IDFA and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) learned through a recent report by Food Safety News that a foodborne illness outbreak attributed to raw milk occurred in Virginia in 2016, but state officials did not take appropriate steps to alert the public and warn about the dangers of drinking raw milk. Expressing their disappointment, IDFA and NMPF sent a letter last week to officials in Virginia’s departments of agriculture and health, calling for speed and transparency in communicating news of future outbreaks to the public to protect consumers from the health risk of drinking raw milk.
In March 2016, raw milk from Golden Valley Guernseys in Virginia was implicated in an outbreak involving shiga toxin-producing E. coli, ultimately sickening 14 people, mostly children. Three were afflicted with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a serious condition that can lead to permanent kidney failure. Seven of the sickened were hospitalized.
According to Food Safety News, the Virginia health department decided that an announcement was not warranted because the general public did not have access to the milk, which was sold through an unregulated cow-sharing arrangement. IDFA and NMPF consider these arrangements a legal loophole that allows raw milk producers to skirt Virginia law, which requires all milk and milk products in the state to be pasteurized for sale to consumers, retailers or foodservice establishments.
“Proper notification of the public, as well as the medical community, is critical to monitor for illnesses and to protect public health,” the letter said. “NMPF and IDFA question the argument that all potential consumers of the implicated milk were notified by the herd-share operation which, according to the website for the dairy, has eighteen current drop-off locations.”
IDFA and NMPF also expressed concern about the state’s lack of transparency around the outbreak, which could prevent consumers and industry stakeholders from making informed decisions before drinking raw milk.
“In addition to informing potential consumers so they can protect themselves from becoming ill, another goal in communicating news of an outbreak to the public is to educate them about consuming potentially hazardous foods – and raw milk is inherently dangerous,” IDFA and NMPF said.
Noting that the direct sale of raw milk has been opposed by every major health organization in the United States, IDFA and NMPF said reporting illnesses helps to educate regulators and legislators who are making policy decisions that affect the availability, accessibility and safety of raw milk.
A month before the outbreak occurred, IDFA and NMPF sent a letter to the chair and vice chair of the Virginia General Assembly House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee to oppose a bill that would exempt dairy foods processed in private homes or farms that make and sell dairy products to the public from regulation. Committee members rejected the bill in 2016 and again in February of this year.
IDFA and NMPF will continue to oppose efforts to loosen restrictions regarding the sale and consumption of raw milk directly to consumers.
Read the letter here.
For more information, contact Emily Lyons, IDFA director of regulatory affairs and counsel, at firstname.lastname@example.org.