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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.”


The Oregonian: Raw milk producer sues Oregon Department of Agriculture over advertising ban

11/19/13
By Lynne Terry
Full Article

An Oregon farmer filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture on Tuesday in a bid to overturn the state’s decades-old ban on the advertising of raw milk.

Christine Anderson, owner of Cast Iron Farm in McMinnville, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Portland, asking for a judgment that declares the ban a violation of free speech rights.

Oregon law forbids retail raw milk sales but allows farmers with a limited number of animals to sell unpasteurized milk directly to customers on-site. But the law bans any advertising, including website postings, fliers and emails.

Anderson says that ban infringes on her business.

“Raw milk is legal to sell but you can’t talk about it,” she said. “I work really hard, and I do a good job as a producer. I want to be able to talk about it. I would like to go about my small farm business without a lot of fear that what I’m doing can be construed as breaking the law.”

Katy Coba, director of the Department of Agriculture, is named in the suit as the sole defendant. She declined to comment.

Bruce Pokarney, the department’s spokesman, said agriculture officials did not enact the law but are responsible for enforcing it.

But he said raw milk is not a department priority.

“We haven’t gone out and looked for anybody who’s advertising raw milk,” Pokarney said. “But if we become aware of it … we’ll respond to somebody’s complaint.”

A complaint is exactly what led to the lawsuit, Anderson said. In August 2012, an Oregon Department of Agriculture inspector visited her farm over a complaint about a raw milk price list on her website. The inspector told Anderson that constituted advertising, which is banned under the law.

Anderson took it down. She later received a cease and desist order from the department, she said, telling her to stop selling raw milk cheese. Anderson said she doesn’t make cheese so that didn’t pose a problem for her. But she said the advertising ban means that she can’t put a sign in front of her property, indicating it’s a raw milk dairy, post fliers at local health food stores or promote her business at local fairs.

She said the ban hampers sales of the milk, which she sells for $14 a gallon.

The suit is backed by the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm headquartered in Virginia. The group also filed two other lawsuits on Tuesday, one over Florida’s ban on front yard vegetable gardens and another against Minnesota’s restrictions on small food producers, as part of a nationwide “food freedom initiative.”

Anderson is not trying to change the ban on retail raw milk sales in Oregon, enacted in 1999. Before that raw milk dairies were inspected by the Department of Agriculture. But Oregon law has long required small producers to only sell on-site while barring them from advertising, agriculture officials said.

The exemption allows small producers such as Anderson to have up to three cows, nine sheep and nine goats and sell raw milk on the farm. For decades, the law has banned small farms from advertising, agriculture officials said.

Under the law, a farmer who violates the ban is subject to a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, $6,250 in fines and civil penalties up to $10,000, the lawsuit says.

The law aim to limit access to raw milk, widely considered by health officials to be a high-risk product.


WCAX: Raw milk producers discuss legislative fix

Oct 27, 2013
Full Article and video

BETHEL, Vt. -Raw milk dairy producers met early Sunday morning, hoping to have their voices heard.

Four  years ago, lawmakers allowed producers to sell milk on their farms. A Senate bill introduced last session would have allowed larger producers to sell off the farm.  Small scale farmers weren’t included due to ongoing health concerns about the non-pasteurized product.

Right now, the raw milk law limits how much milk a farmer can sell and where they sell it — limits that smaller producers say are hurting business.

“I would say that the gateway place is the farmer’s market — and the critical place,” said Mark McAfee, the founder of Organic Pastures Dairy in California. He says the first step to getting raw milk in the mainstream marketplace is education. “If every dairy farmer is a dairy educator, there will never be enough raw milk for anybody to sell,” he said.

Standers says concerns — like high expenses for testing dairy cows — place limits on small scale raw dairy production.”If you’re being required to meet all sorts of inspections and testing and so on and so forth, it isn’t fair to be restricted in how much product you can sell,” she said

Rural Vermont plans to introduce a new broad-based raw milk bill in the 2014 legislative session and continue the conversation about how to create a larger market for raw milk.


Valley News: Farmers Want Laws Eased: Raw Milk Summit Challenges Vermont Regulations

By Jordan Cuddemi
October 28, 2013
Full Article

Bethel — Vegetables, meats and eggs are just a few items that can be bought at most any Vermont farmers’ market.

But one of the products that can’t be found is raw milk.

Vermont has a two-tiered regulatory system that stipulates how farmers must produce and sell raw milk, also known as unpasteurized or unprocessed milk. The regulations limit the quantity of milk a farmer can sell and also where he or she can sell it.

More than 60 farmers and interested citizens convened inside Bethel’s Old Town Hall on Sunday for Rural Vermont’s Raw Milk Summit to discuss those regulations. The group wants to figure out how to give farmers more flexibility in producing and selling their milk to increase market share.

“If they are going to regulate the quality of our milk then they should not limit the quantity that we can sell because there is no other agricultural product that once we meet the regulations that the quantity of sale is limited,” said Cynthia Larson who owns a farm with her husband and produces Grade A dairy and raw milk at a tier one rank. “If they want to not regulate us at all then I can see the justification for limiting the risk by limiting the quantity, but both seems inappropriate to me.”

Only two farmers in Vermont meet tier two standards, which allows sales of up to 40 gallons a day and some home deliveries, said Andrea Stander, executive director of Rural Vermont, an advocacy group for family farms, adding that gaining tier two status is not easy. More obtainable, yet still difficult, is the tier one classification, which permit farmers to sell up to 12.6 gallons per day but the milk must be sold directly to the consumer at the farm. Raw milk cannot be sold at farmers markets or in stores, according to state law.

“It comes down to the big issue — are the inspectors there to help or are they there to police and shut you down,” Stander said, in response to a few attendees at the summit on Sunday who said it took them multiple times to pass inspection and gain tier one status. “In this state so much is focused on local food and it’s a travesty that so many fear the agency of agriculture.

“Locally owned community stores should be able to sell (raw) milk,” said Stander. “It’s just another local product that people would like to be able to buy.”

At Sunday’s raw milk summit, attendees discussed working toward creating another tier that would allow farmers to sell at a “neighborly scale” with limited to no regulations, allow for sale of lightly processed raw dairy products, and developing reasonable animal health testing protocols, among other suggestions.

Ben Crockett, who started a farm in Brattleboro a couple of years ago and sells raw milk as a tier one distributor, said the regulations that need to be met are difficult and financial obligations associated with meeting animal testing protocols create a barrier for new farmers wishing to get started.

“For those who are interested in raising a cow and selling some milk, it can be a real deterrent,” Crockett said.

Many who were present on Sunday talked about the benefits of drinking raw versus pasteurized milk, which is commonly found on shelves at grocery stores. Pasteurization is the process of killing bad bacteria by heating milk to a certain temperature for a set period of time, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Mark McAfee, chairman of the Raw Milk Institute and owner of Organic Pastures Dairy, the world’s largest and widest consumed raw milk brand in California, put it more simply.

“We forget, breast milk is raw milk,” McAfee said, adding raw milk in California is legal, but strictly regulated. “Why do babies drink raw milk? Why?

“Raw milk has the perfect combination of sugars and the bacteria to nourish the immune system for the baby, that’s why,” he said. “And raw milk from a cow does exactly the same thing, not quite as good as breast milk, but, boy, pretty close.”

“When you have limitations and you can’t produce more than 25 quarts a day or 50 gallons a day, does that mean that the 26th quart or the 51st gallon is unsafe, but the 50th gallon is safe?” he said. “Why are they putting a cap on it?”

The reason why Vermont has placed such strict limitations on the amount of raw milk a farmer can sell and where he or she can sell is because “we are a dairy state,” Stander said.

“A large part of our agricultural economy comes from so called conventional or commercial dairy and that sector of the agricultural economy has a lot of influence on our policymakers and on our regulators,” she added, noting increased sales of raw milk could pose an economic threat to the conventional or commercial dairy industry that produces and sells pasteurized milk. But Stander said that is not what local farmers who are looking to produce and sell raw milk are doing.

“We don’t want to pit farmers against each other,” she said. “We are trying to create an economic opportunity for everyone.”

In order to do so, she and others said quantity restrictions must be lifted.

Raw milk can be found at farmers markets across the river in New Hampshire, though

“New Hampshire is not a dairy state,” Stander said. “They don’t have a big percentage of their agricultural economy coming from dairy.


Capital Press: Idaho raw milk production rising with demand

Raw milk sales are increasing steadily throughout Idaho, where the product was legalized for commercial sale and acquisition in 2010.
10/14/13
By John O’Connell
Full Article

POCATELLO, Idaho — When he first started selling raw milk in May of 2012, Michael Busselberg feared he’d routinely dump his product for lack of customers.

Instead, he typically sells out within the first hour at the Portneuf Valley Farmers’ Market and has a waiting list for weekly raw milk pick-ups. He said he’s already outgrown the old dairy he rents, located 16 miles west of Blackfoot, for his Desert Wind Farms.

Demand for raw milk — unpasteurized milk straight from the cow — has steadily increased throughout Idaho since the state Legislature legalized its sale in 2010.

According to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, there are now five cow and two goat facilities in Idaho that have the infrastructure to qualify as Grade A raw milk producers.

Another 60 cow and 70 goat operations sell raw milk under the state’s small herd exemption, which allows commercial sales by producers milking no more than three cows or seven goats or sheep per day without meeting Grade A standards. Routine testing of small herds is required.

Raw milk sales have also made steady gains at the Pocatello Co-op, where customers special order 20-30 gallons per week at $9.39 per gallon.

“Every month, we’ll get a couple of more customers when they know that we have it,” said general manager Destiny Lynch, whose store buys the product from Fall River Farms in Chester, Idaho.

Busselberg’s full-time job is overseeing hay acquisition for a Utah exporting company, but he anticipates eventually making his farm a full-time job. His quarterly sales, which were no more than $2,000 last year, have grown to $15,000, and he anticipates topping $25,000 next quarter. His milk brings in a whopping $81 per hundredweight. His customers insist it tastes better and contains natural cultures and nutrients that help with everything from asthma to autism.

“We have one lady who had brain cancer. She drinks raw milk and feels that helps to build her immune system,” Busselberg said.

Officials with the mainstream milk industry refute such health claims and believe raw milk poses an increased risk of spreading food-borne illness.

Chris Galen, a spokesman with the National Milk Producers Federation in Arlington, Va., argues producers of raw milk expose themselves to liability by selling it.

“It’s a form of Russian roulette, and if you pull the trigger and nothing happens, it’s all fine and good,” Galen said.

Busselberg, who also sells pork, beef, chickens and eggs touted as naturally produced, said raw milk represents 60 percent of his revenue. He said conventional milk producers also shoulder risk, and he takes precautions to ensure a safe product.

“People need to be able to have freedom to make that choice,” said Busselberg, who graduated from a dairy program at Utah State University.

Commercial raw milk sales are legal in Idaho, Washington and California. Licensed Oregon producers with a bottling plant on site can sell raw goat or sheep milk commercially, but raw cow milk sales are limited to on the farm where the farmer has no more than three producing cows.

“It’s growing at 25 percent per year,” said raw milk activist Sally Fallon Morrell. “It’s a niche market that’s poised to become mainstream.”

- See more at: http://www.capitalpress.com/article/20131014/ARTICLE/131019962/1187#sthash.3nw156qw.dpuf


The Sentinel: Raw deal? Raw milk advocates stress economic importance

August 24, 2013
By Joseph Cress
Full Article

For product advocates, every gallon of raw milk sold is a declaration of independence from price controls they say are driving small-scale dairy farmers out of business.

The money many of these farmers receive from the sale of milk to mass-market outlets is often not enough to cover overhead, let alone make a profit, said Hannah Smith-Brubaker, executive vice president of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union.

An agricultural advocacy group, the union encourages farmers to access the raw milk market as one way to cut out larger corporate middle men and avoid a price structure set up by a system far removed from both the everyday producer and consumer, Smith-Brubaker said.

When it comes to pasteurized milk, the federal government and big industrial interests are the ones making the decision on price, she said, claiming that for small-scale farmers to survive and be profitable in the current market, they need to turn to local sales of specialty niche products including raw milk and cheese made from raw milk.

By selling direct to the consumer, the farmer has more control and can better adjust the price to recoup his production costs and earn a profit, she said. “Raw milk is an excellent opportunity for farmers to have fair compensation for their product.”

Under the system, the small-scale farmer can work long hours to produce milk up to standards, but the compensation they receive from some of the outlets is limited by a price that has already been fixed and does not account for fluctuations in the cost of overhead, said Melanie Dietrich Cochran, co-owner of the Keswick Creamery in Hopewell Township, which sells cheese from raw milk.

“It doesn’t matter that the price of diesel fuel has gone up, you are only getting this much for your milk,” she said. “Wrestling that control of selling your milk is a small victory.”

Emanuel Smucker, a dairy farmer from Millerstown, Perry County, started selling raw milk almost two years ago. Prior to that, his milk was sold to a cooperative and pasteurized.

“I was at the mercy of the co-op and whatever they can pay me,” Smucker said.

He said the price of diesel fuel and feed grain gradually eroded his profit margin and made the production of conventional milk cost-prohibitive.

“Now I set my price, and people are happy to buy my grass-fed raw milk,” said Smucker, who has been a dairy farmer for about five years.

Smith-Brubaker acknowledged that raw milk tends to be more expensive than conventional pasteurized milk — $5 to $10 per gallon compared to about $4.19.

“I would argue you get what you pay for,” she said. “The nutrients you are getting in raw milk are far greater.

“Food in this country is undervalued,” she added. “We’ve set up this system that rewards industrial producers of food that does not have much nutritional value. Look at the health problems that we have as a country.”

Raw milk advocates are quick to point out some trends in agriculture that are closely tied to the ability of small-scale producers to remain profitable in today’s world.

“Ninety percent of dairy farmers in our country have gone out of business in the last 50 years,” Smith-Brubaker said. “Raw milk is a great way for farmers to be able to make a living and deliver a much healthier product to consumers.”

Fifty percent of food consumed in the United States comes from outside its borders, said Cochran, who sees this trend as a national security issue.

“We do not have a younger generation stepping into the shoes,” he said. “The land is expensive. It’s hard work.”

For dairy farming to have a future, more value needs to be attached to the product, Cochran said.


Acres USA: Food Rights Under Fire: Author David Gumpert Discusses Growing Crackdown on Small Farmers, Food Safety

August 2013
By Chris Walters
Full Article with Interview

Isolated battles in the raw milk wars are a harbinger of a vital and emerging struggle in this country over what we may as well call food civil rights. David Gumpert is the leading chronicler of this saga, writing for a number of online publications including Grist and Huffington Post. He is the author of two essential books, the recently published  Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights: The Escalating Battle Over Who Decides What We Eat and The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights from 2009. Also maintaining a popular blog called The Complete Patient (www.thecomplete patient.com), he aggressively covers a number of health and food rights issues, focusing on regulatory excesses involving raw milk and food safety. Gumpert plays an instrumental role in spurring a national discussion about restrictions on the availability of unpasteurized dairy products, as well as highlighting an emerging debate over food rights. He entered the political food fray at a time of life when many people choose to slow down,and the skills he brings to bear were seasoned over many years of reporting, including a stint with The Wall Street Journal.


Modern Farmer: A Model for Reconciliation Over Raw Milk?

By David Gumpert
August 1, 2013
Got raw milk? Probably not, and if you do, chances are you’re breaking the law.
Full Post

Unpasteurized or “raw” milk (milk that hasn’t gone through a process of heating that kills pathogens) is becoming more popular with people who believe the milk is healthier and tastes better. It’s also been on shaky legal ground in many states, with restrictions on retail sales or sales at farmers markets or even on private “herdshare” arrangements.  And despite recent high-profile legal cases throwing a spotlight on the tug-of-war over the dairy specialty, legislative battles over raw milk’s status continue in a number of states. (Recent news stories about raw milk sickening dozens have also intensified the debate.)

The public health and agriculture regulatory communities have fought tooth and nail over the past half-dozen years against most efforts to loosen restrictions on unpasteurized milk availability for the growing numbers clamoring for it.

During this time, raids and searches by both state and federal officials, aimed at countering ostensibly illegal raw-milk sales, have been carried out at farms in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota and California. Laws designed to relax rules affecting raw-milk sales and distribution have been vetoed by governors in Maine, Wisconsin, Nevada and California. Contentious regulatory and legislative hearings about raw milk have been held in Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Illinois.

But in Michigan, the first state to ban raw-milk sales back in the late 1940s and perhaps the most unlikely place to deregulate it, a much different scenario has unfolded. A group of 13 individuals — made up of farmers, academicians, healthcare professionals and regulatory officials — have been quietly working together over a six-year period to find common ground with lawmakers.

And they may have found it in the form of a 90-page report — issued without fanfare last December, and endorsed also without publicity in March by the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development. The report has an unsexy title  — “Report of Michigan Fresh Unprocessed Whole Milk Workgroup” — and so low-key was its issuance that it only came out in paper form, though it is available for download here.

But what’s notable is that some of the report’s conclusions and recommendations are at odds with conventional public health and agriculture wisdom. Key are the following:

• Apparently for the first time anywhere, the Michigan workgroup encourages raw-milk consumption as part of state economic development, noting that boosting both raw- and pasteurized-milk consumption “enhances the mutual goal of having more people include milk in their diet.”

• While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration often warns that raw milk is inherently dangerous (“like playing Russian roulette with your health,” as the FDA puts it), the workgroup’s report states categorically: “Milk is not inherently hazardous.” It adds that “many other foods … can readily support the growth of disease-producing bacteria: fresh and processed meat, sea food and foods consumed fresh such as produce, coconut milk and fruit juices.”

• The report takes a novel approach with regard to raw-milk safety, indicating it’s not just the responsibility of farmers. It argues that reducing risk must be assumed by all concerned; it “is the responsibility of all those that handle FUW milk, including farmers, handlers and consumers.”

• The report departs from the FDA’s usual reasoning, suggesting that raw milk is more nutritious than pasteurized milk. “Milk fresh from the cow is a complete, living, functional food,” with enzymes, “cellular elements,” prebiotics, special proteins and trace minerals beneficial to people. “Proteins are incrementally denatured by heat” of pasteurization, the report notes. But fat, “of all the milk constituents … is the most drastically altered by the combination of pasteurization and homogenization.”

• Also contrary to usual FDA reasoning, the workgroup suggests that raw milk can counter a number of chronic diseases and health conditions, including asthma, allergies and lactose intolerance. “Many people with professionally diagnosed lactose intolerance do not have the symptoms of this condition, even when consuming large amounts of fresh milk.” It even can be “beneficial in some autistic children,” and “to treat a variety of intestinal disorders,” the report says.

• For the first time, the workgroup quantifies the “infectious dose” of various pathogens that can lead to illness from raw milk. For example, for the pathogen campylobacter , the infectious dose can be as few as 500 “virulent bacteria,” while for E.coli O157:H7, the infectious dose can be as few as 10, according to the report.

The effect of the workgroup report has been to gain firm state endorsement of a policy change that emerged out of a bitter conflict in 2006 and 2007, when Michigan’s Department of Agriculture initiated the nation’s first significant skirmish over raw milk. In October of that year, agriculture agents confiscated thousands of dollars’ worth of raw milk from farmer Richard Hebron, as he was delivering it to a cooperative in Ann Arbor. The state maintained that its late-1940s law requiring all milk to be pasteurized prohibited any and all distribution of raw milk. The cooperative argued it was obtaining the milk privately, outside the publicly regulated food system.

Over the next six months, a local prosecutor investigated the case, eventually deciding not to prosecute Hebron on criminal charges, as recommended by the state agriculture regulators. The case was settled with Hebron paying a small fine, and the state’s attorney general sanctioning, at least temporarily, herd-share arrangements, whereby consumers sign agreements that give them a partial interest in a herd of cows, as a means for people to obtain raw milk.

Hoping to avoid another incident like the Hebron case, proponents and opponents of raw milk formed the workgroup to see if they couldn’t develop a compromise. No one thought the process would drag on for six years, though. During that time, a vibrant raw-milk industry emerged, and dozens of small dairies have organized herd shares for small groups of local consumers.

In a policy statement issued in March, the agency affirmed herd-share operations, allowing one legal way for consumers to get raw milk. In the process, they’ve further distanced itself from FDA policy, which is to reject herd shares and other private arrangements for obtaining raw milk as sham arrangements — noting that they didn’t violate Michigan’s long-standing ban on sales of raw milk. “In a herd-share operation, consumers pay a farmer a fee for boarding their animal (or a share of an animal), caring for the animal and milking the animal,” the policy statement said. “The herd-share shareholder then obtains (but does not purchase) the raw milk from his or her own animal.”

Can the Michigan model for accommodation over raw milk work in other states? No one knows for sure. But in the many states where deep divisions exist, it may be worth evaluating what the Michigan workgroup was able to accomplish by committing itself single-mindedly to resolving one of the thorniest agriculture and public health issues out there.

(Correction: An earlier version of this article contained misstated that raw milk is “largely illegal to consume and sell in the U.S.” It is illegal to sell in only 20 states, but legal in 30 others. It isn’t illegal to “consume” anywhere — if you have your own cow, you can consume it in every state. We regret the error.)


Empowered Sustinance Blog: Why is Raw Milk So Special?

July 6, 2013
By Lauren
Full Post

What makes raw milk so special?

Perhaps you’ve heard me or other bloggers profess our love for raw milk. “What’s the big deal with raw milk? What makes it so special?” you may wonder. Well, when it comes to comparing raw milk and regular (a.k.a. pasteurized milk), they are two entirely different substances. Raw milk is a living food, full of digestion-enhancing enzymes. Pasteurized milk, on the other hand, is a dead food that is highly allergenic and difficult to tolerate.

Here are 6 reasons why raw milk beats pasteurized milk:

1. Enzymes

Heating wet foods above 118 degrees F destroys the naturally occurring, beneficial enzymes. As a living food, raw milk contains enzymes that assist in digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Fermenting the milk into yogurt further activates beneficial enzymes, rendering the product even more digestible.

In particular, raw milk contains the enzyme lactase which helps breakdown lactose. Additionally, an enzyme in the butterfat called lipase aids in fat digestion and assimilation of the fat-soluble vitamins.

Pasteurized milk is heated to 170 degrees and ultra-pasteurized milk is heated to 280 degrees. This prolongs the shelf-life of the milk at the cost of destroying the health-giving qualities of the milk. There are no live enzymes left in pasteurized milk… it is a dead food. As a result, the digestive system must furnish all the enzymes required to digest it. Often, if the diet consists of all cooked foods, the body’s enzymes stores are depleted and digestion is impaired.

2. Fat

The butterfat in raw milk separates to the top… just like butterfat should. The butterfat is primarily saturated–the most healthiest and most stable fat to consume (if you are still stuck in the utterly false mindset that saturated fat is bad for you, then get thee a copy of Nourishing Traditions immediately!). If the raw milk is from cows in pasture, this butterfat boasts anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.

The practice of homogenization further mutilates the chemical integrity of milk. The fat globules are pressurized so that they become small enough to be in suspension throughout the milk, without separating into cream. This makes the fat and cholesterol more susceptible to rancidity and destroys the colloidal structure of the milk.

3. Vitamins

The vitamins in raw milk are fully intact and bioavailable. If the cows are in pasture, the milk is significantly higher in the extremely beneficial vitamin K.

It’s another story for pasteurized milk, however. During pasteurization, more than 50% of vitamin C is lost. The primary cofactors, enzymes and proteins that assist in the absorption of folate, B12, B6, and iron are also destroyed with pasteurization (source). Further, one protein destroyed by pasteurization is beta lactoglobulin, which plays an important role in the absorption of vitamin A (source).

4. Digestibility

One survey revealed that 80% of people who were described as “lactose intolerant” by a healthcare practitioner can consume raw milk without a problem. Raw milk is heralded as a cure for asthma, thyroid disorders, constipation, allergies and more.

Pasteurization and homogenization makes milk allergenic and difficult to digest. In particular, pasteurization destroys the naturally-occuring lactase enzyme. This often leads to undigested milk sugar (lactose), which can can cause digestive distress. Further, the heat of pasteurization denatures and destroys some proteins. I think that one reason people find raw milk so much easier to digest is because the proteins are complete and bioavailable.

5. Allergies

Raw milk consumption has been correlated to lower rates of allergies. Although correlation doesn’t mean causation in that study, many folks who have switched to raw milk will tell you that it drastically reduced their seasonal allergies, hayfever and asthma. Pasteurized milk, though, is a very common allergen. It can actually precipitate food allergies, because pasteurization alters some of the milk proteins and makes it irritating to the gut.

6. Animal Health

Generally, raw milk is obtained from smaller-scale local farms. Chat with the milk producer and support the farmers who let the cows graze in pasture. Pastured, rather than grain and soy fed cows, boast drastically more nutrient-dense milk. Additionally, pastured cows and cattle restore the top soil and play a vital role in the ecosystem.

“Is raw milk safe?”

One common concern regards the safety of raw milk. “Is raw milk safe?” is the first question I’m asked when I explain that I happily drink raw milk. Any food can be contaminated with a dangerous bacteria or pathogen… that is the risk of eating anything. The “dangers” of raw milk are exceptionally exaggerated, however. For example, it is 10 times more likely to get sick from eating deli meat than consuming raw milk (on a per-serving basis!). Source.

Last year, Chris Kresser wrote a comprehensive and flawlessly executed article on the safety of raw milk. In response to the cherry-picked CDC press release that claimed “Majority of dairy-related disease outbreaks linked to raw milk,” Chris brought the risks of raw milk into perspective:

  • When it comes to food-borne illnesses, dairy products are at the bottom of the list of offenders. Dairy products only account for about 1.3% of foodborne illnesses each year.
  • The CDC’s report used an outdated, smaller estimate of raw milk drinkers, most likely in an effort to exaggerate the risks. The report also used the statistics of illnesses related to illegally-made raw milk queso fresco, which carries significantly more risk than fluid raw milk
  • During 2000 – 2007,  you had roughly 1 in 94,000 chance in getting sick from drinking raw milk. Does that sound risky to you? Let’s examine what this really means. Food poisoning means anything from a little diarrhea to a hospital visit. There is an average of 1.5 people per year getting hospitalized for raw milk consumption. That means the risk of hospitalization from drinking raw milk is 1 in 6 million.
  • Chris further threw things into perspective by explaining that we are 750 times more likely to die in a car crash than to be hospitalized for drinking raw milk!

“Where do I get raw milk? What if I can’t get it?”

Many states restrict the sale of raw milk in grocery stores. Other states allow herdshares or the sale of raw milk if it is labeled as pet foods. Even in the few states that completely outlaw raw milk sales, it is almost always possible to find raw milk on the “black market.” To find raw milk in your area, contact your local Weston A. Price Foundation chapter or the Real Milk website.

If you cannot find raw milk, the second best option is low temperature pasteurized and non-homogenized milk. Seek out sources of milk from pastured cows, since this will be higher in nutrients. Try to avoid Ultra High Temperature (UTH) pasteurized milk, a highly denatured product. Interestingly, the major Certified Organic dairies like Organic Valley use this type of processing.