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Illnesses from Raw Milk Continue, Yet States Push for Consumer Access

Apr 16, 2010

Although outbreaks of illness related to raw milk continue to be an issue, legislators in several states are considering bills that would loosen restrictions or legalize the sale of raw milk directly to consumers. IDFA opposes selling raw milk to consumers and continues to call for facilities selling raw milk for human consumption to be included in any new federal food safety legislation. Currently, these facilities are not covered by federal food safety legislation under consideration by Congress.

Late last month, Miriam Erickson Brown, president and CEO of Anderson Erickson Dairy, sent a letter to Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair of the committee that marked up the Senate bill, to reinforce IDFA's position. Ed Mullins, executive vice president and CEO of Prairie Farms Dairy, Inc., made the same request in recent letters to Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

The full Senate is expected to consider this bill in the near future. The House passed similar comprehensive food safety legislation last June.

Campylobacter Infections Increase
In the past month alone, two states have found campylobacter, a bacteria that affects the human intestinal tract and can enter the bloodstream and other organs, in raw milk sold to consumers. On April 5, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture suspended Pasture Maid Creamery's permit to sell raw milk to consumers after samples of the milk tested positive for Campylobacter and a number of consumers became sick.

In late March, the Michigan Department of Community Health confirmed 12 cases of Campylobacter infection, prompting the Food and Drug Administration to issue an alert warning people not to drink raw milk in Michigan.

The Michigan illnesses were traced across state lines to raw milk sold by Forest Grove Dairy in Middlebury, Ind. Since 1987, FDA has required all milk packaged for human consumption to be pasteurized if it will be sold in other states. FDA currently is partnering with health departments in Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, as well as the Indiana State Board of Animal Health, to investigate the case.

According to FDA, 85 outbreaks of human infections that included 1,614 reported illnesses, 187 hospitalizations and two deaths have been reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the 10-year period from 1998 to 2008. Yet 27 states now allow raw milk to be sold directly to consumers.

States Consider Raw Milk Bills
Kentucky, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wisconsin currently do not allow consumers to purchase raw milk, but their state legislatures are considering bills related to legalizing raw milk sales. A total of 19 bills related to raw milk have been introduced in 12 states during the past year alone.

IDFA has consistently worked to have raw milk facilities included in new safety regulations proposed by the U.S. House and Senate food safety bills. Working with the National Milk Producers Federation last November, IDFA urged Senators Harkin and Michael Enzi (R-WY) and other members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee to hold raw milk bottlers to the same standards as all other processors. (See "IDFA, NMPF Urge Senators to Include Raw Milk in Food Safety Act.") IDFA also has encouraged members to write to HELP committee members to express concerns about raw milk.

A new Web site, called Real Raw Milk Facts, (www.realrawmilkfacts.com) was launched this week by a group of scientists and health educators who are concerned about misperceptions in the raw milk debate. The site is underwritten by a Seattle-based food-safety lawyer, Bill Marler, who has built a successful practice suing food producers. Read the USA Today story, "'Raw milk' advocates, health officials step up dispute,"  for more details.

For more information on raw milk or food safety legislation, contact Ruth Saunders, IDFA vice president of policy and legislative affairs, at rsaunders@idfa.org or (202) 220-3553. Also IDFA's online resource for Consumer Safety and Raw Milk.

 

 
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