Raw Milk, Public Health Standards, And Personal Responsibility


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I'm visiting in my home state and blogging about local news which may have national importance. Item: the Wisconsin State Legislative Assembly is ready to vote on a measure to allow in-state sale of raw milk produced here. This measure is seen as a momentum builder by fans of raw milk, as 27 US states already allow for legal sales. (Because of Federal health standards, raw milk can not be sold across state lines; and so this struggle has to go state by state.)

Trade associations and the Wisconsin Medical Society have lined up against passage. Two things make this measure particularly interesting: the sponsors look to all be Democrats and the lead sponsor is quoted in the Appleton Post Crescent as saying "It's about allowing adults to make decisions" - the type of framing I'd expect to hear from a Libertarian.

Got coliform? I wonder if proponents are aware of the history of contracting bovine TB or salmonella or listeria from raw milk? Oh wait...raw milk doesn't make people sick, germs do.For you fact-driven thinkers, here is a detailed but short overview and history of public health issues and of the sterilization technologies associated with the dairy industry: Effective Methods for Postharvest Intervention in Dairy Processing

Colleague Christine Lepisto has written a nice overview post on the ethical and cultural dimensions of raw milk consumption and regulation. I suggest a look at Raw Milk Risks and Benefits Explained

Reading at both the above links provides just the right balance for understanding what is at stake if the government steps totally away from managing health risks associated with raw milk consumption.

Be careful what you ask for...
Raw milk consumption presents a relatively low risk to public health as long as it remains a narrowly-followed food fad. On the other hand, if consumer interest in raw milk were to scale up as it did with organic milk in recent years, and large volume producers were then to jump in to meet the growing demand, we might expect an increased risk of large scale disease outbreaks. Just my opinion, but I'd never want to see raw milk sold at Walmart and Target.

Trade associations are aware of the marketing implications of a prospective news story about many people getting sick and thus have good reason to be concerned about large numbers of people being that close to sucking off the udder.

I wonder if this law presents a good middle ground? Will the Feds need to set standards for running fast turn-around DNA tests that screen for pathogens? Time will tell.

Tags: Wisconsin

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