Food and Health Archive


Food Budget Stress - What Is the Role of Expensive Food in the Egyptian Uprising?

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

As a media event, the Egyptian uprising has been exhilarating.

In all the hoopla and celebrating, though, it’s easy to lose sight of some fundamentals. One is the important role of food lurking in the background. Egypt has been wracked by food riots in the recent past–most notably in 1977 and again in 2008–when the government attempted to reduce its food subsidies, which led to significant price increases.

Egyptians spend about half of household income on food. I don’t know the exact dynamics, but it seems as if Egyptian agriculture suffers from tight government controls, while at the same time, the country is America’s largest customer for wheat and corn.

By contrast, Americans spend between 10% and 14% of their household incomes on food, or less than a third as much as the Egyptians.

One of the big reasons Americans spend so much less of their incomes on food is because of this country’s factory food system that has developed over the last sixty years. Of course, government subsidies have played a role in encouraging massive production of such basic crops as corn, soy, and wheat.

Part of the reason our government has pushed so hard for the factory system is to encourage exports, so developing countries like Egypt and Tunisia pay top dollar for our food. But another less discussed reason is that full bellies and cheap food discourage discontent at home.

Go back in history, and more often than not, uprisings are fueled at least in part by empty stomachs. When people have to pay 40% and more of household income for food, you are likely to have discontent. Nothing is more threatening to politicians than a hungry populace.

Photo from Waleg.com

The publication Business Inside last month identified “25 countries whose governments could get crushed by food price inflation”…and already two have gone down (Tunisia and Egypt).

By the way, the Egyptian uprising isn’t a lock to lead to democracy. An intelligence service I like to monitor is expressing skepticism (as it did when the Iranian riots failed to produce serious change two years ago). “We do not want to be killjoys now, since everyone is so excited and happy. But we should point out that, in spite of the crowds, nothing much has really happened yet in Egypt. It doesn’t mean that it won’t, but it hasn’t yet. An 82-year-old man has been thrown out of office, and his son will not be president. The constitution and parliament are gone and a military junta is in charge. The rest is speculation.”

It’s important to understand as well why events like the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings help reenforce our government’s commitment to the factory food system, despite growing concerns about health issues tied to cheap food. We may see people demonstrating for human rights. Our leaders see people with empty stomachs clamoring for cheap food.

Read the original post on The Complete Patient.

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

And Now for the Rest of the Story on Illnesses from Raw Milk Cheese - What Is Message of Upward Trend?

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Well, surprise, surprise, no one came forward to take up my challenge to explore the data on illnesses from raw milk cheese during the period after 2005. In my Feb. 6 post about the big push by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to trash the minimum 60-day aging requirement for raw milk cheese, I issued this challenge: “I didn’t have a chance to explore the years 2006-2010, but I’d love to see that data. Do the germophobes have the guts to do that, and assess all the data?”

It turns out not to be a huge deal to go through the data. It’s just tedious, and you see reenforced again and again the notion that pretty much any food can cause illness–burritos, guacamole, clams, fried rice, macaroni and cheese. You name it, and it gets people sick, sometimes in big numbers. In the summer of 2008, 104 people in Alaska got sick from campylobacter in green peas–maybe celebrating the great weather…err, probably not…they wouldn’t be celebrating with green peas. But I digress.

If you’ll remember, the data I had from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control covered 33 years 1973-2005. For subsequent years, I turned to the CDC’s online database, which goes up through 2008, or another three years. (Another, more accessible resource laying out a table of illnesses that includes cheese, and goes through 2007, is available here.)

If one of the FDA’s apologists had taken up my offer, they would have been able to play a little bit of “gotcha,” because there were more illnesses from raw milk cheese during those three years than in the entire 33 years before. Interestingly, there were also a comparable number of illnesses from pasteurized cheese.

So, in considering the entire 36-year period, 1973-2008, here is what I came up with:

* Remarkably, from 1973 to 1999,a period of 16 years, there’s not a single report of illness from either raw milk or pasteurized milk cheeses.

* It’s only in 2000 that we see the first illnesses from raw milk cheese–one outbreak that sickened 18, then two outbreaks in 2001 leading to 31 illnesses, and one outbreak sickening 18 in 2003.

* Thereafter, the pace of illnesses picks up, though in sporadic fashion. After no illnesses were reported in 2004 and 2005, the data in 2006 show 121 illnesses from raw milk cheese (from three outbreaks), and in 2007, the number increased to 159 (from four outbreaks). Then, there were no reported illnesses in 2008.

* Interestingly, illnesses from pasteurized milk cheese began showing up in recent years as well. In 2006, there were 41 illnesses from pasteurized milk cheese, and 161 in 2007. In 2008, there were 45 from pasteurized milk cheese.

Pulling it all together, the CDC data show 348 illnesses from raw milk cheese over the nine years from 2000-2009, or an average of 39 per year. (If you average the number out over the entire 36-year period, the average goes down to nine per year.) While there were fewer illnesses from pasteurized milk cheeses during that same nine-year period–247–there was one death.

What does it all mean? Well, certainly the growing popularity of raw milk cheeses must have some bearing on the situation. The American Cheese Society, which was only started in 1983 and has since grown to more than 1,400 members, figures more than half of its 300 cheese producer members specialize in raw milk cheeses.

With fast growth can come pressure to rapidly increase production, and perhaps some cheese producers cut corners to get product out.  The American Cheese Society is working to aggressively encourage its members to adopt HACCP plans (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) to reduce the chances of illness.

While the trend isn’t what anyone would like, in either the raw milk or pasteurized milk cheese arenas, neither seems a serious public health threat.

It also seems clear that the 60-day aging rule isn’t necessarily the critical factor in cheese safety. Safety may have more to do with the conditions under which cheese is produced. I participated in an interesting discussion on the Marler blog about this subject, in which several people made this point.

It might make sense for the FDA to replace the 60-day aging requirement with some sensible production and safety standards for cheese makers…but that assumes we’re talking about an agency run by sensible people with a true concern for safety, and without a political agenda that involves ridding the world of raw milk. That’s why it’s reasonable to assume the FDA will use the sporadic illnesses over the last few years as the basis of fear mongering, and a ban on raw milk cheese…and no action on pasteurized milk cheese.

A ban would serve the FDA’s likely true concern, with is more about money and market share. From that perspective, Steve Bemis, a member of the board of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, may have put it best when he wrote last fall about the financial threat posed to the agribusiness cheese industry by fast-growing sales of raw milk cheese: “FDA tactics now emphasizing cheese can mean only one thing:  The ante is upped; we’re talking many millions of dollars simply for more cheese on pizza, in a total milk market measured in multiple billions. For an industry built on the altar of fractionalizing and homogenization, requiring pasteurization, the bottom line is simple:  cheese is serious, and must be protected at all costs from the ravages of raw products that thumb their noses not just at homogenization, but at the economic lynchpin, pasteurization.”

Read the original post on The Complete Patient.

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

Morningland Challenges Standard Food Police Practices–Will a MO Judge Go Where No Judge Has Dared Go?

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Suppose the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and its various local ag and public health minions had to show detailed laboratory evidence before declaring food contaminated.

Suppose the authorities needed to demonstrate that the bacteria being labeled as unfit for human consumption really were.

And suppose the presence of certain bacteria couldn’t automatically be equated with “adulteration” of food.

These challenges to the regulatory conventional wisdom about food contamination could become a reality if Missouri state court judge David Dunlap agrees with the arguments made in the case of Morningland Dairy, a producer of raw milk cheeses.They coincide with at least some of the arguments that have been put forth here by a number of people, like Ken Conrad, Dave Milano, Goatmaid, and Miguel, among others.

Morningland Dairy’s cheese storage room, where product awaits a Missouri judge’s decision on whether it should be destroyed.

If you’ll remember, the Missouri Milk Board last August obtained an injunction to force Morningland to dispose of 50,000 pounds of cheese because a few samples supposedly contained listeria monocytogenes. No one who consumed any of Morningland’s cheese has ever shown signs of illness over the last thirty years. Indeed, 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).

Morningland, backed by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, contested the state’s case, and last month, in a two-day trial, the sides made their respective cases. Following the trial, the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund assembled a 39-page post-trial brief that challenges major tenets of the hysteria model used by the FDA and its surrogates in state agencies to justify seemingly arbitrary actions against small producers like Morningland Dairy.

Here are the key challenges made by the FTCLDF on behalf of Morningland:

* It termed the Missouri Milk Board’s action in condemning Morningland’s entire 2010 inventory of 50,000 pounds a case of “condemn first, investigate later.” The condemnation was based nearly entirely on a report from the California Department of Food and Agriculture that two samples of Morningland Dairy cheese seized in the Rawesome raid were contaminated with listeria monocytogenes. In questioning the head of the Missouri Milk Board, Gene Wiseman, the FTCLDF summary states: “Wiseman testified that he had no personal knowledge of how the cheese obtained by the California authorities was collected, handled, transported, or analyzed, or whether the California laboratory followed laboratory quality analysis/quality control protocols. Wiseman also testified that he had no personal knowledge of whether in fact the two pieces of cheese obtained by the California authorities was even from Morningland.”

* The FTCLDF challenged assertions by the state that Morningland’s cheese is dangerous. For example, it pointed to a state expert witness, epidemiologist Mary Glassburner: “In response to the Court’s questions, Ms. Glassburner testified that whether an individual gets sick or not depends on the amount of a bacteria that is eaten and on the individual’s own immune system. Ms. Glassburner also testified that getting sick is a matter of risk, from low to high and from never to always.”

On the Morningland side, retired pathologist Ted Beals “testified that the test results he reviewed…showed only the mere presence of L. mono. and Staph. A. The test results did not give any information regarding either (a) the types (whether harmful or harmless) of bacteria present, or (b) the amount sufficient to be potentially dangerous. In Dr. Beals’ expert opinion, therefore, there was nothing in Morningland’s cheese that made it a threat to the public’s health because there was no evidence of any enterotoxins or of any virulent form of L. mono. in Morningland’s cheese.”

* The FTTCLDF called into question the standard regulatory argument in such cases that the mere presence of certain bacteria constitutes product adulteration. It argued that for adulteration to occur, “three elements must be present: (1) a substance must beadded to a food, (2) the substance must be poisonous or deleterious, and (3) the added substance must render the food ordinarily injurious to health.”

The FTCLDF argued that “the State failed to prove that any of Morningland’s embargoed cheese was either adulterated, injurious to the public’s health, or prepared in unsanitary or unhealthy surroundings or held in unclean or unsanitary containers. The State relied on the alleged mere presence of L. mono. and/or Staph. A. to issue the embargo order.”

And even the “mere presence” wasn’t a certainty, because “the evidence that the State relied on was clear and utter hearsay. Indeed, the only evidence the State had at the time the embargo was issued
were the cheese sample results submitted by the California authorities, one of which
Denise Dixon [owner of Morningland] testified was not even sold by Morningland to the Rawesome food club in California. Other than the two sample results, the State Milk Board had no evidence whatsoever to place an embargo on all of Morningland’s cheese. Thus, the embargo was unlawful, unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious or involved an abuse of discretion.”

In an article about the case in the latest FTCLDF newsletter, Pete Kennedy, the organization’s president, says, “The judge’s decision will turn on what he finds constitutes ‘adulteration.’ If the judge rules the entire inventory of cheese in the cooler is adulterated, then he will probably order it destroyed. At the beginning of the trial, Judge Dunlap indicated that the mere presence of L. mono. or S. aureus in the cheese would not be enough evidence to constitute adulteration; but later he vacillated somewhat by stating that the Milk Board would only have to show that the cheese was harmful to a susceptible population, such as the young, elderly, and those with compromised immunity. A more favorable standard for Morningland would have been that the Milk Board needed to show that the cheese must have the capability of sickening an average person.”

We may find out in the next few weeks if a judge agrees, and is willing to head down a path that no judge has yet dared go in requiring the public health and agriculture authorities to demonstrate real danger before putting a small enterprise out of business.

Read the original post on The Complete Patient.

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

The One Question the FDA and Its Media and Legal Apologists Are Afraid to Address in Their March to Trash Cheese Rule

Monday, February 7th, 2011

When large government agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration want to make controversial policy changes, they often use the major media to launch trial balloons to see how different options play with key constituencies.

That helps explain why both the New York Times and Washington Post came out Saturday with major articles about the FDA’s coming clampdown on raw milk cheese, and its likely trashing of the 60-day rule–the minimum aging of raw milk cheese for commercial sale. This is something I’ve been anticipating for a year now, and the day of the actual restrictions is drawing ever closer—likely within the next few months, according to the FDA’s friends at the major media.

If you read the two articles carefully, though, you find that while they parrot the FDA’s fearmongering, they say nary a word about the real research question that needs to be asked before changing the rule. Before I get to that, here are a few statements from the Washington Post article that give you the underlying FDA pitch:

“The FDA sees greater food-safety risks when food is made on a farm…”

“But because cheese made from raw milk is not heated, regulators worry that the lack of a ‘kill step’ means greater risk of contamination from pathogens that can cause illness.”

“As part of its new emphasis on cheese safety, the FDA is reexamining its rules on raw-milk cheese and is likely to propose changes within the next several months…”

And this from The New York Times article:  “The F.D.A. has not tipped its hand, but some in the industry fear that raw milk cheese could be banned altogether or that some types of cheese deemed to pose a higher safety risk could no longer be made with raw milk. Others say they believe the aging period may be extended, perhaps to 90 days. That could make it difficult or impossible for cheesemakers to continue using raw milk for some popular cheese styles, like blue cheese or taleggio-type cheeses, that may not lend themselves to such lengthy aging.”

And like the bloated tackler who jumps onto the pile of football players after the tackle has been made, product liability lawyer is chirping that it’s his research that prompted the media to go after the 60-day aging rule. (It’s dispassionate and thorough research I wrote previously about that reflects well on raw milk cheese…until it’s used for promotional purposes and to curry favor with media and regulators.)

Regardless of who did what to whom, let’s return to the heart of the matter–the underlying question that the FDA, the Washington Post, the New York, Times, and Bill Marler don’t want to deal with. All the reports discuss the fact that there were a handful of illnesses attributed to raw milk cheese in 2010 (54 if I added the Marler report’s table correctly).

But what about before 2010? Complete silence…and for good reason.

I went through the data, in the form of the famous notarized compilation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on illnesses from raw dairy products over 33 years from 1973-2005. I found four outbreaks with a total of 67 illnesses from raw milk cheese over 33 years. I’m not a mathemetician, but I can tell you that that works out to an average of two illnesses a year, as in 1 + 1= 2.

In the interests of complete transparency, I will report as well that there are 119 illnesses from raw milk queso fresco cheese over that same period; I haven’t included those in the total of 67 because these cheeses aren’t produced with the intention of being aged 60 days under FDA rules.

But if the anti-raw-milk rabids insisted on including queso fresca, because they are so desperate for evidence to support their crusade, then the total works out to 186 illnesses from raw milk cheese over 33 years; then the average would be less than six per year.

I didn’t have a chance to explore the years 2006-2010, but I’d love to see that data. Do the germophobes have the guts to do that, and assess all the data?

In the meantime, what seems to have occurred is that there was a jump in reported illnesses in 2010 to 54 from what had been an average of two over a 33-year period. The anti-raw-milk crowd jumps on one year and ignores 33 years of history. Not quite kosher, guys, and gals.

Moreover, we know there is much more consumption of raw milk cheeses than straight raw dairy, simply because the cheese can and is sold legally at retail around the country. So what we’re seeing is many fewer illnesses from raw milk cheese than from raw dairy, which isn’t alarming to begin with (an average of 49 per year).

But there seems to be no stopping the FDA and its apologists. This is like an agenda item at the North Korean communist party meeting about whether to blame the western nations for its food shortages. No doubt about who’s in charge and what gets passed. We just do a much more clever job of disguising our intentions.

Read the original article at The Complete Patient.

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

Ed Shank Celebrates Being Back in Business Selling Raw Milk, and Becomes the “Ambassador’ Scott Trautman Envisions

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Ed Shank of The Family Cow in Pennsylvania, reported “good news” to his customers  this afternoon.

“We just got the test results back from the lab literally minutes ago.  Both samples taken different dates came back negative for Campy!  Praise the Lord!”

Shank said he hopes to have milk back on the shelves tomorrow (Friday).

I just highlighted Shank’s unusual approach in an article at Grist.org, using it as an illustration of the trend of raw dairies to take the initiative on safety standards. I discuss in the article the efforts by Tim Wightman of the Farm-to-Consumer Foundation, along with that of Wisconsin dairyman Scott Trautman.

Ed Shank at his farm, The Family Cow.

I know a number of readers here have reservations about the practical usefulness of what Ed Shank did via his testing protocols. I can’t comment expertly about the science of what he did, but I can say with much more confidence that in terms of promotion and publicity, he did more via his actions to potentially help the various legislative initiatives I described in my previous post than any other actions likely could.

By doing what he did so publicly, he has potentially taken the air out of the fear balloon so frequently floated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and its minions at ag and public health departments around the country.

You want to grab the attention of a legislative committees considering one or another of the proposals to expand accessibility to raw milk? Then excerpt from a presentation put together by Scott Trautman a few weeks ago for a pow-wow on safety standards held at his Wisconsin dairy. It’s entitled “Raw Milk Safety at Trautman Family Farm”.

I especially like the “Foundational Premises” slide, including these points:

* “Respect the entire raw milk system”
* “Sanitation not sterilization”
* “Healthy animals, healthy milk”
* “Quality is safety”

My favorite quote: “I owe it to all in the movement to be an ambassador.”

I’m big on rights, but increasingly I sense that the path to rights flows through the safety issue. The fight over access to raw milk, indeed, access to nutrient-dense foods overall, is a war over attitudes and ideas. Right now, the attitude that predominates is fear. The best way to fight fear is with reassurance that you understand the fear, and are taking steps to reduce risk. Ed Shank and Scott Trautman understand that reality very well, and I believe are taking important steps to help the community of raw dairy producers gain business advantage. Farmers are business owners, and like all businesses, must find the business model that truly works for them and their customers.

Read the original post on The Complete Patient.

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

As Raw Milk and Food Rights Initiatives Spread, It Becomes More Important to Watch Your Back; Food “Sovereignty” in VT?

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

During the question-and-answer period following my talk at the Northeast Organic Food Association-NY conference in Saratoga last month–about the government-industry campaign to rid us of raw milk–a man piped up to say he ran a herdshare operation in New York, and was wondering about the Meadowsweet Dairy case.

A herdshare in New York state? That piqued my interest. I had thought Meadowsweet was the closest thing to a herdshare New York had, with its limited-liability-company organization. I had to let him know Meadowsweet hadn’t done well in appeal–last fall it was denied its final option for appeal of a lower court decision that Meadowsweet couldn’t operate outside the state’s regulatory jurisdiction, with its 100-plus shareholders.

Afterwards, I spoke with the herdshare operator, Mike Thorpe, and he told me his is one of a handful of herdshares around the state. His herdshare has about 150 members in the Buffalo area, with a waiting list of 100. The farm has private sales arrangements covering other products and crops as well (including citrus from a second farm it runs in Florida).

He says he’s been hassled over the years by Ag & Markets, which has advised him to obtain a permit to sell milk off his farm. He says he has avoided the permit route because Ag & Markets is “trying to force permit holders out of business by finding bad bugs in their milk,” a reference to the agency’s listeria hysteria campaign over the last five years.

All of which prompted me to get in touch with Meadowsweet principal Steve Smith about where his dairy stands. He told me his LLC sold all its cows to the shareholders, who board them at Smith’s farm…as a cowshare. Moreover, the long case he and his wife, Barb, endured, actually did lead tosigns of  positive judicial oversight that he feels could be helpful ongoing–in particular, limitations on Ag & Markets search warrants, which originally had been open-ended.

I have agonized for some time about whether I should report on these New York developments. Both farmers indicated they were okay with me identifying them and finally I decided that, yes, I should feel comfortable because, last I heard, we still have the right in this country to drink milk from our own cows.

I have similarly wondered if I should discuss the various state initiatives that have come up in the last few months to explicitly legalize various aspects of raw milk distribution and sales. Same fear for me: publicizing efforts to expand raw milk availability brings out the regulators, dairy industry, and various professional apologists in opposition.

But then I realized that these people are going to be out there anyway, as they have been in helping defeat initiatives in Wisconsin, Wyoming, Humboldt County, CA, and other places.

I saw where one of the anti-raw-milk apologists referred to the “raw milk lobby” pushing so many initiatives. That is truly funny. You just don’t get more grass roots than the state initiatives being pushed around the country. Maybe some day we’ll truly have a lobby–though I don’t know if that would be a good or bad thing. Probably good if its mission is securing more food rights for us.

Here is a brief rundown on the initiatives out there:

  • Massachusetts: There are two proposals, one to legalize deliveries to customers of raw milk from dairies with raw milk permits. This grows out of the state’s efforts last year to shut down raw milk buying clubs that deliver milk as consumers’ agents. Another proposal would specifically allow herd shares, which aren’t explicitly mentioned in Massachusetts’ laws. This effort grows out of the state’s effort to force a one-cow herdshare run by Brigitte Ruthman out of business.
  • New Jersey: The state’s prohibition on all raw milk sales would end under legislation that would legalize sales from farms with raw milk permits, as well as sanction cow share arrangements. The legislation just passed a key committee vote.
  • Minnesota: Proposed legislation would clarify vague language regarding farm sales, allowing not only sales from the farm, but delivery to consumers at their homes, farmers markets, and other such community gatherings. Moreover, it would recognize such direct sales as “private contracts.” This proposal is a response to the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s interference with deliveries to consumers from the farm of Michael Hartmann.
  • Texas: Similarly, raw milk sales could be expanded under proposed legislation from the farm via private delivery to consumers.
  • Wisconsin: The place where proposed legislation allowing sales from the farm suffered a big defeat last spring, with a veto by the governor, is expected to see new legislation with similar provisions. In addition, new legislation is expected that would allow unlicensed dairies with fewer than twenty cows to sell raw milk and other dairy products.

Certainly the opponents will organize. They’ll come up with all kinds of excuses–delivery is dangerous, there’s not enough testing, cowshares are a ruse, and on and on.

These opponents have a big problem–consumers mostly don’t share the anti-raw-milk hysterics that will be offered. That’s why there’s no grass roots opposition, only the opposition of paid regulators and the well financed dairy industry.

But the opposition has one important advantage. It usually has an “in” based on political ties or campaign contributions to a key legislative committee member or the governor, who must sign off on any legislation. This was the situation in the ultimate defeats in California (SB 201), Wisconsin, and Wyoming, despite evidence of widespread popular and legislative support. And this is what raw milk proponents need most to be on the lookout for.

My view is that proponents will prevail, if they’re willing to be persistent, and not be discouraged by some initial defeats in the face of well connected and financed opponents. Each time proponents come back, they come back stronger, with more legislators convinced that opposing food freedom is a losing proposition with voters. Eventually, the opponents will come to realize this issue isn’t going away. Eventually, they’ll decide to do what’s right, and safe for consumers, and they’ll work constructively with dairy farmers and consumers to do what’s sensible.
***
Might there be another way to help small food producers escape the burdens of the new federal food safety legislation? A group in Vermont is pushing “food sovereignty” as a means of avoiding a takeover of the state’s food regulating powers by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As I understand it, legislation providing such sovereignty would exempt all producers whose food is sold on an intrastate basis. That would cover raw milk as well. The federal food safety legislation signed into law by President Obama last month allows for small-producer exemptions based on a complex formula according to whether producers have revenues under $500,000 annually and sell at least 50% of their products directly to consumers.

Continue reading the full post at The Complete Patient.

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

Setting Its Own Standards: The Family Cow Gets a Positive Campylobacter Reading, and Shuts Down Raw Milk Sales

Monday, January 31st, 2011

A little over a year ago, I described Edwin Shank’s conversion of The Family Cow from feedlot to the East’s largest raw dairy. It took more than three years, and required extraordinary commitment to producing high-quality nutrient-dense food.

I’ve communicated with Shank on and off since then, seeing him most recently last November, when he was a sponsor at the Weston A. Price Foundation’s annual conference near Philadelphia. By then, an expanding part of his quality commitment had come to include safety, extending beyond what is required by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture in its regulation of raw milk.

The Family Cow brochure states: “”Our family is dedicated to producing the highest quality most healthful milk for your family. We are fully tested, inspected and licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Ag.  Even beyond that, we are committed to voluntarily run pathogen tests many times more often than required by PA law.”

Today, Shank took an unexpected opportunity to make good on its stated dedication: he suspended all raw milk sales after one of the dairy’s voluntary private tests came back showing a positive reading for campylobacter. Shank explained what happened in a special edition of his farm’s newsletter, issued this evening:

“Just a few hrs ago, QC Laboratories, the laboratory we use for our voluntary, beyond-the-state-requirement pathogen testing, has reported the presence of Campylobacter in a sample of milk we sent them almost three weeks ago. I’ve spoken with state officials and they report there are no illnesses, but we still want you to know what we found. The milk in which the campylobacter was found was bottled on 1/10/11 and carries a ‘Best by’ date of 1/25. If you still have milk with this ‘Best by’ date, please discard it. Although, with milk that old, it’s probably long gone.

“There is no reason to believe that more than this date code of milk was effected, yet out of abundance of caution we are, as of today, voluntarily halting sales of raw milk from The Family Cow until we get a clear test. We are running two tests now on milk that was bottled since the positive sample. We will be in communication when we are ready to resume sales. We expect to have the test results back early next week. Sorry for the inconvenience, but we feel it would be remiss and irresponsible to continue to sell even though there have been no illnesses.”

To those customers who might be scared, he explained further:

“Please understand that we found this precisely because we go over and beyond the state requirement for pathogen testing of raw milk. (actually 12 x more frequent than the requirement) The only way we know anything about it at all is because of our voluntarily testing protocol.  So give us that credit!  We do this extra testing for your peace of mind, the safety of your families and out of abundance of caution.  It would be easier, cheaper and less stressful to simply not know! If we would only be testing at the state required minimum, we would have never found this problem and you and we would be none the wiser.

“Also, as far as I know, we are the only PA dairy, raw or pasteurized, which tests for pathogens in the final retail-ready container at this frequency. (Pasteurized milk is actually never required to be tested for pathogens.) Some experts in the microbiology world have cautioned us that testing with this level of intensity is not a wise business move because, in their words, ‘If you look that hard and test that frequently, you will be sure to have a positive test sometime. Then your farm and food will have bad press while your competition, which tests infrequently or never, will look good!’

“Well, of course we recognize and understand the logic and truth of that statement, but there is an ethical side to the equation which always grounds us and brings us back to our true north. And that is this:  When it comes to your family’s safety, it’s not the government’s standards that we are trying to live up to… it’s yours.  We have faith that you will appreciate our caution, honesty, transparency and forthrightness.  Maybe it’s not best for business but if it’s best for you… it’s good enough for us.

“We’ll keep you posted. Please pray for us.”

All I can say to those in the public health and regulatory communities who snidely argue that producers of raw dairy are in denial about safety, The times, they are a ‘changin, and farmers like Pennsylvania dairyman Edwin Shank are leading the way. 

Read the original post on The Complete Patient.

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

Why Not Try to Learn from Tragedies Involving Raw Milk? Because That Would Involve True Scientific Inquiry

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

There is lots not to like about the new web site about raw milk from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. It is nearly totally one-sided in painting raw milk as dangerous. It is intellectually dishonest in not acknowledging large-scale journal-published research that demonstrates raw milk’s health benefits in reducing the incidence of asthma and allergies in children. It seems to have a connection with a product liability law firm that has been using its clients’ involvement in the site for its own promotion. On top of all that, it is taxpayer funded.

Ironically, when I watched the obvious site marquee–three videos of individuals who had been sickened, or had relatives sickened, by raw milk–I realized there could be something positive in the site, a teachable moment, as they say. The videos are difficult to watch because they are so sad and terrifying. And obviously, the CDC operatives want people to walk away from those videos feeling both teary-eyed and afraid, determined never ever to go anywhere near raw dairy products.

But what stood out to me about those videos is that each of the three individuals interviewed were new to raw milk when they or their relatives became ill. Other notable individuals who have become very sick from raw milk were similarly newbies–I’m thinking in particular about Lauren Herzog, the California girl who became sick at the same time as Mary McGonigle Martin’s son in 2006 (and chronicled a number of times on this site); and Mari Tardiff, the California woman who became paralyzed in 2008 after her first time drinking raw milk.

I’m not a scientist, but you don’t have to be a scientist to see the pattern. We certainly don’t have a large sampling to deal with, but then, we fortunately don’t have many individuals who become so ill from raw milk. Indeed, the ones I referred to above are probably the majority for the last five years. But just using the government’s own “data,” why not try to learn from these situations?

Statistically speaking, we know that raw milk isn’t a public health hazard– 50-150 reported illnesses each year isn’t a public health problem in a food system with 20,000 to 25,000 reported food-borne illnesses. Could raw milk producers do a better job in milk production so as to reduce the number? Absolutely, and I’ve chronicled here a movement to improve safety.

As part of an overall movement to improve safety, it would also would be worth investigating the health backgrounds of the individuals who became ill. It may also be that individuals new to raw milk should be encouraged to go at it gradually, perhaps beginning with raw kefir or yogurt, and then moving to raw milk in small quantities, and moving on from there. In other words, realistic exploration and education.

Clearly, we have more to learn about raw dairy, much as we do about the health benefits and dangers of many foods. But so long as the government officials in charge of such matters view raw dairy as inherently dangerous, and see their education campaigns as part of a war, there’s no way they could ever be open to the kinds of questions I am raising.

Lykke seems to suggest that portraying the dangers of raw milk on the CDC site is simply a matter of equal treatment, presumably a counterbalance to pro-raw-milk sites like that of the Weston A. Price Foundation. “Those who had a bad experience with raw milk should have the same rights to describe their experience as those who had a great experience with the product.” As if it’s all a matter of “rights.”

I’m sorry, but the comparison has a big flaw. The CDC web site is a government web site, supposedly geared toward informing the populace about how to improve public health. It carries the “full faith and credit” of the U.S. government, and as such is financially supported by all of us, those in favor and those against raw milk. But it is being used as a propaganda tool by those against raw milk. There had to be expenses for the videos and the editing. There were no doubt travel expenses for the victims. And the salaries of the scientists who oversaw the whole thing.

The same funding could could be used as a tool for good, if those in charge simply removed their intellectual blinders, and moderated their personal antipathy and disgust for those of us who value nutritionally-dense foods as an important foundation of good health.

Science is supposed to be about open-minded investigation, and an appreciation that we do the investigation because we always have more to learn, and that the answers we discover don’t always fit out preconceptions. The scientists involved in putting together this web site are a shame to their profession. 

Read the original post on The Complete Patient.

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

Our Theoretical Rights Don’t Yet Mean a Lot in the Real World of Judges and Insurance Companies…And Canada Provides an Ever-Darker Vision for Food Rights “Success”

Monday, January 24th, 2011

I was just opening a container of raw milk kefir I purchased about three weeks ago, to make a smoothie with some mango and blueberries, when there was this explosion. A pop, like a small firecracker. The kefir was everywhere, on the kitchen cabinets, the counter…and on my clean shirt. Talk about a living food!

My three-week-old kefir, post-explosion.

I wasn’t pleased about the mess I had to clean up, or the shirt, but I took it as a good sign, that the kefir was as actively fermenting as I would hope it would be. (I cleaned up much of the mess before it occurred to me to take the photo at left.) Needless to say, the smoothie, when I finally made it, tasted great.

I’m not sure exactly what the experience says about the longevity of this particular dairy product, though I presume it bodes well. But I did want to comment on the rights vs standards argument that came up yet again following my previous post. Andy Mastracola, in an articulate essay, argues, “No one should be pushed around and this is what is happening now that there is an outcry for safety and a to hell with liberty attitude growing among the self proclaimed elite of the raw milk movement. Are they wolves in sheep’s clothing? Perhaps, only time will tell.”

I find it curious that he, and others continue to see the issue as either-or. Either we have a focus on safety or we have a focus on rights. The reality is that we don’t, as a practical matter, have nearly as many rights as we think we have, especially in the area of food.

I agree with Mastracola that we deserve the rights, that they are inherent, but the problem is that the pillars of our ruling system–the legislatures, executives, and judges–are too often failing to agree with us. Just today in Wyoming, a legislative committee turned down legislation to legalize cow shares. Now, it may be that a farmer should publicly set up a cow share and challenge the state to take him before a judge to rule on the matter. If the judge is like one in Maryland, he or she may say the state is within its rights to prohibit cowshares. If the judge is like one in Ohio, he or she may agree the farmer is within his rights.

It’s one thing to claim our rights in terms that make all the logical sense in the world, but it’s another if you’re a farmer trying to conduct business in an atmosphere where the powers that be are shouting incessantly that your product is unsafe, and trotting out “experts” who claim unique knowledge about such matters. And then you find the ripple effect–for example, suddenly it becomes more difficult to obtain product liability insurance.

Lots of raw dairy farmers have been encountering this problem. Last fall, any number received cancellation notices. One of them was Martin Ping, the executive director of Hawthorne Valley Association, a working farm and teaching organization that sells raw milk. In October, his insurer, Farm Family Insurance, notified him that as Oct. 1, 2011, the insurer would no longer cover any claims that might stem from raw milk.

I contacted Farm Family, and a spokesperson refused comment.

Ping raised objections to the company, and in December, was notified that Hawthorne Valliey’s coverage wouldn’t be discontinued as planned.

From what I’ve heard, most dairy farms that were encountering insurance problems have been able to find other companies willing to insure them.

Now, I can speculate endlessly about what the real reasons might be for all the insurance company uncertainty, but so long as the companies can site “safety concerns,” they will. And as long as the trend in raw milk illnesses is headed upwards, it’s nearly impossible to challenge them legally.

We all know that insurance companies don’t like to take on real risk–witness their withdrawal from certain hurricane-prone areas, or poor big-city areas. In the auto insurance arena, many states allow companies to penalize with extra charges drivers who have accidents and speeding tickets.

Hopefully, as raw dairy becomes a more important consumer item, the insurance companies will adjust to the marketplace. Just like I can foresee a time when we have contests for who produces the best raw milk, I can imagine insurance companies providing lower rates to dairies that have no illnesses and meet certain testing criteria, and higher rates to those that have problems.

Now, all that may be infringements on our rights, but until we get judges and legislators and governors agreeing with us, we’re skating on thin ice. And the best way to begin doing that is to accumulate evidence that raw milk is much safer than the “experts” would have the public think.
***
For a taste of what could well happen in the U.S. in the event food rights advocates begin winning some court cases, one need only look northward, to Canada. Since Michael Schmidt’s victory in an Ontario court backing his right to make milk available to a private group of cow share owners, not only has the Ontario government appealed to a higher court, but other Canadian provinces are cracking down harder than ever on raw milk providers.

Now, in British Columbia, a raw dairy farmer, with Schimidt’s involvement, is challenging the constitutionality of the province’s conviction of Alice Jongerden for being in contempt of court in connection with a cow share operation from her farm, which Schmidt is now running. He has argued that the cow share’s milk is a cosmetic, not a food.

According to Schmidt, “Because of the existing laws [the cow share] is only producing cosmetics for its share members.”

In the meantime, Schmidt predicts “that Alberta will be next on the list to face constitutional challenges by determined consumers defending their constitutional right to life, liberty and security of the person.”
All the legal documents related to the court filing in British Columbia can be found on The Bovine.

Read the original article on The Complete Patient.

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

Sure, Growing Push for Raw Dairy Standards Faces Major Hurdles, But Going Through Process Will Expand Market

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Relax. No one’s in control.”

A Buddhist teacher, speaking about our insatiable desire for predictability, made that off-hand remark during a talk I attended recently. He was arguing that such a desire for guarantees is unattainable, a mirage in a world that is always changing. Instead, life is just the opposite, he maintained, full of unpredictable occurrences–always has been and always will be.

Despite so much evidence to the contrary, we continue to think we can gain control of events around us. Last evening, I watched an ABC Nightline segment about how the parents of a Boy Scout are suing the organization because their teenage son, working for his Eagle badge (the highest level of achievement), had died from complications of heat exposure during a twenty-mile hike in Florida. The correspondent said the segment had been prompted by the parents’ lawyer bringing the suit to Nightline’s attention (gotta love those enterprising lawyers).

Based on Nightline’s account, it seemed that the scouts in charge had taken appropriate precautions, packing plenty of water. When the boy working for his eagle badge encountered problems, they stopped. Then, when the boy collapsed, one of the leaders spent 45 minutes on resuscitation, before calling in a medical helicopter.

What was most striking to me was the questioning by Nightline’s correspondent of three Boy Scout representatives. He asked, or rather demanded, “Can you tell me with complete certainty and security that I can put my kids into a scouting program and something like this isn’t going to happen?” One of the Boy Scout reps told him what he wanted to hear. “Absolutely. This is a safe program.”

Later in the interview, the Nightline correspondent asked again, “Are you saying the scouts have never been at fault? No Scout master has ever made a mistake in terms of preparation ahead of time?”

Those are the kinds of questions, really accusations, increasingly made in our society’s growing obsession with guarantees of predictability.

And I wonder if food regulators view segments like the one on Nightline and envision themselves sitting on the hot seat reserved last night for representatives of the Boy Scouts. No one wants to be there. With food, it’s a cinch to avoid the problem by simply requiring that foods be zapped. Maybe the regulators understand our cultural obsession better than I do and are smartly trying to feed it.

Zapping at least reduces the chances of immediate contamination. We understand less about the impact on people’s overall health and immune function of altering the nutritional composition of food via zapping, but that’s a problem for others to worry about years down the road, in the view of the regulators.

All this by way of suggesting that, as hopeful as the expanding movement for raw dairy standards might seem, it faces a rough road. As Milky Way put it following my previous post, “The reality that standards are even controversial shows the complexity of implementing them. Furthermore, there are many unknowns relating to those ‘end points.’”

As the standard-setting process for raw dairy continues to move forward in Colorado and California, and gets launched this week in Wisconsin, so does the consumer education process. That, in my view, is more critical than trying to win over the regulators. Some of the things consumers learn could be uncomfortable for farmers, such as the reality that all raw milk isn’t created equal–some is richer or tastier or lasts longer before souring.

As farmers establish standards, they focus more ever more on the key ingredients for quality, and consumers learn in the process that there’s more to high-quality raw milk than simply feeding grass to cows. Blair McMorran, executive director the Raw Milk Association of Colorado, points out following my previous post just a few questions that come up as part of establishing standards: “What kind of sanitizers are used? How often do you clean the ice-water bath? How much grain do you feed? Where do your animals come from? Where does your feed come from? What is your stillborn rate? What kind of medical interventions are used? Every step of their process has learning opportunities.”

As part of the process, the benefits of raw dairy in nutrition and cooking will become better known, and even raw dairy cookbooks like that envisioned by Violet Willis can become a reality (and congrats to Violet for almost making it to MasterChef.) All these things help expand the marketplace. The link Don Neeper included following my previous to an article out of Texas is just another example of how much demand for raw milk is expanding.

And in the meantime, the national culture hopefully moves away from fairy-tale-like guarantees of complete protection from adversity to informed decision making. 

***

Here’s an example of how the notion of raw milk as part of a healthy lifestyle is beginning to get past the censors and permeate the mass culture…via an interview of celebrity chiropractor Joseph Mercola by conventional celebrity physician Dr. Mehmet Oz (the mention is near the end of the four-minute segment).

Read the original post at The Complete Patient.

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