Fellowship at the Lawrence, Ma. Family Medicine Residency. He holds faculty teaching appointments at Tufts University, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of Vermont schools of medicine.


Nation of Change: Europe installs raw milk vending machines, while US rules unpasteurized dairy illegal

As the U.S. government continues to issue warnings regarding raw dairy products, several European countries have done just the opposite by expanding access through unpasteurized milk vending machines, according to Wake Up World.

Compared with pasteurized and homogenized dairy, the news source argues that raw milk offers a wealth of nutrition—all without the drawbacks of oxidized fats, denatured proteins, antibiotics or growth hormones typically found in pasteurized and processed milk products.

Given the purported benefits of raw milk, multiple European nations have installed self-service vending machines that provide 24-hour access. Michel Cantaloube, who helped introduce the machines in France, the UK and Spain, hopes to expand the venture into a similar vending machine for raw yogurt.

Other countries like Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands have begun to install their own raw milk vending machines as well.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), tells a different story.

The FDA has listed raw milk’s potential mild to severe effects and issued the following warning:

  • Vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain
  • Flulike symptoms, such as fever, headache and body ache

In response, Wake Up World questioned the FDA’s stance and pointed to a recent study that indicated children who drank raw milk were 40 percent less likely to come down with asthma or allergies.

A Campaign for Real Milk, an advocacy group associated with the Weston A. Price Foundation and Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, agrees, stating raw milk:

  • Protects against infections, diarrhea, rickets, scurvy, tooth decay and tuberculosis
  • Demonstrates better child growth profiles with longer and denser bones
  • Improves vitamin A, B6 and D absorption
  • Enhances mineral assimilation through the presence of lactobacilli
  • Individuals diagnosed with lactose intolerance are often able to consume raw milk products without issue

Moreover, hundreds of testimonials support the value of raw milk in helping childhood behavioral problems, digestive disorders, failure to thrive in infants, arthritis, osteoporosis and cancer.


Seven Days Letter to the Editor: Milk Myths

By John Ahern
2/19/14
Full LTE

Thank you for publishing “Raw Deal? Farmers Push Back Against Unpasteurized Milk Regulations” [January 29]. The article underscores the ongoing lack of evidence informing the dialogue between well-meaning dairy farmers, consumers and the regulators. The pronouncements of Erica Berl provide good evidence of the ignorance regarding raw milk and its processed counterpart. Berl, an infectious disease epidemiologist with the Vermont Health Department, claims “there’s no meaningful difference between nutritional values of raw and pasteurized milk.”

Evidence would suggest otherwise. It is well known that the temperatures needed to pasteurize milk destroy or greatly reduce Vitamins C, B12 and B6, manganese, copper, iron and the enzymes that make milk digestible. In addition, calcium is rendered insoluble by heat. If the dairy cows are grass fed, as many are here in Vermont, the unprocessed milk also offers high levels of conjugated linoleic acid and essential fatty acids, which are known to be nutritionally beneficial.

The regulators, and Berl, also need to catch up on their reading. In early 2013, three quantitative microbial risk assessments were published in the Journal of Food Protection and subsequently presented at a special scientific session, “Unpasteurized milk: myths and evidence” at the Centre for Disease Control in Vancouver. The evidence demonstrates that unpasteurized milk is a low-risk food.

John E. Ahern
Morrisville