Food and Health Archive


Now FDA Takes Up Listeria Danger in Various Foods, Including Raw Milk - What Will New “Per Serving” Data Show?

Friday, April 15th, 2011

I’ve been trying to get back in the swing of things after being away for a month–recovering from jet lag, unpacking,  going through mail, paying overlooked bills, re-stocking the fridge and all that sort of thing. I haven’t felt like doing anything that required a lot of concentration, but a reader sent me a very intriguing document from your friends and mine at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and unfortunately, it requires serious concentration to understand, maybe because it’s a government document, written in bureaucratese.

But I think it’s important enough to expend the effort, and to post here, so others can provide interpretation and insight…and perhaps even provide input sought by the FDA.

Essentially, the document, just issued last week, is a “request for comments” from the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Services, “requesting comments and scientific data and information that would assist the agencies in their plan to update a risk assessment on the relationship between foodborne Listeria monocytogenes in selected categories of ready-to-eat (RTE) foods and human health.”

Lo and behold, one of the 23 “RTE foods,” in addition to deli meats, sea food, ice cream, pasteurized milk, and veggies…is raw milk. Another is soft cheeses–not specified whether raw or pasteurized milk cheeses.

According to the document, “The purpose of the risk assessment is to incorporate newly available scientific data and information into the risk assessment in order to update estimates of the relative risk of illness and death associated with the consumption of different types of RTE foods that may be contaminated with L. monocytogenes…”

All this is highly relevant to producers and consumers of raw dairy, since L. monocytogenes has been a highly contentious issue in a number of regulatory and legal cases. In New York state, at least half a dozen raw dairies have been temporarily shut down at different times over the last five years because listeria has been found in their milk, yet there have been no illnesses. One farmer, Chuck Phippen, has been shut down at least eight times for the presence of listeria, and has filed suit against the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets over the matter.

In Missouri and Washington, it was findings of listeria, once again without any illnesses, that have led to the shuttering of two raw cheese producers. The Missouri case, involving Morningland Dairy, wound up in court, where a judge accepted the state’s argument that the presence of listeria constituted a serious enough danger to warrant destroying $250,000 worth of inventory.

It’s impossible to know how much these cases might have inspired the FDA to re-examine its approach to listeria cases. But the request for comments touches on a number of issues raised in the New York and Missouri raw milk and raw cheese cases. For example, FDA says it seeks data on “The number of L. monocytogenes cells present per amount (unit volume or weight) of contaminated RTE food.” It also proposes to consider “The relationship between the dose of L. monocytogenes ingested with food and the frequency of listeriosis…”

In both the New York and Missouri cases, a big part of the argument in opposition to the regulators has been that the simple presence of L. monocytogenes isn’t necessarily a public health danger. This matter has been raised by scientists within the FDA and at other institutions, but the agency hasn’t seen fit to take the concerns seriously, until now…maybe.

One other intriguing aspect of the FDA’s upcoming re-evaluation of L. monocytongenes is that the agency is considering adjusting findings it came up with in 2003 on the same subject. In that assessment, the FDA ranked a number of foods in terms of the danger posed by L. monocytogenes.

Here’s where the whole matter becomes more complicated than I would have liked, especially while dealing with jet lag. What did the FDA find in its original report on L. monocytogenes? Turns out that “unpasteurized fluid milk” was labeled “high risk” on a “per serving basis,” along with hot dogs, deli meats, and smoked seafood. Interestingly, pasteurized milk was labeled “high risk” on a “per annum basis” (with deli meats considered “very high risk” on that basis).

But how, I wondered, did the FDA arrive at any kind of “per serving” assessment of raw milk? After all, it pretends that raw milk shouldn’t be consumed under any circumstances. How would it have any indication of how many servings of raw milk are made each day, or week, or year?

So I went deep into the 2003 report, where food number 14 is the “Unpasteurized fluid milk food category”. And there, it states, “Unpasteurized Fluid Milk consumption was estimated to be 0.5% of total milk…”

Now mind you, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has done surveys indicating that as much as three per cent of milk consumption could be raw milk. Even if the actual number is two per cent, or even one per cent, it’s two times, or four times, or even possibly six times the figure the FDA was using in 2003. Might the FDA be making its estimate low enough to ensure the denominator of its “per serving” assessment is low enough that raw milk will come out as high risk.

What percentage will the FDA use in this new updated assessment? That should be just one of a few interesting results to come out of the upcoming study.

In the meantime, I guess I can credit the FDA for helping lift the fog of my jet lag. And I would encourage anyone with insights and data to answer the FDA’s request for comments. The deadline is July 6. 

Read the original article on The Complete Patient.

rawmilkrevolution David E. Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution.

On the Road Again: Reflecting on Climate Change, Community, Safety, Traveling Through Southern Asia

Monday, April 11th, 2011

For the last four weeks I have played tourist, traveling through southern Asia—Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand,  Sri Lanka, and then for the last ten days, India.  For all the economic gains we hear so much about in Asia, the differences between that part of the world and ours remain stark. I’ve only begun to digest what I have seen. I’d like to share observations on a few things that stood out especially strongly:

Climate change. One of the biggest surprises to me was the intensity of the heat, everywhere in southern Asia—generally between 90 and 100 degrees, with the humidity hanging heavy. Even on the ocean at night, I doubt it ever got below 85 degrees. Only in the 5-000-foot-high mountains of the south India state of Kerala, in the late evening and early morning hours, did the heat abate, to perhaps 75 or 80 degrees. In Mumbai, along the waterfront in the evening, when thousands crowd the boardwalk, a sea breeze cools things slightly.

I met at least half a dozen experienced tour guides, and without exception, they feel strongly that global warming is upon us. One pointed out that Mumbai just had its hottest day within the last two years last month—42 degrees Celsius, which is 107 F.  And remember, most buses and trains, along with cars, and apartments, aren’t air conditioned.

The huge economic gains being made across southern Asia make the climate situation seem ever more daunting. Mumbai is a case in point. Its population has swelled to 18 million. Because it is situated on seven islands, some man made,space is limited and  a subway system in such a wet environment is out of the question. So most transport is via gas-burning vehicles. The traffic is brutal, and even in the middle of the day or late at night, main roads are backed up for miles. There is little in the way of open space like parks. It’s a pulsating city with wonderful art galleries, restaurants, and architecture. But the scenes made famous by the movie, “Slum Dog Millionaire”, aren’t difficult to find, even if the tour guides mostly avoid them. As dynamic and exciting a city as it is, it’s difficult to imagine how people can survive if it gets even a little warmer. I couldn’t wait to get out

Fishermen along the Arabian Sea assess their overnight catch.

Community. While cities like Mumbai are highly westernized, it was out in the country that I saw inspiring examples of how closely-knit communities routinely come together for the sake of food production. While driving through one village, our tour guide stopped the van when he noticed perhaps 100 bicycles and motorcycles parked near a river. We walked through some woods, and there were several hundred villagers bent over in shallow river waters dragging small nets through the waters. Each month, according to the lunar cycle, villagers take a  day off from their regular work and gather in a community fishing celebration. I worried I was intruding, but villagers were proud to show off their catches of small sardine-like fish.  It was like that in other places as well, including in the seaside city of Kochin, where, as you can see in the photo, I was invited by good-natured fishermen to help in the ongoing routine of the day of pulling ropes that bring nets, and hopefully a few fish, out of the waters.

A few good-natured fishermen temprarily recruit yours truly to help in hauling out their nets. They wouldn’t have wanted me for very long. I came across a similar scene around six one morning walking along a seemingly deserted Arabian Sea beach. Suddenly, dozens of villagers began returning from their regular night fishing, mostly carried out on single-person floats that can’t be said to qualify as boats. They carried their rolled-up nets, with fish still visible in the netting.

Safety. At movie theaters, government-sponsored public health shorts warn and advise about problems well under control here. For example, prior to a Bollywood movie I attended, one short segment warned about malaria, while another dealt with glaucoma. I was glad as I watched the scenes of mosquitos hatching in still water that I had decided to take malaria-prevention pills.

The safety-related theme I experienced up close was on  the transportation side. I wound up covering a lot of miles around southern India, and all I can say is that I’m glad I didn’t have to drive. To describe the traffic as chaotic doesn’t begin to capture the situation, especially in smaller cities, where cars, trucks, buses, bicycles, motorcycles, and the ever-present tuk-tuk three-wheel taxis compete for turf (along with cows and goats, for good measure). There’s lots of horn-honking, but little in the way of the angry aggressiveness that typifies most American urban areas. As for safety, you’re pretty much on your own.

At least one member of the family, shown here cruising at 40-50 mph, has some protection. Most taxis have no working seat belts for passengers. Entire families ride around on motorcycles. No one wears helmets, for the most part, except in a state like Kerala, where the driver (usually the dad) is required to wear one. Tuk-tuks designed to hold maybe four people sort of comfortably routinely carry eight or ten people, and I saw a few cases where probably 12 or 13 people were crammed in.

In Mumbai and other cities, the commuter trains are so packed, the doors aren’t closed. In the Indian scheme of things, suffocation is counted as a greater threat than an occasional passenger losing his or her grip and falling out going around a curve.

The priorities are a lot different in a developing country of 1.2 billion versus a well developed country of 300 million.

The three guys riding the back of this tuk tuk hide at least eight others riding inside…also cruising at 40-plus mph. As for the food, I loved nearly all of what I ate. I generally avoided street food, figuring I probably am not ready for some of the bugs I would encounter. But I found myself eating raw fruits and vegetables, despite warnings I had received before the trip, and came out okay. Nearly without exception, I found the food to be more flavorful than most Asian food I’ve had in the U.S., and I’ve long been a big Asian food fan. The spices seemed to carry more oomph, more subtleties, than what I am used to.

Finally, on the subject of pathogens, there was one bit of fascinating irony I came across while touring a Jain) temple in Mumbai. Like many devout Buddhists and Hindus, the Jains  are very respectful of human life, so much so that devout followers where white kerchiefs over their mouths…to avoid killing both good and bad bacteria we harbor.

As fun and fascinating as the trip was, it sure is good to be back home.

***

The doors of this train are open, as always, as it pulls into a Mumbai station during the morning rush hour. Finally, I want to say how blown away I was by the guest posts that appeared during my absence. Informative, provocative and well written. Many thanks to Dave Milano. Pete Kennedy, Scott Trautman, Bill Anderson, Steve Bemis, Joseph Heckman, and Ben Hewitt.  Ongoing, there’s no reason this blog can’t include guest posts at other times, as well…all by way of saying I’m open to ideas and suggestions.

Read the original article on The Complete Patient.

rawmilkrevolution David E. Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution.

In Other Parts of World, How You Choose to Drink Your Milk Not a “Big Deal”—And They Marvel At Our Obsession

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Right after my trip through the Myanmar health system last week, I made a stop at a Buddhist center on the outskirts of Yangon, the country’s largest city. I had been referred to the center by some American friends, and indeed, the nun who showed me around was an American-born woman who has been there on-and-off for the last five  years. As we stood on an outdoor second-floor landing, she pointed out several neighboring structures in this semi-rural area. A small square building housed a neighborhood health-care center. A warehouse-like structure was a tobacco-processing plant. And a barn-like structure…well, once she pointed it out to me, I could see a number of cows inside.


Sacred cows wandering a city street in India.

“That dairy probably provides half the milk for Yangon,” she said. “We use it at our center.”

I asked her if she and her colleagues drink it pasteurized or raw. “We boil it. We don’t want to get tuberculosis.”

I told her that the reason I asked was that raw milk was “a big deal” in the U.S.

“Everything like that seems to become a big deal in the U.S.,” she said.

I had to laugh. The nun was correct.

Of course, Myanmar has its share of issues much more important than raw milk…for example, political repression and violent suppression of political dissidents.  The nun’s point was that, beyond such basics, people there tend not to get all that riled up about lifestyle issues.  If they want raw milk, they can get raw milk and choose to boil it, or risk getting TB.

I’ve had this point made to me in a few other ways as I’ve traveled around Asia because, as we know, the subject of raw milk has a way of coming up in strange ways. Touring the small city of Cochin in southern India, I asked a tour guide about milk when we saw the inevitable sacred cows wandering about city streets. “Sure we can buy it straight from the cow. I boil it.”

Then there was the Brazilian dairy owner, Raphael, I met who was also touring around Asia. He owns a conventional dairy farm with 700 cows, of which 300 are being milked. When I showed him my business card, with a picture of my book’s cover, The Raw Milk Revolution, he began laughing hysterically. Why was he laughing? Because in Brazil, some dairies bottle their milk unpasteurized, and sell it that way, while others send their milk off to be pasteurized. No big deal either way.

I told him the public health people in the U.S. were adamant in believing raw milk is a huge danger. “They have to justify their service,” he said with a smile. Remember, this is coming from a conventional dairy owner.

Of course, traveling around Asia, it’s pretty clear that many kinds of lifestyle risks are treated differently than in the U.S. People drive around in cars where the seat belts don’t work properly. Entire families drive around on motorcycles, where maybe the dad is wearing a helmet, at most.

But the kind of battle that has developed around raw dairy in the U.S. and Canada seems anathema to much of the rest of the world. It’s actually kind of amazing the way it churns away, the animosity it sparks. I don’t think it’s entirely financial, either. We know it isn’t about crazy convincing data showing raw dairy creates a huge public health problem. It has to be about larger belief systems, and imposing those beliefs on others.

Read the original post on The Complete Patient.

rawmilkrevolution David E. Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution.

What Do You Call the MN Campaign Against Nutrient-Dense Food? Confiscation? Theft? Looting? And Hartmann Legal Victory on Contempt Charges

Friday, March 11th, 2011

“I’m new to this community and…get food from Alvin (Schlangen),” writes Elisa on a listserve. “I’m so upset they have done this, as is my whole family.”

Welcome to Minnesota, Elisa, where official interference in ordinary people’s access to food has become a major public initiative, along with paving roads and building schools.

And let me introduce you to James Roettger, the man who coordinated the “this” you refer to–the seizure of $5,000-$6,000 worth of food from Alvin Schlangen’s van yesterday.


He’s back! MDA agent Jim Roettger shown last December hauling food and holding a search warrant at a suburban Minneapolis dropoff site for the Hartmann farm.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you already know something about Roettger–he’s the Minnesota Department of Agriculture agent who seized food being distributed from the Hartmann farm in a Minneapolis suburb last December, mis-using his handicapped plate in the process.

The Minnesota campaign against nutrient-dense foods actually began last spring, when Michael Hartmann’s farm was linked to eight cases of infection from E.coli 0157-H7, apparently in his raw milk. That led to court-ordered embargoing of food from his farm.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Minnesota Department of Public Health could be seen as doing their jobs in that case, since people became sick. The problem is that the MDA, in particular, didn’t end its enforcement efforts with Hartmann. The MDA made a big part of its overall mission the destruction of anyone who had any connection to raw dairy, and nutrient-dense foods in general, totally apart from Hartmann.

On June 15, it conducted a raid on a Minneapolis food club, Traditional Foods Minnesota, and seized more than 50 different products, which didn’t include raw dairy, since the outlet didn’t sell raw milk. It accused Traditional Foods of operating without a license and violating zoning laws, and the outlet has been shut down ever since, as its owners seek to comply with seemingly endless red tape created by MDA, together with the city of Minneapolis.

As for the food seized in that raid, I understand from sources close to the situation that all the foods were tested, at a cost approaching $40,000. The result? Some pickles were found to have been packed in liquid considered to have a high Ph reading.

After shutting down Traditional Foods Minnesota, the MDA sought to shut down Alvin Schlangen’s operations. He made raw milk available from a facility adjoining that of Traditional Foods Minnesota, as well as from his farm, along with eggs, meat, and even fresh citrus.

Wait, I’ll let Roettger tell the story, per his statement to a Minnesota judge in support of the search warrant he obtained to carry out yesterday’s raid.

“I have been assigned as the lead investigator in a case involving Alvin Schlangen. I have gathered information that leads me to believe that Mr. Schlangen is selling food not produced on his farm without a license and is selling unpasteurized milk to the public at locations other than the farm on which the milk was produced. Each act is a violation of Minnesota law…”

Hmmm, the fact he’s “the lead investigator” suggests he is leading a team of investigators. So let’s see, if Roettger is paid $80,000 a year (without benefits), and leads a team of investigators who are each paid $60,000 a year, the numbers are starting to add up. Along with the $40,000 to test all the food from Traditional Foods Minnesota, we’re into the hundreds of thousands of dollars…to take food from ordinary people.

Keep in mind, this has been going on since last June. According to Roettger’s statement, “In June 2010, inspectors with the Dairy and Food Inspection Division Department found Mr. Schlangen selling food of various types from space in the Traditional Foods Warehouse building…without having a license to sell food. Mr. Schlangen also was selling unpasteurized milk and butter and uninspected custom slaughtered meat at this location which could not legally be sold even with a license.”

Then, Roettger says, “A search warrant was executed at Mr. Schlangen’s farm in Stearns County on June 23, 2010. Mr. Schlangen produces and sells chicken eggs and chickens on his small (approximately 5 acre) farm. The search found evidence of illegal unlicensed food sales…”

On July 27, Roettger says, “MDA had an administrative meeting with Mr. Schlangen and again informed him not to sell any food that he did not prdouce without a license, not to sell unpasteurized milk and butter and not to sell uninspected custom slaughter meat.”

In December, “MDA inspectors inspected (not a sanitary inspection) Mr. Schlangen’s farm…and found evidence that he had been selling food that he had not produced on his farm without a license.”

But Roettger’s big break in the case was still to come, on Valentine’s Day, no less. “On February 14, 2011, I received a telephone call from a person who identified himself and sated that he is a tenant of the building” where Schlangen has facilities. I’m breathless as I read. “The tenant informed me of the following:…That Mr. Schlangen is storing and selling foods at that location, including apples, oranges, lemons, almonds, unpasteurized butter, and unpasteurized milk.” It goes on to say how Schlangen makes deliveries and brings in unpasteurized milk on Tuesdays.

Then yesterday, the big raid. Roettger obtained help from St. Paul police, and cornered Schlangen as he was dropping off food at a local college. Roettger looked inside the van, saw some citrus, which told his sharp investigative mind that Schlangen’s farm hadn’t grown it, and sought immediate approval of the search warrant, which was quickly delivered.  (There’s an excellent account of the raid and aftermath at the blog of one of Schlangen’s food club members._)

The big problem with search warrants of this type is that the suspected criminal doesn’t get to present his side of the story. Nowhere in the search warrant is there the slightest hint of Schlangen’s defense–that he makes food available privately to members of his food club who sign a statement to that effect and pay an annual membership fee, and that he doesn’t sell to the general public.

But there’s another question as well. Why does the MDA insist on obtaining search warrants and harassing visits instead of simply taking suspects like Schlangen to court? In fact, despite eight months of harassment, or call it theft of food, legal charges have yet to be filed against Schlangen.

Maybe the answer is to be found in the case of Michael Hartmann. The state condemned thousands of dollars of his cheese and meat products last June, and recently sought to hold the farmer in contempt when the MDA discovered, just as it was about to have the food destroyed, that substantial amounts had disappeared.

Today, a state judge declined to find him in contempt when he said that the reason there was less food was that he and his family ate it…and everyone was still around to tell the story. Maybe the judge was saying that it’s okay to eat the food you produce. Maybe the MDA is afraid to challenge Alvin Schlangen’s right to distribute food privately to consenting adults, because they’ll have a similar defense–they obtained it privately…to eat it.

Schlangen remains committed to making nutrient-dense food available to individuals who want it. Late yesterday, he wrote this statement to supporters:

“This three day marathon to bring nutrient dense food to our network of families is so much more satisfying when we can actually deliver the food. This day showed, once again, the arrogance of our Dept of Ag and the collective ignorance of our rights as Americans and Minnesotans. We will not allow fear and aggression to undermine our principals as we continue to promote health through our food supply. It seems ironic to me that the very food items that were used to obtain a warrant to search and detain our farm delivery truck, (4# of oranges and 5# of grapefruit) were the only food items left behind after the looting was done.” 

So, Elisa, you seem to have picked a difficult state to live in if it’s nutrient-dense food you’re after.

Read the original article on The Complete Patient.

rawmilkrevolution David E. Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution.

Two More Maine Towns Vote on “Food Sovereignty,” Different Outcomes Underscore Potential Divisiveness ; MN Farmer Picked Up By Police; FDA Takes on French Cheese

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

A view from the Blue Hill peninsula, where Sedgwick, Penobscot, and Brooksville are located. I think because the “Food Sovereignty” ordinance described in my previous post passed so easily in Sedgwick, Maine, last Saturday–without obvious pushback from state and federal regulators–there was a tendency to assume that such ordinances could easily be passed elsewhere.

But when two more Maine seacoast towns voted last evening on essentially the same ordinance as I described in my previous post on Sedgwick, the results weren’t quite as clear-cut.

Deborah Evans, a Maine farmer who has been a principal backer of the ordinance, describes what happened in Penobscot, where the scenario played out much like in Sedgwick.

“In Penobscot, the ordinance was on the warrant [item #39] to be discussed and voted on at Town Meeting, just like Sedgwick [item #42] did on Saturday. There were about 100 citizens gathered in the Penobscot Elementary School gym to go through the warrant, item by item, including a couple of proposed ordinances. When #39 came up, several people stood and spoke their piece in favor of it, each ending with an enthusiastic round of applause! One comedian in the audience suggested that since everybody he buys local meat and milk from is operating under the radar anyway, we should just leave it alone. We laughed. A motion was made to call the vote and high into the air went every voting hand in the room - it was a resounding ‘unanimous’ once again! Oh my.”

But in nearby Brooksville, a different scenario unfolded. Once again, Evans describes the situation: “A Town Meeting this evening just like other towns, but instead of being on the warrant, the proposed ordinances were voted on by secret ballot the day before. Results were 152 Yes, 161 No. It was so close. Only 5 votes would have reversed the outcome. Several unhappy people at tonight’s meeting where the voting results were announced asked if we would be putting it up for a vote at the next town meeting, probably in June, and I answered ‘Absolutely. Brooksville just needs a little more time to get it’s brain around an ordinance that takes away ridiculous rules instead of piling on more.’”

The opposition to the Food Sovereignty ordinance had come up a few weeks previously, according to one local paper, when Brooksville’s ordinance review committee voted not to recommend passage. Among its concerns: that “it is unenforceable” and “opens the town to potential liability issues and legal costs.”

A few things worth pointing out at this early stage in the emerging Food Sovereignty issue. Even in small towns like Sedgwick, Penobscot, and Brooksville (polulations 900-1,300), proponents must  carefully lay the groundwork; Evans and her allies met in advance with town officials to educate them on the proposal. Second, fearful opponents will make their voices heard, worrying about legal issues, and maybe even safety issues.

But as Evans noted, “two outa three ain’t bad. The fourth and last town to take up the proposed ordinance will be Blue Hill on April 2.
***
A Minnesota farmer, Alvin Schlanger, was served with a search warrant while passing out eggs and raw milk to members of his food club, in St. Paul, earlier today. He was forced by St. Paul police to accompany them to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which towed his truck. It wasn’t clear if the police arrested Schlanger or he voluntarily accompanied them. Clearly, though, the police didn’t want a repeat of a December incident in which consumers gathered at a dropoff point in suburban Minneapolis and pointed their video cameras, and verbal assaults, at MDA agents who confiscated food being passed out to customers of the Hartmann farm.

Schlanger is understood to make food available only to members of his food club, who pay dues and sign a written agreement. 

***

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s hysteria over raw milk apparently knows no bounds. Now the agency dairy chief, John Sheehan, is justifying a crackdown on raw milk cheese by suggesting French raw milk cheeses are unsafe. These are the cheeses renowned worldwide, for centuries, for their delicacy and wonderful taste.

Here’s what the FDA in a recent article: “Consumers are also seeing more raw milk products because of the growth of the artisanal cheese industry, Sheehan says. These cheeses are made by hand using what are considered to be traditional methods—often on the farm where the milk is produced. Some of these cheese makers use pasteurized milk in their products, but others use raw milk that could contain disease-causing bacteria…

“In countries where pasteurization of milk is less common, outbreaks of foodborne illness attributed to tainted milk or milk products occur more frequently than they do in the United States. In France, for example, the rate of foodborne illness attributed to milk and milk products was reported to be roughly three times what it is in the U.S., says Sheehan, citing a 2001 study by researcher Marie-Laure De Buyser and other French scientists.”

The real point here, aside from the fact that Sheehan and cohorts haven’t the taste to appreciate fine French cheeses, is that the agency has its sights set on eliminating raw milk cheeses from the American food landscape. That’s why efforts like those in coastal Maine are so important–we may well require “Food Sovereignty Zones” to access the foods of our choice.

Read this article on The Complete Patient.

rawmilkrevolution David E. Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution.

Here’s a Way to Eliminate the Regulators and Lawyers, and Build Community At the Same Time: Organize and Declare “Food Sovereignty,” Like Sedgwick, Maine

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Maybe the citizens of tiny Sedgwick on the Maine coast were listening to the calls of Dave Milano, Ken Conrad, and others for more trust and community, and less rigid one-size-fits-all food regulation.

On Friday evening, they became perhaps the first locale in the country to pass a “Food Sovereignty” law. It’s the proposed ordinance I first described last fall, when I introduced the “Five Musketeers”, a group of farmers and consumers intent on pushing back against overly aggressive agriculture regulators. The regulators were interfering with farmers who, for example, took chickens to a neighbor for slaughtering, or who sold raw milk directly to consumers.

The proposed ordinance was one of 78 being considered at the Sedgwick town meeting, that New England institution that has stood the test of time, allowing all of a town’s citizens to vote yea or nay on proposals to spend their tax money and, in this case, enact potentially far-reaching laws with national implications. They’ve been holding these meetings in the Sedgwick town hall (pictured above) since 1794. At Friday’s meeting, about 120 citizens raised their hands in unanimous approval of the ordinance.

Citing America’s Declaration of Independence and the Maine Constitution, the ordinance proposed that “Sedgwick citizens possess the right to produce, process, sell, purchase, and consume local foods of their choosing.” These would include raw milk and other dairy products and locally slaughtered meats, among other items.

This isn’t just a declaration of preference. The proposed warrant added, “It shall be unlawful for any law or regulation adopted by the state or federal government to interfere with the rights recognized by this Ordinance.” In other words, no state licensing requirements prohibiting certain farms from selling dairy products or producing their own chickens for sale to other citizens in the town.

What about potential legal liability and state or federal inspections? It’s all up to the seller and buyer to negotiate. “Patrons purchasing food for home consumption may enter into private agreements with those producers or processors of local foods to waive any liability for the consumption of that food. Producers or processors of local foods shall be exempt from licensure and inspection requirements for that food as long as those agreements are in effect.” Imagine that–buyer and seller can agree to cut out the lawyers. That’s almost un-American, isn’t it?

This from a press release put out after the vote by supporters:

“Local farmer Bob St.Peter noted the importance of this ordinance for beginning farmers and cottage producers. ‘This ordinance creates favorable conditions for beginning farmers and cottage-scale food processors to try out new products, and to make the most of each season’s bounty,’ said St.Peter. ‘My family is already working on some ideas we can do from home to help pay the bills and get our farm going.’

“Mia Strong, Sedgwick resident and local farm patron, was overwhelmed by the support of her town. ‘Tears of joy welled in my eyes as my town voted to adopt this ordinance,’ said Strong. ‘I am so proud of my community. They made a stand for local food and our fundamental rights as citizens to choose that food.’”

The ordinance comes up for a vote in three other Maine towns upcoming–Penobscott, Brooksville, and Blue Hill.

(Thanks to Deborah Evans, a Sedgwick area farmer, for providing information for this post, and the photo above.)

Read the original post on The Complete Patient.

rawmilkrevolution David E. Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution.

MO Judge Uses Defense Witness Info on High Somatic Cell Counts to “Infer” Cow Illness, Uphold the State, and Condemn Morningland Dairy’s Cheese; FTCLDF Promises Appeal

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

A few weeks ago I asked in a post whether a Missouri judge might be willing to explore new directions suggested by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund before condemning $250,000 worth of Morningland Dairy raw cow’s and goat’s milk cheeses.

The county judge, David Dunlap, has just issued his decision, and the answer is an emphatic “No.” Indeed, the judge came at the entire matter differently than had been presented by either the state or the FTCLDF, in upholding the state’s push to destroy Morningland’s cheese.

The state had argued that because some samples of Morningland’s cheese contained listeria monocytogenes and staph aureus, the cheese should be considered “adulterated” and the entire inventory should be condemned. This despite the fact that there hadn’t been any illnesses from cheese previously sold.

Cheddar cheese being produced at Morningland Dairy during happier times.

The FTCLDF had argued that the state should provide detailed information about the nature of the contamination (such as the amount of listeria monocytogenes, and whether it was from a pathogenic subtype), and it challenged the assumption that the presence of bacteria constituted adulteration.

Judge Dunlap rejected the notion that the state had to provide detailed information. “At the time of condemnation [last summer], the Milk Board knew only that two small samples of defendant’s cow cheese in California were alleged to contain unspecified quantities of the potentially pathogenic bacteria listeria monocytogenes and staph aureus. No evidentiary warrant existed for a global conclusion that the entire inventory of over 20,000 pounds–comprising many varieties of both cow and goat cheese produced on various dates over a period of many months–was similarly tainted. In this uncontested case, however, substantial evidence is not required, and agency discretion is broad

“More particularly, the court finds it implausible that a condemnation order should require separate testing of each individual batch of suspect cheese. The statutory scheme can protect public health only if a finding of tainted samples effectively shifts the burden of establishing lawfulness to the manufacturer. Application of this rule in the present case required that all of defendant’s cheese presently in commerce be recalled, and that no further product be released except upon a showing of product wholesomeness and compliance with statutory and regulatory mandates.”

Beyond that sweeping declaration, though, Judge Dunlap seemed most interested in the health of Morningland Dairy’s cows. He pointed out that Missouri dairy laws stipulate that diseased dairy animals, apart from the milk or cheese they produce, can be “deleterious to man or detrimental to milk quality.” That means “the court must therefore disregard the absence of sickness among the consumers of defendant’s cheeses.”

Ironically, the evidence of sickness in some Morningland Dairy cows was said by the judge to have been provided by Tim Wightman of the Farm-to-Consumer Foundation, who testified as an expert witness on behalf of Morningland.

“Prior to the testimony of defense witness Tim Wightman, no particular evidence suggested that any cheese had been made from the milk of diseased animals,” noted the judge. “Mr. Wightman, however, recounted…greatly elevated somatic cell counts for cow milk from the herd supplying the defendant’s operation during the period February-August 2010. The witness added, and courts have noticed, that elevated somatic cell counts in raw milk signal a likelihood of disease in the contributing herd.”

The judge added, further, “Mr. Wightman explained that mastitis is an infectious disease and that cows afflicted with S aureus must be culled. Denise Dixon, the dairy principal and co-owner of the subject herd, indeed culled several cows in September 2010–just after the persistently high somatic cell counts, the California findings, the condemnation order, and the St. Louis laboratory results.

“It is more than a fair inference that, during the period when the condemned cheese was produced, there existed within the source dairy herd ‘animals afflicted with a contagious or infectious disease deleterious to man or detrimental to milk quality,’ namely mastitis. For this reason, the court finds that the condemned cheese was ineligible for sale …whether or not the Board could have known this fact at the time of condemnation.”

“A fair inference”? I googled Judge David Dunlap, but could find no evidence of him being a veterinarian, epidemiologist, or food science expert of any sort. It seems strange that he would base his decision  on his own judgment that the Morningland Dairy cows were “afflicted with a contagious or infectious disease deleterious to man…”

The decision only becomes more improbable. The judge next goes through a tortured analysis to associate the goat cheese with “unsanitary” conditions, since there were no somatic cell counts for the goats. He argues, “Plant conditions are deemed ‘unsanitary’ to the extent they deviate from the regulatory prescriptions. Here the evidence shows that in several respects that plant conditions failed to satisfy the stated requirements. These deficiencies had not led [the dairy inspector] to initiate any enforcement action in 2008 or 2009, likely because at that time no evidence suggested that contaminated cheese was being produced. Rather, it was the coincidence of contamination with ‘unsanitary’ conditions that led the Board to act. This action was not arbitrary or capricious, but evidence-based and within the Board’s broad discretion.”

His conclusion: “Because all of defendant’s August 26 inventory (except the 11 blocks imported from Wisconsin) was either derived from infected milk or made in ‘unsanitary’ conditions (and presumably contaminated by one or both bacteria), it could never be sold.”

Once again, the judge seems intent on proving a matter no one had argued–that the Morningland facilities were “unsanitary.”

It’s been understood from the beginning that this case was really about providing a justification to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its armed raid on Rawesome Food Club last June 30, during which Morningland Cheese was seized (along with $11,000 of other food).

Judge Dunlap seemed intent on helping the FDA complete its mission.

Judge Dunlap’s decision upholding the state’s request for a permanent injunction seems to set the stage for the destruction of whatever of Morningland’s inventory hasn’t already spoiled. Gary Cox of the CDFA promises an appeal within thirty days, so presumably things will remain on hold until appeals are dealt with.

Read the original article on The Complete Patient.

rawmilkrevolution David E. Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution.

How Dangerous Is Raw Milk vs. Common Pharmaceuticals, Obesity, Auto Travel?

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Our politicians and policy makers are amazingly adept at creating scapegoats so as to avoid dealing with real problems that might affect entrenched interests.

The ongoing Wisconsin protests are a case in point. The governor, Scott Walker, has made public workers the scapegoats in the state’s budget crisis, and is using them as an excuse to eliminate key union bargaining rights. The real problem in Wisconsin is much the same as the national debt challenge: we have become addicted to spending more than we take in, and aren’t willing to accept the idea that we need broad sacrifices across the board to even begin to think about getting back on track. The entrenched interests, be they governors who hand out patronage jobs or corporations benefiting from regulatory favoritism, aren’t willing to make sacrifices.

I’m not especially enamored of the public employees in Wisconsin. Remember, they include bureaucrats with the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, who have been going after dairy farmers with a vengeance during the last couple of years. I wouldn’t mind seeing their budgets cut so far back that many of them would have to find real jobs. But I dislike even more the scapegoating that is driving the Wisconsin budgetary situation.

It’s a situation not unlike what we face with the regulation of raw dairy. We see the regulators jump on any indication of illness, while sanctioning huge numbers of illnesses and deaths from prescription drugs and all kinds of lifestyle problems.

That’s been a frequent theme in comments on this blog, and now at long last, the discrepancies are being pointed out to the federal judge in Iowa hearing the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund’s case against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and its Food and Drug Administration.

According to Gary Cox, the lawyer for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, the judge in the case last September ordered that “the parties were to file status reports each month.  Our strategy was to file with the court reports that contained evidence of how irrational 1240.61 [ban on interstate shipment of raw milk] is.”

The two most recent reports pick up on arguments made frequently by raw milk advocates here that raw milk, comparatively speaking, isn’t much of a public health problem.

The report for January included announcements from pharmaceutical companies about side effects for nine different commonly prescribed drugs; for example, that Ambien and Ambien CR “may cause a special type of memory loss…dependence…withdrawal….hallucinations, worsening of depression, suicidal thoughts.” Symbicort, a drug for people with bronchitis and emphysema, “may increase the chance of death from asthma problems.”

Concluded the FTCLDF filing: “These are all drugs that are approved by the FDA. It is irrational for the FDA to ban the interstate shipment or distribution of raw milk that does not have any of these symptoms or side effects yet allow these drugs to be sold in interstate commerce given the dangers they present.”

The report for February cites 2005 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which report deaths from various public health problems. For example…4,649 deaths from obesity, 684 from sleep disorders, and 4,596 from motor vehicle deaths, among many others.

“Counsel for Plaintiffs could not find in these data any deaths associated with the consumption of fresh, unprocessed, raw milk and/or other raw dairy products.” The filing also quotes Ted Beals, the Michigan pathologist, as saying “it is more of a risk for him to drive his car and obtain his milk than it is for him to consume his milk.”

The FTCLDF filed its suit about a year ago. In a response in April, the FDA issued its now-famous declaration that Americans “have no absolute right…to any particular food.”

I would guess the latest FTCLDF reports aren’t the run-of-the-mill legal reports the judge is accustomed to seeing.

Continue reading this post at The Complete Patient.

rawmilkrevolution David E. Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution.

Vermont’s Raw Dairy Farmers Are Doing a Booming Business, and We Don’t Even Know Half the Story

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

It’s kind of amazing, when you think about it, that we’re still debating–as Milky Way and Ken Conrad were, following my previous post–whether milk comes through a cow’s udder sterile or having picked up certain beneficial bacteria.

Our government and public health research establishment are so committed to eliminating raw dairy from the public consciousness that they wouldn’t consider exploring raw milk’s probiotic nature and dynamics. They wouldn’t, after all, want to find positive news.

Another amazing phenomenon is the failure of our public officials to explore the role of raw dairy is its role in community and economic development.

Raw milk sales from farmers to consumers keeps money within communities. Because consumers need to replenish their milk supplies, they regularly return to farms , every week or two weeks, and in so doing, buy other farm products like beef, chicken, eggs, honey…and circulate more money in the community. The Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association made this point in its 2009 survey of raw milk production in the state.

This point is made once again in a survey of raw milk producers in Vermont by Rural Vermont, the grass-roots farmer-consumer organization made famous last week when it decided, in response to bullying by the state agriculture authorities, to suspend three instructional classes on how to prepare raw milk yogurt, whipped cream, and cheese. It conducted its survey last year in hopes of convincing the Vermont legislature to make changes to the raw dairy laws, which were updated two years ago–for example, many farmers want to be allowed to sell the value-added raw dairy products like butter, yogurt, and cream.

Rural Vermont extrapolated from its survey that raw milk accounts for slightly more than $1 million in annual sales in the state, up 25% from a year earlier. It also figured raw milk production and sales were directly responsible for creating 331 jobs in the state.

The average price for raw milk in Vermont is $6.52, the survey found–about 50% above store prices for pasteurized milk.

As someone who has participated in any number of surveys of small businesses, I can guarantee that the results are understated in terms of total revenues. Business owners, no matter what their products, nearly always try to underplay their results. Even though the survey sponsors may guarantee anonymity, business owners are by their nature suspicious, and figure the tax authorities could well get their hands on the information…and come nosing around doing audits or whatever.

Add the difficulties associated with raw milk, and you have yet another powerful reason for raw milk producers to avoid saying too much. The Rural Vermont survey takers admit they had difficulty locating many raw milk producers, since those officially selling less than 50 quarts daily don’t have to register with the state to qualify to sell raw milk, and many have kept themselves off the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Real Milk site.

The survey notes, “In discussions with farmers, it has been determined that there are many raw milk producers that will not publicize/register with the Real Milk Directory for fear of agency repercussions or of perceived onerous compliance issues…” The result, says the survey, is “a vibrant underground raw milk market in Vermont.” In other words, lots more milk is being sold than is officially being tallied.

There’s been lots of talk in Washington about easing regulations on small businesses, but this talk apparently doesn’t extend to the dairy industry. Start talking about economically encouraging raw dairies, and the public health types, led by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control, will begin hyper-ventilating about the dangers of raw milk. And now they are moving to cripple yet another off-shoot of raw dairy: the fast-growing raw cheese industry…even though the data fail to suggest any kind of serious public health challenge with raw milk cheese.

***
The latest publication to report on the raw milk business is Mennonite Weekly Review. One of the messages that comes through loud and clear is similar to that in the Vermont survey described previously: raw dairy farmers have developed an aversion to publicity. The article is a good summary of what’s happening, but note that all the Mennonite farmers are quoted anonymously.

Read the original post on The Complete Patient.

rawmilkrevolution David E. Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution.

In Clean, Green, Serene Vermont, Ag Agency Threatens Legal Action to Block Classes on Raw Butter, Yogurt, Cheese - Why Farmers and Consumers Must Challenge the Bullies

Friday, February 18th, 2011

At the Senate confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, Sen. Tom Coburn posed this situation: supposing Congress passed a law requiring all Americans to eat three fruits and three vegetables every day, would that be legal under the U.S. Constitution’s interstate commerce provisions?

“Sounds like a dumb law,” commented the Supreme Court justice-to-be…but she refused to say whether she’d consider it unconstitutional.

When I first heard the exchange, I figured that, despite all the government’s outrageous behavior around food in recent years, this particular notion of the government stepping in to control my food preparation and eating preferences wasn’t something likely to happen during my lifetime.

I was wrong. In clean, green, serene Vermont, something akin to Sen. Coburn’s proposal is in the process of going down.

Here’s the situation: Rural Vermont, an activist organization that lobbies on behalf of small farms and food rights, planned a series of classes for consumers on preparing raw dairy products like butter, whipped cream, yogurt, and cheese.

The first class was being held tomorrow evening in East Barnard: “Raw Milk Baked Goods, Whipped Cream, Yogurt, and Butter”. It promised to teach “the ins and outs of homemade dairy products- and how to incorporate them into tasty baked treats!” Yum!

Next up was a class on cheese making for people with some experience (”delve deeper into the biology and chemistry of moulds, yeasts and bacteria.  We’ll discuss aging techniques and even spoon some curds together.”) The last class in the series was on preparing mozzarella, camembert, and farmers cheese.” (”A great class for getting into a variety of fun new products.”)

Jared Carter, director of Rural Vermont, has some difficult decisions to make about holding dairy prep classes in Vermont.

Tonight, Jared Carter, director of Rural Vermont, sent out emails suspending the classes, with this statement:

“Our dairy classes have been put on hold due to a Notice of Warning from the Agency of Agriculture’s alleging that by teaching consumers (or “unlicensed persons” in his words) how to make butter, yogurt, cheese, and other products at home Rural Vermont and our farmer hosts are in violation of Vermont law. The raw dairy processing classes are an important part of Rural Vermont’s campaign to educate consumers on raw milk and to increase exposure for farmers selling raw milk in their community. The warning threatened legal action towards Rural Vermont and our farmers. Rural Vermont does not want to put our farmer members at risk so we are temporarily suspending the classes.

“The Agency’s argument centers around its interpretation of the 2009 Raw Milk Law, in which they claim that it is illegal for farmers to knowingly sell raw milk to customers who plan to do anything to their milk besides drink it.  Rural Vermont believes this violates the intent of the law and does not agree with the Agency’s interpretation.  Nevertheless, until we have solid understanding of the Agency’s official policy, we have decided to suspend the classes.”

I know Jared Carter didn’t ask my advice, and besides, his organization has a great record of accomplishment on behalf of Vermont farmers–it was instrumental in a five-year battle to expand Vermont’s raw milk law the ended with new legislation in 2008 that satisfied most raw dairy producers.

But this situation is so outrageous, I’m going to offer advice anyway: Rescind that suspension order, pronto. Hold that class tomorrow afternoon, or re-schedule it, along with the other classes in your series. Invite television stations and other media to attend, and see if the Agency of Agriculture shows up. Challenge the bozos to go for a restraining order or injunction, or better yet, to come to the class and seek to interfere. I certainly will be glad to be there, and I can tell you, I won’t obey any order to leave the class. I can almost guarantee they won’t even try such theatrics. And when it’s over, you’ll have SRO in your remaining classes from all the publicity you’ll get, which at $20-40 a class, will produce some badly needed change.

Your first defense is the U.S. Constitution’s first amendment, protecting free speech. You can teach about anything you want (except maybe how to build a nuclear bomb, and even there you may have a case). You’re not part of the public school system, and as far as I know, you aren’t receiving government funds. You are your own man and your own organization, you can shout from the peaks and through the valleys of Vermont all the recipes in the world about raw dairy (and whatever else you want to teach people to prepare). And you can prepare whatever foods you want.

If my legal interpretation is erroneous, I’m sure there are lots of sharp lawyers out there who can figure out any of a dozen other constitutional protections you have that allow you to teach cooking classes. Don’t worry about paying the legal bills–at least a few of them will be willing to do it gratis, in exchange for the great publicity they’ll get from fighting such a blatant and outrageous case of food rights infringement.

And if by chance a judge grants an injunction against your classes, organize an Egypt/Tunisia/Yemen-style march. If this doesn’t get the populace worked up, I don’t know what will.

But you MUST NOT accede to this intimidation. That’s all it is, bluffery, intimidation. If you do go along with it, you are complicit in the affront the threat represents, and the goons will be emboldened to go the next step, and the next. This must not stand!

Read the original post on The Complete Patient.

rawmilkrevolution David E. Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution.