Monday, June 24, 2013

Delaware's Agriculture Secretary uses scare tactics and propagates myths to oppose sale of raw milk

A basic tenet of Libertarian beliefs is that you should be free to do that which does not harm others.

Given that NO behavior is completely without risk, this requires a reasoned approach to policy-making.

The current debate over HB 150 is a prime example of the government attempting to protect us from ourselves, and Libertarians should support our raw-milk-drinking friends.

Particularly for our state legislators, I have taken the 24 June email that Secretary Kee sent to the House of Representatives to attempt to get them to vote against HB 150 and intercut the rejoinders by Delaware dairy farmer Chad Snader.  It makes informative reading:

Dear Members of the House of Representatives,

As House Bill 150, which would remove Delaware’s ban on raw milk sales, comes to the floor tomorrow, we would like to share with you some facts and misconceptions about raw milk and the concerns that we have about lifting the ban.

The Department of Agriculture and the Division of Public Health both believe that raw milk is too risky and unsafe to be sold, a view shared by our nation’s top public health experts and farming leaders. Drinking raw, unpasteurized milk can lead to infections including severe illness and even death stemming from the harmful bacteria in the milk. Infections from unpasteurized milk exposure can cause stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and headaches. Severe cases can lead to disease that could cause significant, life-long consequences, including paralysis and kidney failure.

I begin with the allegation made in the second paragraph that drinking raw milk can lead to infections, etc. I would not be so bold as to say raw milk has no risk, however, when compared to foods that most people eat on a day to day basis, such as spinach and deli meat, raw milk is a LOW risk food. While the DDA does a wonderful job attempting to scare you into thinking that your kidneys will shut down or that you will get horrible diarrhea, the statistics simply do not show this. 

We wish to note that not a single Delaware dairy farmer has asked either of our agencies for this bill to be passed, and most are strongly opposed to it. Our dairy farmers – many of which are families in the milk business for generations - do not want the potential black eye from a disease outbreak that could jeopardize their livelihoods.

Secondly, the DDA claims that not a single Delaware dairy farmer has contact them about wanting raw milk. Again, this is simply untrue as I am a farmer, as is my sister-in-law and we have both contacted the DDA about selling raw milk. Sec Kee spoke with me after the Agriculture Committee hearing, after stating this same statistic to the committee, and went on to mention that he only actually spoke with 8 of Delaware's 42 remaining dairy farmers.

That's hardly all of our dairy farmers, so the "fact" is misleading and disingenuous. I would venture that Sec Kee or any other member of the DDA has spoken with anyone from the Amish Community regarding this bill either. As far as national farm leaders being opposed to the sale of raw milk, how then would the DDA account for the National Farmer's Union being in favor of, not only raw milk sales intrastate, but interstate sales as well?

We welcome the interest that supporters of raw milk have shown in entering agriculture, and support alternative milk production, such as organic or grass-fed milk – as long as it is pasteurized and safe to drink, following tested, proven and accepted science.

Supporters of raw milk have recounted certain myths about this issue that we wish to clarify for you.

Claim: No one has died from raw milk.
Fact: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported two deaths from raw milk or raw milk products from 1998 to 2011 – in addition to 2,384 illnesses and 284 hospitalizations. Whether it’s drunk out of a glass or made into cheese, the harmful bacteria are still present – and still dangerous.

Reality: The DDA claims that two people have died. Those two deaths have never been fully proven to be the fault of raw milk. In any case, the two individuals that died had consumed raw milk cheese and was well over 15 years ago, not fluid raw milk, which the CDC admits.

Claim: “Raw milk” is available in other states where farms are inspected, which means it’s safe.
Fact: We don’t have to look long or far to find examples of why raw milk is bad for Delaware. Last month in Pennsylvania, raw milk from two farms was found to contain harmful bacteria. One of those farms was linked to five illnesses in humans. Inspections and permits do not eliminate the danger.

Reality: Again, no food is completely safe. Raw milk is considered a low risk food, using the FDA and CDC's own stats. I and many others have been drinking raw milk from Pennsylvania farms for many years, with no illnesses. The recent allegations of a Chambersburg Farm selling raw milk that made people sick are not completely factual either. The FDA tested the farm's milk after the fact and found POSSIBLE contamination but could not 100% confirm it. Those illnesses were also spread throughout the state and the distance alone sheds suspicion on raw milk being the culprit.

Claim: Many states have legalized some form of raw milk sales, so Delaware should, too.
Fact: Legal does not mean safe. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 75 percent of raw milk outbreaks between 1993 and 2006 occurred in states where raw milk sales were permitted.

Reality: This is an argument that has no logic behind it. Of course, of all the states that report illness from raw milk the states where it is LEGAL will have a higher rate of illness....because the people that live in those states can actually buy it where in the states where it is illegal people aren't drinking it nearly as much. States where it is illegal are not reporting this because it is not legal there. This is a circular, logic-less argument.

Claim: Buyers know their local farmer and can visit the farm to make sure the milk is safe.
Fact: The bacteria that can exist in raw milk are invisible to the naked eye and can only be killed by pasteurization. Division of Public Health inspectors currently test pasteurized milk on a regular basis to make sure it is safe. They do not just visit a barn and assume that everything is fine.

Reality: The DDA has made an inaccurate claim. No one has stated that simply because you can visit a farm that it makes the milk safer. What I am on record as saying (during the Ag Committee hearing) is that transparency will force farmers who wish to sell raw milk to stay clean and accountable for their goods. If I go to a farm to buy raw milk and the farm is dirty or I see animal treatment practices that I do not agree with or feel could raise the risk for illness I will not buy there. Again, another misstatement by the DDA in an attempt to shed a negative light on those who are pro-raw milk.

Claim: More people get sick from drinking pasteurized milk than “raw milk,” so the latter is safer.
Fact: The CDC estimates that pasteurized milk makes up more than 99 percent of all milk sold in America, yet raw milk is still disproportionately dangerous - 150 times more likely to make your family sick than pasteurized dairy products. Pasteurization saves lives. Raw milk is particularly harmful to vulnerable populations such as young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems, as they are at the highest risk of acquiring serious infections from consuming raw milk.

Reality: When the statistics are view in an unbiased manner, both pasteurized and raw milk dairy show themselves to be low risk foods. The proof is in the data.

Claim: More people are drinking raw milk than ever, so the ban hurts farmers.
Fact: Raw milk sales are estimated at less than 1 percent of all milk sold. No Delaware dairy farmer has asked the Department of Agriculture to support raw milk.

Reality: Again, a skewing of the facts by the DDA. In fact, according to a CDC survey in 2007, fully 3% of the population was drinking raw milk regularly. While my following claim, admittedly has no proof, it is almost assured that raw milk consumption has risen since 2002 as more states have legalized the sales and a general awareness of the low risk nature of raw milk gets out the the public. In fact, since 2007, sales of raw milk have increased 25% in California alone.

The dangers of raw milk are real and potentially life-threatening. Keeping it out of commerce is the best, most prudent and most practical way to eliminate outbreaks. Thank you for your time and consideration.

In the DDA's final statement, they make the assertion that keeping raw milk out of commerce is the most prudent course of action. The problem with that statement is that raw milk is already in commerce; unfortunately, the commerce is almost all going to the State of Pennsylvania, and while I love my home state of PA, I would much rather keep that money here in in my adopted State of Delaware.


Ed Kee
Secretary of Agriculture

Addendum from Chad Snader:
One final statement regarding raw milk as a high risk food; If it is such a high risk, why can you buy raw milk in vending machines in countries like France, Germany, Switzerland and Japan, countries whose rates of cancer, diabetes and obesity are significantly less than here in the United States?
I hope you will take the time to at least glance at the attached documentation that refutes the claims of the DDA and proves raw milk to be a low risk food. Finally, I hope that when HB 150 comes to vote tomorrow you side on the side of freedom and personal choice, not fear mongering and paranoia from a bloated bureaucracy that has made no real assertions as to why raw milk should not be sold in Delaware; they have simply followed the line that the federal government has told them to, with no regard to the citizens of Delaware. The DDA is going against their mission statement to look out for the economic interest for Delaware farmers by choosing to fight this bill. They are taking options off the table for farmers. Delaware has seen a loss of 41 dairy farms over the last 6 years alone. Can we take as fact the allegations of an agency that has allowed that to happen and then claim they are looking out for the farmer's best interests? I think not and I urge you to vote YES to HB 150. Thank you for your time.
Research links provided by Snader:


delacrat said...


And the problem with pasteurization is .... ?

Steven H. Newton said...


I have no problem with pasteurization.

Drink all the pasteurized milk you want--over 99% of the milk produced and sold in America is pasteurized.

But it doesn't harm me in the slightest if other people have a preference for drinking raw milk, and I don't assert either the moral or legal authority to prohibit them.

Pretty much that simple.

Delaware Watch said...

Consider if the argument was made this way about the sale of arsenic as medicine: "Reality: This is an argument that has no logic behind it. Of course, of all the states that report illness from ARSENIC the states where it is LEGAL will have a higher rate of illness....because the people that live in those states can actually buy ARSENIC where in the states where it is illegal people aren't drinking it nearly as much. States where ARSENIC is illegal are not reporting this because it is not legal there. This is a circular, logic-less argument."

Even IF this argument were circular (which it is not since it does not contain an assumption that NECESSARILY entails its conclusion), no one should care about its circularity since its conclusion has real world implications that effects people's lives. The same with raw milk. And while there are a wide variety of choices that people make that entail risk, those risks exist from existing practices and for which there are not practical and economic alternatives. Reintroducing raw milk in DE doesn't meet those criteria. (I hope this comment hangs together since I was interrupted several times by children.)

Anonymous said...

Please close the sushi bars then. People who buy raw milk, know they are buying raw milk. You can't go into a Denny's w/o the warning on the menu "consumption of raw, undercooked eggs (sic)," and get to order them anyway. As in every other menu in America. No doubt raw milk could also carry the label, if the Dover Dummies haven't figured that out. Guess this will be my last year eating strawberries in the field too, if the bovine scatologists continue on this path.

JHLee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JHLee said...

I run a farmer's market in Trolley Square, and unfortunately had to turn down a vendor for Greek yogurt who used unpasteurized milk.

Eggs, well, don't even get me started on that. Nothing drives the Delaware Dept of Agriculture more nutty than selling eggs.

Frankly, I think that some of these regulations have a tendency to take down efforts towards entrepreneurship and sustainability

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