Money & Business

A Raw Deal for Consumer Safety? Dairy Industry Pushes Back on Raw Milk

By / Apr 2, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

While two new bills in Congress that seek to lift a ban on the sale and distribution of raw milk have bipartisan support and the backing of libertarian groups, two dairy associations say that the risk of disease is too high for greater public consumption.

A bipartisan coalition of legislators says that it’s high time to loosen the strict regulations on unpasteurized milk that prevent interstate sale of the dairy product in its raw form.

Two new bills introduced by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY)—one that would end the current interstate ban and allow sales of raw milk nationwide, and another that would allow interstate shipment between the 28 states where raw milk sales are already legal—have drawn support from nearly 20 of libertarian and left-leaning House members, including Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO).

But two associations in the dairy industry, the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), say that the legislation flies in the face of public safety concerns.

“If this measure passes, those most vulnerable to dangerous pathogens—children—are the ones who will suffer the most. The benefits of consuming raw milk are illusory, but the painful costs of illness and death are very real,” NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern said in a statement.

Science vs. Freedom

The Food and Drug Administration sides with the dairy associations, as do a number of medical and veterinary associations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Veterinary Medical Association. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study in 2012 that showed raw milk exposed the public to a significantly higher level of disease outbreak risk than pasteurized forms over a period from 1993 through 2006.

“Probably no more than 1 [percent] of the milk consumed in the United States is raw, yet more outbreaks were caused by raw milk than by pasteurized milk,” the CDC study stated.

But the issue remains contentious for some, particularly the libertarian-leaning group Keep Food Legal, which tends to oppose regulations on the food industry. It’s telling, for example that a similar 2011 bill was introduced by then-Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), a well-known libertarian political figure who was running for president at the time. (That bill got far less support than Massie’s current bills.)

“It’s nice to see that people are now advocating for their right rather than science,” Baylen Linnekin, Keep Food Legal’s executive director, told Politico.

According to the publication, like-minded groups such as the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund argue that other products that are much more dangerous to consumers, such as alcohol and cigarettes, face far less regulatory scrutiny.

But dairy industry associations say there’s too much of a risk involved when it comes to milk.

“Raw milk skips the pasteurization safety process, and this is playing Russian roulette with the health of too many Americans—including many of our children,” the IDFA and NMPF said in a news release last week.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now and a former newspaper guy. More »

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