Does Senate Bill 510 Put Raw Milk in Real Danger?


Graphic courtesy Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

Today the U.S. Senate passed Senate Bill 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act. After the recent scandal with eggs, and all of the other food safety issues of recent years (meat, peanut butter, spinach), many people believe this is a positive step - and obviously Senate lawmakers, who voted 75 to 23 to pass SB 510, also think the bill is good. A segment of farm advocates have warned that SB 510 is a severe threat to small farms - and by extension, most raw milk producers - because of the sweeping powers it gives to the Federal Drug Administation (FDA) and the possibility for onerous paperwork and other regulations for farmers. But there's some good news.

SB 510 will give the FDA broader jurisdiction, specifically in the wording of the bill that lets the FDA act on "reason to believe." SB 510 would also allow the FDA to mandate that a company recall a food product it suspects is infected. Thus if the FDA has reason to believe - a very subjective measure - raw milk is harmful, it could attempt to shut down that producer - unless the farmer had gone through the necessary paperwork to get an exemption.

While SB 510 passed, the Tester/Hagen Amendment that was recently added to the bill excludes small farmers and farms making less than $500,000 annually, by allowing them to apply for exemption from FDA regulatory oversight. The inclusion of the amendment made the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition finally lend support for SB 510.

As Kari Marion spells out in her blog at JustMeans, the Centers for Disease Control have tallied the big costs of food safety breaches: they "cause approximately 75 million illnesses each year including approximately 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths."

To put the dangers of raw milk in perspective in comparison with those annual figures, a CDC representative gave the following statistics in a recent Reuters story: from 1993 to 2006 outbreaks related to raw milk and cheese and yogurt made from it have been tied to 1571 illnesses, 202 hospitalizations and two deaths.

Even after the inclusion of the Tester-Hagan amendment, the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, another small farm advocacy group is still opposed. FTCLDF president Pete Kennedy told the Daily Caller:

"The Tester-Hagan amendment is an improvement on the bill, but I think it's still fundamentally flawed," Kennedy told TheDC. "I think over time the powers given by the bill could possibly whittle away at the protection provided by Tester-Hagan, they'll have broad power, and unfortunately under their existing power, what we see right now they seem to have three particular targets, which are raw milk, raw cheese, and supplements."

So while the Tester-Hagan amendment is good news for sustainable and local farm proponents, it seems the freedom to choose our food sources is not entirely out of the woods.

Read more about raw milk at TreeHugger:
If You Want Safe Food, Know Where It Comes From
The Raw Milk Revolution: Book Review
Raw Milk Risks and Benefits Explained
The Milk Police: Smuggling Raw Milk Across State Lines

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