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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Minnesota Considers Expanding Raw Milk Sales

Screen shot 2011-01-27 at 4.01.32 PM.pngIn a state that is becoming famous for the “Raw Milk Poster Boy,” the Senate is considering a bill, H.F. 255 that would now permit direct farm-to-consumer sales of raw milk, including sales at farmers markets and at private homes. Current law allows sales of the product only at the farm, which produced the milk.

I am impressed with the raw milk movement’s persistence. Although raw milk legislation failed in Wyoming and in California (one county) this year, legislation is still being considered in Wisconsin, Oregon, Texas, New Jersey, Massachusetts and now Minnesota.

  • Bill Anderson

    We’re not going away Bill. You might as well get used to us.
    Raw milk is fundamentally different than pasteurized milk — even if they came from the same animals. I know this fact on a very intimate level — I am a cheese maker. I could write an entire essay detailing all of the ways that pasteurization alters the properties of milk, if you are interested, but my guess is that you’d just make fun of it. Compulary pasteurization is one of the worst mistakes that the dairy industry ever made. It has degraded the quality of raw milk in the U.S. by commodifying it and reducing it to the lowest common demoninator. Frankly, that is why we are seeing all of these outbreaks lately, because our entire dairy infrastructure is built around the assumption that milk will be pasteurized.
    Also, I don’t know how this Hartmann idiot is now a “raw milk poster boy.” I believe you are the one who has labelled him as such, not any consumer or advocate of raw milk.
    Personally, as a consumer of raw milk, I would consider Michael Schmidt to be the raw milk poster boy. He has an impressive bio-dynamic farm (I’ve been there) and an impressive track record. Michael Schmidt has never made anyone sick, ever.

  • I am impressed with all that I have seen of Michael Schmidt. I have also been impressed by some of your thoughtful comments – on another blog – as well as discussion I have has with Scott Trautman.

  • Bill Anderson

    I find it ironic that the state creates a strong dis-incentive for raw milk producers to be thorough about food safety, and yet proclaim that food safety is the reason raw milk is banned.
    If a farmer were to do his/her due dilligence and keep track of customers who purchase milk (in the case of a recall), perform regular tests of the animals and the milk quality, and invest the money in a sanitary dairy processing facility for processing excess milk into cheese or butter — then s/he is simply creating the paper trail of evidence that the state will use to try and prosecute him/her.
    Can you see now why there is such visceral hostility against the “food safety” establishment and their sterile food dogmas?
    The prohibition on raw milk absolutey is about total corporate domination. It is NOT about food safety. We have the tools to verify the safety of raw milk, and have had those tools for a long time (many decades) — Standard Plate Counts, Coliform Counts, Somatic cell counts organoleptic evaluation of clabbered milk, and basic animal health tests.
    The problem is that the regulatory agencies are completely beholden to dairy processors whose livelihood depends on compulsary pasteurization.
    Yes, I said it… the dairy industry is incredibly corrupt. I was blacklisted from the Wisconsin dairy industry for daring to suggest this.
    It is a sick evil twisted system, Bill. And its time of reckoning has come. If you are really in favor of food safety, you need to proclaim loudly that raw milk needs to be legalized and reasonably regulated (not so onerous that it drives it underground again), instead of this stupid crap like you posted here.
    As far as I can tell, you are not interested in making raw milk safe. You are only interested in demonizing it and keeping it dangerous. After all, when people get sick, you get rich.

  • For gawds sake, how many times do I need to say this?
    In lieu of banning raw milk products, some states have adopted regulations that attempt to protect public health and allow for consumer choice. This is an approach I would suggest the following:

    1.Raw milk should be sold only on farms that are certified by the state and inspected and tested regularly. Make ambiguous black market milk/cheese sales and “pet food sales” meant for human consumption clearly illegal
    2. Raw milk should not be sold in grocery stores or across state lines–the risks of mass production and transportation are too great; the risk of a casual purchase by someone misunderstanding the risks is too great, as well
    3. Farms should be required to have insurance coverage sufficient to cover reasonable damages to their customers
    4. Practices such as outsourcing (buying raw milk from farms not licensed for raw milk production) should be illegal
    5. Colostrum should be regulated as a dairy product, not a nutritional supplement
    Warning signs on the bottles and at point-of-purchase should be mandatory. An example:
    “WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and may contain harmful bacteria (not limited to E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter, Listeria and Salmonella). Pregnant women, infants, children, the elderly and persons with lowered resistance to disease (immune compromised) have the highest risk of harm, which includes Diarrhea, Vomiting, Fever, Dehydration, Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Reactive Arthritis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Miscarriage, or Death, from use of this product.”
    I would never let my children drink it, but I also think banning it does not make any sense. I’ll ignore your comment, “As far as I can tell, you are not interested in making raw milk safe. You are only interested in demonizing it and keeping it dangerous. After all, when people get sick, you get rich.” That is pathetic. The only reason I keep pointing out the problems in the raw milk industry is that you fail to do it yourself. Ignoring reality is not an option.

  • Bill Anderson

    I know your position on the matter, Bill. I believe the term for your position is “politically correct.”
    Its one thing to say you are for legalization and regulation of raw milk. Its another thing to actually do what it takes to make that a reality.
    The only reason that WI DATCP and their patrons in the dairy processing industry decided to take the issue seriously, and come up with a regulatory reccomendation for legalizing raw milk, is because we made it impossible for them to operate normally or maintain good PR.
    Prior to that, it was total war. It was ugly, biased, fascist, take-no-victims scorched earth against small farmers. I could go into all the details. I don’t want to bore you. The secretary of agriculture even admitted IN PUBLIC that the dairy processing industry was pressuring them to put a stop to raw milk sales.
    To illusrate the point here, that this debate is NOT really about food safety — The reason WI DATCP decided to raid Vernon Hershberger’s farm in June 2010 was because he was churning butter. Butter is less than 20% moisture. The water phase that does exist in cultured butter has a pH of about 4.3 — that’s too acidic for even listeria to grow. It is very safe, much safer than fluid raw drinking milk.
    But because Vernon was doing “unlicensed dairy processing” with raw milk, he needed to be stopped. It had nothing to do with food safety. It had to do with corporate control of milk.
    Here is my criticism of your proposal:
    #1 The safety of raw milk has absolutely nothing to do with where it is sold, or whether it crosses state lines. Those things have to do with market dominance by corporate agri-business. It is entirely possible to produce unsafe raw milk that is only sold from the farm, and it is entirely possible to produce safe raw milk (and raw milk products) that are sold at the grocery store and across state lines.
    If anything, wouldn’t it be wiser to have compotent operators selling raw milk across state lines, than having incompetant local operators?
    #2 You speak nothing of the food safety benefits of making cultured products with raw milk — acidification and competition from lactic bacteria only will make raw milk safer. If it is contaminated milk, you will be able to taste the rancidity from the bad bugs. If you keep the milk cold and sweet (unacidified), you will never know whether there are bad bugs or not, because they don’t get a chance to grow.
    I have heard you speak highly of how the EU handles food safety, no? In the EU, soft cheeses (aged LESS than 60 days) are the way that most high-quality raw milk is delivered to consumers. The changes in pH and competative micro-flora provide a level of food safety not found in raw fluid drinking milk.
    Yes, it really is about the money, Bill. Maybe not you personally, just in general.

  • Doc Mudd

    Bill A.: “You speak nothing of the food safety benefits of making cultured products with raw milk — acidification…”
    That’s not been entirely overlooked in Bill M’s blog coverage. Here’s just one link…
    The gist: “Van Ryn told the Business Journal that “fermentation is supposed to be the natural defense against pathogens” but that “for some reason, it didn’t work…”
    And a few hundred folks were poisoned by Van Ryn’s Bravo cheese.
    You said it yourself, Bill A., “It is entirely possible to produce unsafe raw milk that is only sold from the farm”. That is why sensible regulations were instituted in the first place and why they remain relevant, Seems the public does still require fundamental protection from zealots and quack healers.

  • Bill Anderson,
    Based on what you say I make the assumption that you are either aware of or a member of the Weston Price Foundation. I must say that they are a well organized group. However I strongly disagree with their position, which you are articulating. I produced raw milk in Washington State from August 2005 to September of 2006. I was a proud member of the Weston Price Foundation for about 6 months…. I am not a member anymore. I quit the winter of 2005. The reason being that I could not stomach the disinformation campaign that they were waging against anyone that disagreed with their position on this subject. It didn’t matter in my experience whether you were a small scale farmer such as myself, or a regulator. As soon as you oppose the WAFP position on raw milk, you become the enemy. And of course it was and still is a plot of big dairy to shut it down. Do have you have any idea what the logistics are to produce, transport, and get to market the volume of dairy products that are produced everyday in this country, or worldwide? And the level of consumer confidence that is needed to have consumers purchasing dairy on a daily basis to make it work? What you don’t get is that from the majority of consumers perspective, milk is milk and if illness happens from milk it impacts everyone that produces milk, proportionately at the scale at which they operate. An illness incident has huge impact far beyond the individuals that get sick. This is why large scale industry is concerned about this. And it is also why we small scale producers need to be willing to step up and operate safely, and be willing to be inspected on a regular basis, and carry appropriate levels of liability insurance to protect our customers if something does happen. For raw milk production I think the minimum amount shoud be 5 million. And I’m not really sure if that is enough to cover lifetime medical issues. Maybe it should be more.
    Doesn’t it bother you at all that someone could die from E-coli 01757:H7? Or if they don’t die, have lifetime complications? 10 cells, that’s all it takes to kill. You can take 50 samples from a bulk tank and all of them could be negative and still have 10 cells in that tank, which then will be bottled and someone will drink it. Doesn’t that potential concern you at all?
    Remember the Ford Pinto? Somehow this raw milk debate is reminding of that. The regulatory side is saying “hey this is dangerous” and needs to be fixed. But the pro raw milk, conspiracy side is saying, no it’s not that big a deal. Somewhere in your thinking you are playing an odds game. Just like the management of Ford did at the time. It’s wrong Bill.

  • I am embarrassed by our legislative leaders here in MN. Their constant pandering to their rural constituents to sell more pickled foods at market, and now raw milk. There is now end to how much risk they will heap onto others for their own political benefit. Representative Jahnke and others of his ilk have done an enormous disservice to the many to accommodate the few campaign contributing constituents from their own districts.
    They make a sham of our states politics, which was already reeling after enduring Jesse Ventura as Governor.
    Maybe the answer to this problem is to license raw milk producers and make a condition of that licensure a requirement that they carry insurance to the extent that when persons are adversely affected, they have to pay all of their medical bills, and hold harmless Obama care, and/or social security and medicare/medicaid. There should also be riders on the required policy to cover death expense and benefits to the victims survivors.
    If they do that, then ( in fairness) I will support a bill allowing raw milk producers (spelled farmers) to sell their raw milk and unpasteurized dairy products to non-family members.

  • bureaucrat

    I am so tired of hearing that regulatory agencies (most of the time referring health inspection departments) are beholden to the dairy industry.
    I have worked for 15 years protecting public health, and have never heard of anyone from the dairy industry contacting my health department which serves the needs of over 1 million people. I don’t have any colleagues who would give any interest group the time of day if there is indication of trying to influence decision making of the department. Our decision-making is based on peer-reviewed science.

  • Sam

    I’m a little confused. How is it that raw milkies are convinced that food safety has nothing to do with regulating dairy goods? The facts are pretty straightforward – people have died as a direct result of consuming raw milk products. Safe foods do not kill people. Therefor, raw milk can not be considered a safe food.

  • Alan Ismond

    The real issues with milk and food safety is a lack of understanding of the underlying microbial ecology. Pathogens are not endemic and unavoidable. They are, however, the result of creating internal and external conditions (to the host) that favor their growth. It amazes me that we understand that we need to have suitable soil for growing plants but do not make the connection that we can grow or not grow pathogens depending on how we tend to the farm and the animals. The answer lies not in sterilizing the output from agriculture and animal husbandry, but revisiting our farming and husbandry methods. To quote Dr. William Albrecht “Insects and disease are the symptoms of a failing crop, not the cause of it”. Foods that harbor pathogens are the product of sick plants and animals. Sterilizing this inferior product does not make healthy food. It does prevent the near term calamity of ingesting pathogens but falsely masks the long term impact of consuming inferior food products. We can produce healthy, pathogen free foods without sterilization in quantities that can feed the planet. The real crisis is one of quality and not quality. And in the end, the truth is being masked by vested financial interests. The real mission at hand is to develop (or dust off) a manual on how to grow food and not pathogens. We should impose farming / husbandry standards that result in healthy crops and animals and puts an end to pathogens in the environment at large. I’ll address downstream cross contamination another time. Suffice to say that pathogens fare better in inferior foods.

  • Roy Costa

    Well now we hear from Mr. Anderson who says “Michael Schmidt has never made anyone sick, ever”. Do you know that for a fact, Mr. Anderson, or do you mean we have not, as of yet, detected any cases of illness from his product?
    Do you expect public health professionals who take an oath to protect the public to support expanded raw milk sales, because raw-milk cheese tastes better? Where is your evidence that before pasteurization of milk the public was healthier? Yours is a very, very naive argument and ungrounded scientifically. What we know is that the product is inherently unsafe and numerous outbreaks and cases support this conclusion over the last century that we have records.
    The public, including yourself, is being misled often with tragic results because some dairy farmers see it as their best chance to compete. I agree there is an economic incentive for farmers, no doubt, but at the expense of innocent kids who are given this poison to drink? That is nothing but greed, sorry.
    On the other hand, we can reduce the risk in this product by thinking about high level intervention strategies. Trouble is, the farmers producing this stuff would have to invest in super clean operations. And raw milk advocates think that a little cow manure in milk is good for us. And business is booming.
    So if you are a raw milk advocate, and you speak for the industry, I would like to see your risk assessment that says that the product is safe for the general public that contains immune compromised individuals at approximately 30%. That is, of course, if you have one.
    But again, it’s so much easier to blame the processors, and the government, and the rest of us who see this as a threat, than to face the facts.
    Would you recommend giving raw milk to your infant to drink? How about strait from the udder? If you would, sir, you are in my estimate giving very reckless advice.

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    Common sense tells us that eating certain products may produce a risk that is not worth the potential consequence. I believe raw milk and sprouts fall into that category. I raised two children on a dairy farm and did not drink raw milk and did not feed raw milk to my children. To me it was common sense. However, I do agree with Alan (above) regarding the idea that growing foods in a healthier manner might help mitigate pathogens, but unfortunately we will always be battling pathogens. Thank goodness for Louis Pasteur. Mankind owes him a lot of gratitude.

  • Alan

    @Roy Costa: “…kids who are given this poison to drink?” If milk is poison, nobody should be drinking it, pasteurized or not. I think Bill Anderson has given a very accurate account of things.
    And as far as bureaucrat, it’s the upper levels of regulators that set the policy. Are you going to deny that the FDA advises and has been putting pressure on state health departments to increase and tighten controls on raw milk producers? And your peer-reviewed science is provided by a revolving door of “scientists” between industry and government.

  • Mark mcafee

    Bill Marler. Congress really screwed up. We do not need SB 510 you keep food safety well in line with your presence on the American scene. Who needs the FDA when we got Marler.
    You are certainly more fair and open. We all know what you will do and when and why. Things we can not say about the FDA. Lastly. They are impossible to contact and 100% unresponsive and corrupt.

  • Randy Francisco

    I get tired of hearing, “they(we)never made anyone sick.” Sally Jackson thought that too.

  • Lynn McGaha

    Bill Marler wrote: “Raw milk should not be sold in grocery stores or across state lines–the risks of mass production and transportation are too great.”
    I really disagree with you about using a state line as a criteria. I live 10 miles from a state line. I can legally purchase raw milk from a provider whose farm is 15 miles from my home, but I have to cross a state line to do so, and I suppose crossing the state line with raw milk is illegal. II can legally purchase raw milk from a farm within my home state, but the closest farm is an hour away and the next closest is two hours away. Rather than increasing the risk of transportation, crossing the state line markedly reduces my travel time and the time the milk is in my cooler rather than in a refrigerator. There’s nothing about crossing a state line that inherently increases the risk of raw milk.

  • Lynn, I agree that state lines are a bit arbitrary. Perhaps there is another method to shorten the farm to glass production line.

  • Lynn McGaha

    In response to Bill Marler,
    I suppose you could look at mileage rather than the state line criterion, but that still seems arbitrary to me. It doesn’t take into account the time needed for delivery or the conditions in which delivery occurs. What were you trying to accomplish by specifying your in-state criterion? Where you just trying to restrict raw milk availability or were you trying to guarantee something else, such as the freshness of the raw milk?
    I used to get raw milk from the farm that was two hours away, when that was my closest choice. The farm owner was primarily a cattle rancher but had one or two cows he milked. It was handy for him to have a source of milk for the calves whose momma died or were unable to be a sufficient milk source. Because of the distance, I obtained 2-3 gallons of milk every two weeks. Sometimes the milk was at least a few days old when I obtained it, and sometimes it sat in my refrigerator for as long as a month before I used it up. Now I did add kefir grains to all the milk when I got it home, and the milk stayed refrigerated, except that each half-gallon of milk was fermented at room temperature into kefir before being consumed.
    I never got ill. Nor did my immune-compromised elderly husband, who was 63 when he started drinking raw milk. He developed lymphoma 5 years later and lived another 6 years until he died from a medication given for a totally unrelated condition. He never got sick – unusual for a lymphoma patient. I get bloated from pasteurized milk, so I wouldn’t drink any milk if I couldn’t drink my raw kefir. I don’t get sick either.
    So I find a lot of your proposals to be arbitrary one-size-fits-all. In a rural area, the rancher might have to drive several hours to get his milk tested. And most likely it will be consumed well before the test result is back. My rancher only had a few customers, thus the impact was minimal. If he had to factor in the cost of the testing you want, I couldn’t have afforded his milk. I do think drinking my raw kefir is the factor that has improved my osteoporosis.

  • You have a point on the interstate sales.

  • frugal farmer

    And the debate over raw milk continues. This debate could also be about having choices in what I consider safe and healthy for myself and my family. I haven’t been able to drink milk for years, maybe its old age or maybe processed milk just isn’t good for me. Who knows? I applaud these states for giving people the choice as to what they consume, its personal liberty, something our country is proud of but rarely practices.

  • -Walt

    Isn’t the point about state lines not the distance but that milk in interstate commerce falls under Federal FDA regulation while the intrastate sale of milk does not? Or am I mistaken?

  • No, you are correct – I think we are all taking about what the rationale is behind it.

  • -Walt

    Guess we’d need a lawyer (oh, we have one) to sort this out. What if someone drives to the nearest raw milk dairy which happens to be across state lines and just happens to buy some and drive home. Does the product become “out of interstate commerce” when the end user buys it? If so, does it then become a state problem instead of a federal case, as it were?
    Not being a rural person, I have a hard time imagining a milking room being as clean and sanitary as a hospital operating room. How can a raw milk producer assure that there are no pathogens in their product? While testing provides some assurance, negative results don’t mean much because pathogen incidence is low and sample sizes, compared to an entire lot, are also small.
    As the old adage goes: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.