Muddying the spilled milk

My friend Sue blogged today about the recent FDA raids on sources of raw milk.  (LA Times covered the raid here.)  She’s outraged, and probably reasonably so, about the restrictions on unpasturized foods.

(I say probably because I wish I had better information about the number of cases of illness caused by consumption of certified raw milk before actually deciding what I think.  However, the risk seems to be reasonably slight, and if people are informed about the risks and benefits and decide the risk is worth benefits, then they should absolutely have the right to make that choice.  After all, I eat sushi.)

On the other hand, I don’t think the raid is all bad.  The stated reason given is that the co-op that was raided did not have the proper licensing and health inspections.  (My understanding is that the co-op owners felt that, as a co-op, they did not count as a retail store and should not need the licence.)  Well, why not?

For one thing, if an organization is already tweaking the government in one area (by selling raw milk), shouldn’t they avoid annoying them in other ways?  Or is that contrary to the ideals of the organization itself?  I imagine it’s a tricky balance for those in charge, deciding whether this is a situation of “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” or whether it would be better to choose their battles.  I’d be inclined towards the latter view, but then I don’t tend to regard the government as the Big Bad Wolf.  They may feel differently.

My second issue is that I would think the co-op members would want the place to have health inspections, or at least someone regularly checking that the meat counters get washed between uses and the coolers are at the right temperature and there aren’t any vermin running about.  I suppose governmental licensing isn’t the only way to make that happen, but I do wonder what they use instead.  Personal assurances only go so far when the organization has 1,600 members.

However, the FDA did apparently confiscate various unpasturized goods, and the simultaneous raid on their raw milk supplier is telling.  So worrying about the restrictions on sales of raw milk is reasonable.  But it seems a shame to muddy the issue.

Sometimes I wish things were neat.  They’re not.  It’s pesty.

One other note, speaking of un-neat things: most articles I’ve seen assume that Big Dairy is pressuring the FDA to restrict raw milk distribution and harass those who use it, which may well be the case.  If they are, I wonder why.  These people were apparently paying more than four times grocery store prices for milk; I would think Big Dairy’s first instinct would be to get a cut of the action.  Odd.

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3 Responses to Muddying the spilled milk

  1. The problem is that Big Dairy CAN’T get a cut of the raw milk thing, because while raw milk can be safe, you basically have to trust that the farmer is SUPER careful with the cows, and milking, and milk storage. The kind of super careful that can’t be done easily in a factory farm setting. Oh, and the raw milk only keeps for so long, so it can’t be transported very far.

    They have pretty good numbers about people getting sick, and it’s not that many people. What they don’t have is good numbers on how many people are drinking it, and whether it actually is beneficial. The studies they have are good starts, but they’re too small on their own to show anything, and even when grouped together in a review it’s only just big enough to start paying attention.

    So the absolute numbers of people getting sick are small, but the people drinking it are small too, just not as small. But assuming is a pretty small risk even among those drinking it, I might be willing to take such a risk, especially if there were benefits above and beyond taste.

    But I can’t eat dairy, and it seems unlikely any future biological children of mine would be able to for all that long, so I count this one as one of those issues I don’t need to think about too much : )

  2. Sue says:

    Coset hit the nail on the head with the reason Big Dairy can’t get in on the raw milk rage. Cows that produce raw milk are *pasture fed* and not grain fed, their milk is rich in CLA (absent in grain-fed cows’ milk), and they receive no ABX or other less-than-savoury items which can “contaminate” the milk. Big Dairy is reliant upon Big Ag and they can’t do their job w/o grains (GMO corn, etc.), ABX, and the rest – mostly because the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) aren’t on grass and don’t lend themselves to truly pasturing an animal. So jealousy at getting a gazillion percent more per gallon of milk probably plays in to their FDA-pushing a bit. :P

    Most dairy farmers who produce and distribute their raw dairy treat their animals better than people and are completely dedicated to holistic farming, which eliminates SO much of the “risk” associated with consuming non-pasteurized dairy.

    I completely appreciate your points about cleaning the shelves, etc., and I have to say that I’m unaware of how RAWESOME makes sure their facilities are cleaned, but one important point: this buying club (co-op, whatever) is in California, where is it LEGAL to purchase and consume raw dairy. They shut down this facility strictly because it didn’t have a retail license – but it’s not selling retail in the first place. Which, to my mind, makes sense why they would defy the shutdown order – under the legal understanding of retail commerce, they weren’t partaking in retail commerce.

    Thanks for bringing more light to the subject – I appreciate your thoughts and the time you spent researching the topic! :)

  3. Thanks for your thoughts, loves. I got interested in this one.

    I’m used to thinking of an industrial system as the simplest way to ensure a sanitary environment, but I suppose cows aren’t semi-conductors :) (Though wouldn’t it be cool if they were? We could plant carefully-planned fields with different patterns of grass and clover for them to eat and have bovine computers!) The reliance on grain at least complicates the issue for them, though I do seem to remember reading that one company was producing both at one point. I’d have to look up the details though.

    I wish I better understood the legal definition of “retail establishment” – depending on the definition, I can make arguments both ways. The LA Times article says the county never got back to them to clarify. Silly people.

    Anyway, while I’m still unconvinced of the huge benefits of raw milk, I do hope the FDA gets their act together and figures out how to legalize it properly. This in-between stuff is ridiculous and not very fair to consumers.

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