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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Should Raw Milk and Products be Illegal or just Warned About?

Yesterday I was speaking to a mother of a child who recently developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome as a result of consuming a raw milk product.  It is evident from her grief that she felt she was doing something healthful for her child and had no idea of the risks that a raw milk product contain.  She felt that all the products, but especially “grass-fed” raw milk, sold at her local co-op, being local, organic, non-GMO, etc., could never put her child at death’s door.

With two raw milk E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks in the news (one in Washington and one in California) that have sickened at least eight – five with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, I thought an updated chart of over a decade of raw milk and raw milk cheese outbreaks would be timely.  Download: Outbreaks from Unpasteurized (Raw) Milk and non-­Mexican Style Raw Milk Cheeses, United States, 1998-­2011.

In lieu of banning raw milk products, some states have adopted regulations that attempt to protect public health and allow for consumer choice.  I would suggest the following:

  1. Raw milk and products should be sold only on farms (“Know your farmer, know your food.”  “I know my food is safe, because I can look the farmer in the eye.”) that are certified by the state and inspected and tested regularly.  Make ambiguous black market raw milk and products and “pet food sales” meant for human consumption clearly illegal;
  2. Raw milk and products 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;
  6. Warning signs on pruducts and at point-of-purchase should be mandatory.  An example:

Screen Shot 2011-12-14 at 8.02.51 AM.png

For more information on the real risks of raw milk, see REAL RAW MILK FACTS DOT COM.

  • Paul F Schwarz

    Someone should tell Ron Paul about the dangers of raw milk

  • aed939

    I’m for 1) and 2), as long as you clarify what constitutes sale and interstate commerce. Interstate commerce requires a sale subsequent to transport across state lines. that means buying clubs that buy legally on behalf of a consumer are legal means of access. Buying clubs can also enhance the ability of consumers to pool membership fees to conduct a proper interview and inspection of their producer. Buying clubs are also a legal means of selling and delivering product in states where sales must physically occur at the farmgate (e.g. Massachusetts). You don’t think that the governor, known to be a raw milk drinker, gets his own milk? No, he probably sends one of his staff members.
    I’m also for 6) warning labels–similar to those big yellow warning labels you see on cantaloupes and raw spinach…what’s that–you mean cantaloupes don’t have warning labels?

  • Mary McGonigle-Martin

    I would to see this label front and center of bottles of raw milk sold in California.

  • Randy Francisco

    Those who think they are doing themselves and the environment a big favor by eating only raw and organic and grass fed and local might be well instructed to read -Just Food- by James McWilliams. It is subtitled, “Where locavores get it wrong and how we an truly eat responsibly”
    A great many stats and references but worth the time.

  • Fred B

    I like your plan, Bill. However,
    3. Farms should be required to have insurance coverage sufficient to cover reasonable damages to their customers;
    I would amend to
    3. People who voluntarily consume such a product give up all rights to sue anyone for any negative result, even if the farmer is clearly negligent.
    Sorry, Bill. Taking a risk and then suing when you catch the downside is not acceptable in my book. Of course, bailing out Wall Street wasn’t my idea of the right answer either, so… I am clearly not in the majority here. This keeps going, we’ll have patrons suing casinos because they didn’t win the jackpot…oh wait, that’s already happened.

  • Fred, most of the ill in raw milk outbreaks are children who had no choice to consume the milk. The costs of the illnesses – kidney transplants, brain injury, etc., in E. coli cases exist whether there is insurance or not. So, who should bear the cost? The kid? The farmer? The family? The taxpayer? The hospital? I would argue that the minimal cost of having an insurance policy (cost of which can be spread to all raw milk consumers) is a fair way of allocating costs.