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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


Newport Dispatch: Got Raw Milk? It’s Around But Intentionally Hard to Get


By Bryan Marovich
Full Article

CRAFTSBURY — For hundreds of years raw milk has been a part of Vermont’s agricultural tradition. It’s recognized for its health, economic, and environmental benefits.

“My milk is produced for human consumption, not pasteurization,” Frank Huard, of Huard Family Farm in Craftsbury said.

The majority of milk produced in Vermont is shipped from large dairy farms to dairy co-ops and distributors for retail sale. But, there are still farmers who sell raw milk, which is unpasteurized, directly to customers.

A report from Rural Vermont which came out earlier in the week sheds new light on the raw milk debate. The report not only provides a snapshot of raw milk production and sales across the state, but it looks at what is working and what is not working with the current Raw Milk Law.

Because Vermont law doesn’t require those who sell raw milk to register with the state, it’s impossible to get an exact total of the amount produced or sold. However, the report shows that in a 12-month period, 2,000 customers bought more than 53,000 gallons of raw milk. This demonstrates that the production and sale of raw milk enables many Vermont farms to be more economically sustainable as they contribute to a growing community-based food system.

Frank Huard has been working hard to educate people as to the health benefits of raw goat milk. Frank is an expert in the field, and his farm was just awarded top quality goats’ milk at the Vermont Farm Show last Thursday. It’s the third time that they have been given the award.

The current law allows him to sell his product, but only if the customer comes to his farm to purchase it, or if he delivers it himself. Farmers are kept from selling raw milk at farmers markets, which the Rural Vermont report shows is something that needs to be addressed.

“What reason do we have to limit the access people have to certain products?” Huard asked.

One of the questions Rural Vermont asked in the study was if farmers stopped selling raw milk, what was the reason? One of the most common responses was “the farm is too far off the beaten path for customers to travel.”

It seems the current law is making it difficult for consumers to have easy access to raw milk, which in turn makes it harder for the farmers to reap some of the economic benefits that are available to them in the market. The demand is there but the supply is being cut off.


Take Part: This Country Has America Beat When It Comes to Handling Raw Milk

Illegal in many states, unpasteurized dairy is sold out of vending machines in Slovenia.
February 06, 2014
By Rebecca McCray
Full Article

Marko Bitenc gets more text messages than the average dairy farmer. Throughout the day, an app on his phone texts him updates on the quality of the raw milk in a vending machine down the road from the farm that he and his family operate just outside Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Hoping to meet the cows whose unpasteurized milk I’ve been drinking for the last three months, I rode the bus to just a few stops shy of the end of the line one day in January. After hopping off at the outskirts of the country’s capital, it was a short walk past a small bakery and grocery store to the Bitenc farm.

Across the street from the barn that houses the cows, I met the Bitencs at their home. Over glasses of apricot juice at their kitchen table, Marko and his wife, Monika, discussed the challenges of running a family-owned dairy farm and their decision to get into the growing business of mlekomats, as the vending machines are called in Slovene. The Bitenc farm’s machine is one of many that have appeared throughout the country in the last five years, all of which are owned and operated by local farmers. The system removes the corporate middleman, pleasing both farmer and customer.

Thanks to the frequent texts Marko receives, the Bitencs knows immediately if the refrigerator stops working and the milk in their machine, which they change daily, rises above the temperature designated as safe by the Slovenian Administration for Food Safety. If this happens, the machine automatically stops vending, preventing the sale of unsafe milk.

In spite of these strict precautions implemented by Slovenia, this kind of fresh, local convenience product is unimaginable in the U.S., where in many states the retail sale of unpasteurized milk remains illegal.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has made its serious stance on raw milk clear in recent years through a series of dramatic raids targeting and prosecuting small farms and businesses that bypass pasteurization. Of particular concern to the FDA is the sale of raw milk across state lines, which has been outlawed since 1987. But beyond the unilateral illegality of cross-state sales, the confusing patchwork of laws at the state level makes it clear that our country is far from having a unified stance on unpasteurized milk, leaving the door open for an underground community of raw milk enthusiasts to thrive.

Raw milk vending machines—also found throughout Italy, Croatia, Switzerland, Austria, and other neighboring countries—provide unpasteurized, local milk 24 hours a day. It’s a retail experience I first encountered in Ljubljana’s outdoor central market, where customers can purchase a reusable glass or plastic bottle from another machine (or bring their own containers) to fill. The milk from this machine comes from Farm Mis, a larger dairy at the base of nearby Šmarna Gora, the highest peak in Ljubljana, known by hikers for its pristine view of the Julian Alps.

Back in the U.S., I regularly bought a half gallon of homogenized milk, some of which would go bad before I could finish it. Deterred by ridiculous New York prices, I would only splurge on organic pasteurized milk if I felt indulgent. In Slovenia, I now buy raw milk in 20-cent increments, so I seldom have any leftover. Unsurprisingly, the unskimmed milk from the mlekomat is utterly unrecognizable compared with the bluish, watery counterpart I bought in the U.S.—another reason I rarely waste a drop.

One Euro in the machine buys a full liter of this rich milk, which is dispensed from a self-cleaning spout that is sterilized with a UV light between purchases. Any milk left in the machine at the end of a 24-hour cycle is removed, the leftovers sold to local grocers who cook it to make other dairy products; nothing is wasted. Every possible protection is taken to protect consumers, from regimented cleaning processes to monthly and yearly inspections by government officials.

The milk is marginally more expensive than its pasteurized counterpart sold in grocery stores, but this hasn’t deterred customers. The Bitenc family notes that the greatest benefit of owning a mlekomat has not been making more money but expanding the customer base. “The point is that everybody who lives in this area should be able to get fresh milk 24 hours a day. We wanted to offer a local food to the people,” Monika Bitenc said.

So what has Slovenia figured out that we haven’t? Nothing. Pasteurized milk is widely available in every supermarket, and disclaimers on the mlekomats inform customers of the safety benefits of cooking the milk before they serve it.

According to Marko and Monika, the raw milk is most popular with young families and older Slovenians, who remember getting fresh milk as kids.

Peter Hafner, a 66-year-old resident of Ljubljana, explained, “I buy [milk from the mlekomat] because I know they don’t add anything to the milk…and nothing is taken from it either. In other words, the milk from the mlekomats is natural.”


Food Safety News: Vermont Report Finds Fewer Raw Milk Drinkers Than Previously Thought

By Dan Flynn

Consumer demand for raw milk may not be as large as many have thought, according to a first-of-its-kind state profile of raw milk sales.

The just-released “Rural Vermont’s 2013-2014 Raw Milk Report to the Legislature” says that state dairies selling unpasteurized milk had 1,940 “unique customers.” That amounts to fewer than 1 percent of Vermont’s 324,084 households. If correct, the market for unpasteurized milk directly from the farm is far smaller in the Green Mountain State than the 3 percent or more often claimed by raw milk advocates and even cited by some federal health officials.

Rural Vermont, which advocates for raw milk, says its report to the legislature “is intended to provide a snapshot of the current status of raw milk production and sales and identify what is working and what is not working with the current Raw Milk Law.”

The new producer survey could spur debate about whether the raw milk market in Vermont and elsewhere is this limited, and if so, is it limited by supply or demand?

The five-year old Act 62 limits the sale of raw milk products to the farm in Vermont. Retail stores cannot sell it. The report found that 1,767 Vermont residents are purchasing raw cow milk on the farm. The average number of customers for raw cow milk was 33 per farm, with the median being 14 customers.

There are just 173 customers in Vermont for raw goat milk, for an average of 10 per farm and a median of five.

With many raw milk sales limited to the farm and others occurring only in the underground market, precise sales figures are difficult to acquire. Estimates usually come from often-unreliable consumer phone surveys.

The Rural Vermont report is not based on a random survey but a two-year outreach program to obtain data from the state’s raw milk dairy producers. It collected the information at a statewide “Raw Milk Summit” held last October and at regional raw milk meetings.

The project obtained responses from 110 raw milk dairymen and women, including 80 who sold raw milk directly to consumers during the previous year. Together, 76 dairy farms reported selling a total of 53,306.75 gallons of raw milk during the year, for an average of 772 gallons per farm. The median sales amount was 240 gallons per farm.

The average is lifted by a few respondents who sold higher volumes of raw milk, up to 9,000 gallons per farm. Producers of raw cow milk sold more than producers of raw goat milk. The mean for raw cow milk was 432.5 gallons and, for raw goat milk, it was 34 gallons.

Vermont raw milk dairies sold raw cow milk for $4 to $10 per gallon, with the average price being $7 per gallon. Raw goat milk sold for $5 to $15 per gallon, with the average price coming in at $10.

Gross sales for the 76 raw milk dairies that provided data totaled $373,018. The Rural Vermont study stated that the average gross income from raw milk was $5,470. Median gross income was $1,500, with a wide variation that ranged from $10-90,000 per year.

Per-farm sales for raw cow milk dairies averaged $6,718, with a median of $2,250. For raw goat milk dairies, the average was $1,066 and the median $503. The 54 farms that responded said from 0.01 to 100 percent of their sales were dependent upon raw dairy products.

Average sales from raw dairy totaled 20.9 percent, with the median coming in at 5 percent.

Rural Vermont reported that these 76 dairies had a total herd of 1,067 cows and goats. A total of 982 cows were being milked at the raw milk dairies, with an average of 17 cows per farm. The median was 3.5 cows.

Goat dairies reported a total herd of 87 animals, with both the average and the median being four goats.

Raw milk dairies are somewhat split about their approach to carrying liability insurance. Rural Vermont found that 44.7 percent of the dairies were insured, but a majority, 55.3 percent, was not. The report notes that only one carrier in Vermont is currently issuing insurance policies to raw milk farmers.

Also, 72.4 percent did not ship any milk product to bulk buyers. The other 28.6 percent did supply other producers and bulk buyers such as cooperatives.

The Vermont House Agriculture Committee is reviewing Senate Bill 70, which passed the upper chamber last year and could become the vehicle for loosening the state’s raw milk regulations.

Raw milk producers in the state told Rural Vermont they want lawmakers to lift the lid on the two-tier production limits currently imposed by Act 62. They’d also like changes to existing testing and inspection protocols.


Seven Days Off Message: Rural Vermont: Farmers Sold 53,000 Gallons of Raw Milk

by Kathryn FlaggFebruary 05, 2014
Full Article

As some farmers push for more freedom to sell raw milk, an  advocacy group reports that nearly 2,000 customers bought more than 53,000 gallons of the unpasteurized product in a recent 12-month period.

For those of you interested in following the raw milk debate, head over to the website of Rural Vermont, which  released its annual raw milk report Wednesday morning. Because Vermont doesn’t require farmers selling raw milk to register with the state, the Rural Vermont report is the best snapshot we have of what raw milk sales look like on the ground.

To recap, raw milk is unpasteurized. In Vermont, it’s sold directly by farmers to consumers, and in almost all cases consumers have to travel to the farm to purchase this milk. Vermont passed regulations in 2009 covering the sale of raw milk, setting out guidelines for farmers intended to protect public health. People who love raw milk really love raw milk — but conversely, public health officials stand firm in their conviction that consuming unpasteurized milk (which hasn’t been treated to kill off pathogens and bacteria) could make people sick.

The Rural Vermont report includes the results of a survey and information gathered from farmers at a raw milk summit held in Bethel in October. Rural Vermont received survey responses from 110 farmers, 80 of whom identified themselves as current sellers of raw milk. (The additional 30 were past producers, aspiring raw milk sellers, or farmers interested in the topic.)

Some interesting tidbits:

* Seventy-six farms reported the quantity of raw cow and goat milk they sold between November 1, 2012 and October 31, 2013 — which cumulatively totaled 53,307 gallons. The largest producer sold as much as 9,000 gallons, and the median amount was 240 gallons per farm.

The overall milk sales to nearly 2,000 customers brought in just more than $373,000. The largest per-farm income from raw milk sales reported was $90,000. Farmers selling raw cows’ milk reported an average income of $6,718 from the sales.

Rural Vermont also presents a number of suggested changes to the current raw milk law, which they say were “consistently raised” by farmers at raw milk gatherings held around the state. These include, among other suggestions:

  • Develop more reasonable and affordable animal health testing protocols;
  • Limit regulations for “neighborly scale” sales, which would allow producers to sell very small quantities of milk under less stringent rules;
  • Allow for the sale of “light processed” raw dairy products such as cream, butter, yogurt, soft cheeses and ice cream;
  • Remove production limits (which currently cap daily sales for most farmers at 12.5 gallons per day) to allow more sales.

Fox 44: Are Raw Milk Farmers Getting a Raw Deal?

NORTHFIELD, Vt. – Drinking raw milk straight from local dairy farmers is gaining popularity in Vermont. But farmers face tight limits on the product.

At the Green Mountain Girls Farm Stand in Northfield, you can find all sorts of straight-off-the-farm goods, including raw goat milk.

“We can only sell our milk from the farm,” said Laura Olson, one of the owners. “We can’t even bring it to a customer if we’re on the way past their house. We can’t do anything, we can’t take it to the farmers’ market,” she said. Her business frequents the Northfield Farmers’ Market, and occasionally the market in Montpelier.

The Green Mountain Girls also aren’t allowed to sell other dairy products like cheese from their raw milk, so they hold classes to teach their customers how to make it themselves.

“There’s a huge demand for it,” Olson said. “People ask us–‘can we have cheese? Can we get yogurt?’ And we have to say ‘no, sorry you can’t’.”

Act 62, the law regulating raw milk, was enacted in 2009. It sets the restrictions above, plus several more including how many quarts of raw milk farmers can sell per day. Farms are separated in Tier 1 and Tier 2; Tier 2 farms have looser regulations. In order to become Tier 2 however, farmers have to hand-deliver their milk twice a month to a state lab in Waterbury for testing, among other costs. Olson says the cost to become Tier 2 would eliminate all profits from her small business. There are only two Tier 2 farms in the entire state.

Rural Vermont is hoping to loosen the restrictions from Act 62. The organization gave its 5th annual report to the House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products Tuesday.

“There’s a story that’s gotten embedded in people’s minds that raw milk is dangerous,” said Andrea Stander, Executive Director for Rural Vermont. She says raw milk is healthy, and not pasteurizing the milk retains the nutrients and good bacteria. She says there are also people with dairy allergies or who are lactose intolerant who can digest raw milk. The Vermont Department of Health calls these myths, saying “Raw or unpasteurized milk is an inherently risky food.”

The House Agriculture Committee is currently discussing a raw milk bill, S.70, which passed the Senate last session. The bill would slightly loosen restrictions on farmers, but Rural Vermont asked the committee for more. Here are their requested amendments:

– More reasonable and affordable animal testing (farmers have to pay vets to test their animals for diseases)
– A third “neighborly scale” tier that would let farmers sell small amounts of raw milk to their own community
– Allow raw dairy products like cream, butter, yogurt, kefir, cheese and ice cream
– Create an average daily/weekly allowance rather than the current daily allowance, because farmers tend to have more   customers on particular days of the week
– Develop rules and regulations that make it more feasible for farmers to be Tier 2
– Expand sales to farmers markets and other central drop-off locations


Alternet: How the Federal Government Manufactured 21 Actual Raw Milk Illnesses into a Much Scarier 20,000

Was information manipulated?
1/7/14
By David Gumpert
Full Article

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that one in six Americans, or some 48 million people, get sick each year from food-borne illness. The agency arrives at this huge number, despite the fact that only about 15,000 actual illnesses are reported to the CDC by state health agencies, by using “under-diagnosis multipliers” and various other mathematical modeling.

Since it began doing such estimates in 1999 (when it estimated 76 million people get sick, then revised the number down to 48 million in 2011), the media have accepted the numbers, and used them as facts rather than estimates.

While the large estimates have been widely reported, they have only been used as theoretical numbers, and never applied to a particular food….until last month.  That was when the CDC put out a study of food-borne illnesses in Minnesota, asserting that raw milk was likely responsible for many more illnesses than were officially tabulated during the decade 2001-2010.

Using unusual epidemiological methodologies, along with curious mathematical modeling and extrapolations, the CDC study reckoned there were more than 20,000 illnesses from raw milk in Minnesota, rather than the 21 that had been previously reported by public health authorities as attributable to raw milk. Quite a leap.

The study’s authors “estimated that up to 20,502 Minnesotans, or 17% of raw milk consumers, may have become ill with enteric pathogens during the study period after consuming raw milk. This finding suggests that [reported] outbreaks represent a small number of the illnesses associated with raw milk consumption and that the risk for illness associated with raw milk consumption is far greater than determined based on the occurrence of recognized outbreaks.”

How was the Minnesota Department of Health able to turn 21 reported illnesses into 20,502?

Underlying its hocus-pocus math is the questionable (and highly intentional) assumption that illnesses from raw milk are under-reported, when, in fact, illnesses from raw milk are obsessively chased down and recorded by state public health and agriculture officials, who have long advised against consuming it. When raw milk is tainted with a pathogen like campylobacter, it usually sickens a few people rather than just one, so public health officials are able to make the epidemiological inference that raw milk was likely involved.

Once they make the connection to raw milk, it is a fairly simple step to locate the producer–certainly simpler than for most other foods, since raw milk is so highly regulated that most sales are made directly from dairies to individuals, and even in places like California, which allow retail sales, there are only two or three dairies selling at retail.

There’s little of the complication as with illnesses from spinach or cantaloupes or lettuce or tacos of trying to figure out exactly which farm or food vendor the food came from.  Once they have the farm in their sights, the public health or agriculture regulators then test the milk, to try to find the offending pathogen. That isn’t always successful, but for the purposes of ascribing blame (to any food), epidemiological evidence is acceptable.

In the Minnesota study, the CDC turned epidemiological methodology on its head. It went back to essentially unresolved individual cases of illnesses from pathogens over the ten years 2001-2010, and pulled out everyone who got sick from campylobacter or E.coli O157:H7 or salmonella…..and had consumed raw milk—some 530 cases. Never mind that they might have consumed other potentially dangerous foods, like chicken (which Consumer Reports recently said is nearly all tainted by pathogens or other possibly threatening bacteria), deli food (known to be risky) or fast food. If they said that raw milk was among the foods they consumed the previous week, they were assumed to have been sickened by raw milk.

But wait, there was more. The Minnesota study took the 530 newly classified cases of raw milk illnesses and applied “pathogen-specific underdiagnosis multipliers” to the numbers. These “multipliers,” of generally 30 to 100, are used to estimate illnesses from various pathogens based on the public health assumption that many illnesses go unreported, usually because the victims recover quickly enough to not even consult with a physician so as to seek a medical diagnosis.

And presto, faster than you can say “raw milk made me sick,” you’ve turned 21 illnesses into more than 20,000 illnesses that are blamed on raw milk in Minnesota from 2001 to 2010.  Even after these huge leaps,  the authors, apparently feeling on a roll, went even further. They concluded that, based on those 20,000-plus illnesses, that more than 17 per cent of all Minnesota raw milk drinkers got sick during the decade 2001-2010.

Needless to say, the growing legions of supporters of raw milk were outraged by the CDC Minnesota study. The Raw Milk Institute, an organization that has established safety standards for producers of raw milk, quickly issued a rebuttal, criticizing “the broad sweeping assumptions and methodologies used by the authors of the recent Minnesota Raw Milk Study.”

RAWMI also pointed to the absence of “relative risk estimates….for other potential sources of contamination such as raw eggs, produce, ground meat, etc. This makes it very hard for the reader to compare the risk estimates given for raw milk to the risk of consuming other raw or pasteurized foods.”

RAWMI also allowed that even if some of the newly categorized raw-milk illnesses in Minnesota did come from raw milk, almost half of those so designated by the CDC came from farm families or friends of farm families. These farms are generally producers of milk intended for pasteurization, not milk ordinarily made available for consumers seeking raw milk, and milk known from other studies to be tainted; conventional-milk farmers tolerate such tainting, knowing pathogens will be killed off during the pasteurization process.

No matter to the mainstream media. Places like the Los Angeles Times, NBC News, Fox News and USA Today all reported the CDC assessment of the Minnesota data as if it was fact. A few included a quote or two from raw milk proponents disputing the study’s thrust, but those weren’t played as if there truly was serious controversy.

This study is disturbing on a number of levels, but big picture, it seems to set a dangerous precedent. It represents a radical departure from past public health data analysis. Post-Minnesota-data, if you get sick from campylobacter or E.coli O157:H7 or salmonella and you have consumed raw milk, then any other culprits, like chicken or fast food, can be automatically eliminated and you can be assumed to have been sickened by raw milk.

If you carry the logic a bit further, you realize that under this new precedent, even if reported illnesses from raw milk decline to zero, the public health enforcers will be able to pull out of their hats any number of supposed illnesses from people who drank raw milk, and became sick from some other food. In other words, they’ll always be able to say raw milk is unacceptably risky, and can’t be tolerated, no matter what the facts are.


Seven Days: Raw Deal? Farmers Push Back Against Unpasteurized Milk Regulations

By Kathryn Flagg
1/29/14
Full Article

Depending upon whom you ask, raw milk is either nature’s elixir or a foodborne illness waiting to happen.

“This is an incredibly emotional issue,” says Andrea Stander, executive director of Rural Vermont, who says there’s not much middle ground between the two points of view. “People who feel that raw milk is dangerous feel that it is incredibly dangerous.”

Now, five years after Vermont passed its first regulations governing the sale of raw, aka unpasteurized, milk, the two camps are set to do battle again, as farmers push for easing some of the rules governing raw milk production and sales in Vermont.

The Agency of Agriculture is ramping up its on-farm inspections for raw milk producers. Dan Scruton, head of the agency’s dairy section, says the rules have “been on the books long enough we do have to start enforcing these statutes.”

Meanwhile, several raw milk producers are lobbing complaints at Scruton’s agency for fostering what Tunbridge dairy farmer Lindsay Harris called an “anti-small-dairy culture … which is rampant and aggressive.”

“It is supposed to be promoting farming, promoting working landscapes, helping farmers, supporting agriculture in Vermont,” Harris says of the Agency of Agriculture. “And when it comes to raw milk, they are doing everything they possibly can to put us out of business.”

“We follow the laws as set forth by the legislature, and the legislature has made it very clear that raw milk sales are allowed,” responds Diane Bothfeld, Vermont’s deputy secretary of agriculture. “The Agency of Agriculture takes no position for or against it.”

Rural Vermont is taking the farmers’ complaints to lawmakers; on Wednesday, the farm advocacy group presents its annual raw milk report to the House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products. The testimony aims to bolster support for S.70 — a bill dealing with the delivery of raw milk at farmers markets, which made it out of the Senate ag committee last year. Rural Vermont would love the House to amend and pass the bill before May.

Rural Vermont is proposing, among other goals:

• allowing the sale of raw milk at farmers markets;

• tweaking the required animal health testing regimens for tuberculosis, brucellosis and rabies to be more “reasonable and affordable”;

• changing the language of the current warning signs required on farms and milk bottles, which warn of illness and the possibility of “miscarriage or fetal death, or death of a newborn.”

“Get rid of that damn death sign,” pleads farmer Lisa Kaiman, who is facing sanctions from the agency for violating some of the current raw milk rules.

The Agency of Agriculture hasn’t reacted yet to Rural Vermont’s most recent demands. Says Scruton: “I can’t weigh in on what I haven’t seen.”

Up Against the Agency

Vermont’s first raw milk regulations passed in 2009 — in part, ostensibly, to protect consumers from the potentially harmful pathogens eradicated by pasteurization. Before that, raw milk sales in Vermont went largely unregulated. According to Stander, “It wasn’t illegal, but it wasn’t codified in any way in statute.”

Formal inspections from the Agency of Agriculture started in earnest a year ago. Prior to that, regulators had focused on providing “technical assistance” to farmers to come into compliance with the regulations, which Scruton cites as evidence of the agency’s willingness to work with raw milk producers.

Since gearing up for inspections, the agency has issued notices of violation to three farmers — in Chester, Charlotte and Londonderry — for failing to abide by the current raw milk regulations. All three were cited for not having performed or posted the results of required tuberculosis, brucellosis and rabies tests. Additionally, the Charlotte farm was cited for failing to post a warning sign on the farm about raw milk’s dangers; the Chester farmer was cited for improper bottle labeling.

State veterinarian Kristin Haas says that many more Vermont farmers have failed inspections for raw milk production, but the agency gives them time to come into compliance before issuing a formal notice.

The latest notice of violation went out on October 31 to farmer-proprietor Kaiman of Jersey Girls Dairy, in Chester. Last week the petite, forthright 46-year-old took her case before the Agency of Agriculture.

Kaiman and her lawyer weren’t disputing that she failed to affix a warning label to her bottles. Calling it a “death sticker,” she noted later that it’s more harshly worded than warning labels on cigarettes or alcohol.

At issue were the state’s animal health testing standards, which Kaiman and her lawyer argued are overly rigorous. Specifically, they object to procedures around TB and brucellosis, both bacterial diseases that can be transmitted to humans — but neither of which has been seen in Vermont for decades. After failing the initial inspection, Kaiman tested her cows for TB — and the Jersey Girls cows all tested negative. (She and Richardson argue that Vermont’s yearly TB test is onerous and point to New Hampshire, where rules require a test only every three years.) Kaiman says she vaccinates every calf born on her farm against brucellosis. That, plus annual brucellosis tests of her milk, should be enough to meet the state’s health standards, Kaiman says.

State ag regulators disagree and want each of Kaiman’s animals to get a blood test — a requirement for all raw milk producers in the state but not their conventional dairy counterparts. If Kaiman complies, she’ll have a hefty veterinary bill. If she doesn’t, she could lose her right to sell raw milk and face fines up to $500. Either way, she’s out milk revenue and attorney fees.

“I’m trying to do a good thing,” Kaiman told the officials when it was her time to testify last Tuesday. She described the lengths to which she goes to care for her “closed” herd of 25 milkers. The only animals to enter the herd are born on her farm, further limiting the possibility of disease.

The case is still ongoing, and agency officials said they couldn’t comment on Kaiman’s situation. Bothfeld gave both sides 14 days to submit legal briefs, after which she’ll rule on Kaiman’s case.

In an interview after the hearing, Kaiman continued her story. A New Jersey transplant who originally planned to be a large-animal veterinarian, she’s earned a certification from a Virginia-based nonprofit, Animal Welfare Approved, for “meat and dairy products that come from farm animals raised to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards.” Testing at Cornell showed her milk to be free of harmful bacteria. She said she doesn’t understand why state ag officials are giving her and other raw milk producers such a hard time.

“Our good, responsible farmers deserve more than this,” she said. Slapping on labels that warn of “fetal death” and sticking her cows with blood-testing needles doesn’t sit right with Kaiman. She works too hard, she says, to kowtow to “insulting” restrictions.

Kaiman’s been milking cows on her Chester farm — enlivened by murals of colorful Jersey cows by local painter Jamie Townsend — since 1999. When they’re not in the parlor, the girls are out on fresh pasture or ambling freely around the open barn.

Kaiman has a small processing plant, from which she sells raw and pasteurized milk to cheese makers, restaurants and individual consumers. Customers willing to trek to the farm pay $10 per gallon for the raw stuff — $3 more than the statewide average. She is not allowed to sell more than 12.5 gallons a day, according to state statute, but Kaiman says she could do a lot more business. Doing so, she argues, would help her afford to comply with all the raw-milk regulations; she says it’s hard to make enough money otherwise.

Customers rave about Kaiman’s milk and her farm; in letters on her behalf, customers implored agency officials to restore Kaiman’s ability to sell raw milk.

“As an educated consumer of local, organic food, I trust my ability to discern what foods and beverages belong on my table,” wrote Annie Hawkins, a Grafton resident and six-year customer.

A Difference of Opinion

The Vermont Department of Health recommends against consuming raw milk — as do both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last month the American Academy of Pediatrics advocated for an all-out ban on raw milk sales, citing health risks that they say are especially grave for pregnant women, fetuses, infants and young children.

Milk sold in Vermont grocery stores has been heated to a specific temperature. That pasteurization process is intended to kill most of the possible pathogens in milk; it both protects against disease and slows spoilage caused by microbial growth.

Raw milk, on the other hand, is completely unprocessed. Consumers rely on farmers to practice good sanitation in order to keep pathogens out of milk in the first place.

Erica Berl, an infectious disease epidemiologist with the Vermont Health Department, says that raw milk was implicated in three 2010 Vermont outbreaks of campylobacteriosis — a gastrointestinal disease caused by bacteria, similar in nature to E. coli, salmonella or listeriosis infections. One hit a school field trip, affecting around 14 children. There were four confirmed, and another six probable, cases associated with a bed and breakfast. Finally, six inmates at a work camp got sick after drinking raw milk. Berl says no one was sick enough to be hospitalized, though a few patients did seek treatment.

Berl is unwavering: “Don’t buy raw milk and don’t drink it.” There’s no meaningful difference between nutritional values of raw and pasteurized milk, she said, and the risk just isn’t worth it.

“That’s total bullshit,” says Harris, the raw milk farmer in Tunbridge.

She and her husband Evan Reiss started Family Cow Farmstand in Hinesburg; as operators of the state’s largest raw milk dairy, they provided milk for hundreds of Burlington-area families before selling the business last fall. They’d been leasing the farm — from Agency of Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross, no less — and wanted to buy their own.

The family ended up in Tunbridge, but because “we wanted to live out in the middle of nowhere,” Harris says, they had to give up on raw milk sales. They’re still milking cows, but they intend to produce an artisan, cultured — and pasteurized — butter. Harris says building a business solely around raw milk only works near a major population center with lots of customers, like Burlington, and so they needed to focus on a product they could sell through retail outlets.

“That was the biggest compromise,” says Harris. Resorting to pasteurization, for her, meant “letting go of selling … the best possible food we could.” Pasteurizing milk, Harris says, leads to nutrient breakdown and the loss of enzymes and probiotics, including the loss of approximately 10 percent of thiamine and vitamin B12 and about 20 percent of vitamin C, according to one study. She points to a European report that found a direct link between exposure to raw milk and decreased likelihood of allergies.

As for food safety? Harris has dug deep into CDC statistics on foodborne illnesses and raw milk consumption rates.

“It’s a perishable food, and sure it can make you sick, but it’s not outside the norms of foodborne illness in any way,” says Harris.

Between 1998 and 2011, the CDC got reports of 148 outbreaks it attributes to the consumption of raw milk or unpasteurized dairy products. These resulted in 2,384 illnesses, 284 hospitalizations and two deaths.

But what about massive outbreaks of contaminated spinach, cantaloupe or ground beef? Between 1998 and 2008, according to the CDC, produce was responsible for 46 percent of documented foodborne illnesses. Dairy products, both raw and pasteurized, came in at 20 percent.

“It just doesn’t seem fair to put raw milk in this whole other category when the data show that it doesn’t belong there,” says Harris.

Harris’s Family Cow Farmstand was the first “tier two” raw milk seller in the state, a designation that permits it to sell up to 40 gallons a day and deliver milk directly to customers while meeting stricter regulations, including twice-monthly quality testing.

The farm met all the raw milk standards, but Harris said she was still deeply frustrated by the system. The rules required them to distribute their product with “warning labels that say, ‘This is going to kill your kid.’” And they were limited in how much they could sell each day.

“It’s double jeopardy,” says Harris. “We can show that we have the quality really going, but you still restrict us.”

Harris understands the origin of the stigma. In the late 19th century, dairy farms were moving into industrial centers to provide milk for increasing numbers of city dwellers. But they were filthy places, and the milk was very dangerous to drink.

Pasteurization changed all that — but Harris believes that many regulators don’t understand how far farming has come since.

“They are not taking into account that now we know how to clean up farms,” she says. Farmers today know how to sanitize equipment, keep cows healthy and vaccinate against diseases. “We can farm and we can produce milk in a way that makes it extremely safe without having to pasteurize it.”

Kaiman, the Chester farmer, has considered moving to nearby New Hampshire, where state regulations allow farmers to peddle raw milk at markets — with labels that simply read, “Raw milk is not pasteurized. Pasteurization destroys organisms that may be harmful to human health.”

But she’d much rather stay where she is — and see Vermont regulations change. Rural Vermont’s Stander thinks that’s a real possibility.

Ultimately, Stander says, it’s a consumer issue. “This is an issue of freedom for informed adults to make their own choices about what they want to eat.”