Sunday, October 14, 2012

Food safety & risk

food risk is interesting.

  I buy a lottery ticket because somewhere in my primitive hindbrain I think I can win despite 237,000,000 to 1 odds.

So for me, there's a part of me that says that even very small odds are a possible risk.  In the case of lottery tickets, there's a better chance that I'll be eaten by an alligator or killed by a rabid skunk, both of which seem to me to be really unlikely events.

 So when I assess the risk of drinking raw milk there's that part of me that says that it can happen with long odds. 

What is the risk that you'd be willing to take?  1 in 10?  1 in 100?  1 in 1,000?  one in a million?   For small kids or folks with compromised immune systems, the consequences can be pretty dire -- kidney failure and lifelong dyalysis or just plan old death. 

I figure that raw milk is an adult beverage and a great ingredient for cheese; speaking as someone who's raising a dairy cow and plans to drink raw milk when she calves, next july. 

Foundation farms was a small raw milk dairy in oregon; they had an outbreak and the farmers own 4 children came down with it.  Four kids spent some quality time in the intensive care ward and three of those four are on kidney support because of kidney failure.  Whatever nutritional or health benefits those kids got from it probably is not worth the risk to them.  The dairy itself is out of business now.
Whole foods doesn't stock raw milk because a recent trend is that when there is an outbreak the dairy gets sued, the distributor gets sued, and the retail store gets sued.  Given that choice,most stores just opt out.  And insurance companies are having a hard time pricing policies; when someone dies or requires lifelong care, especially a child, juries are very sympathetic and often award millions of dollars to the bereaved parents. 

Small farms love raw milk because of the high margins it affords compared with traditional dairy,  but they often don't have the financial backing that a bigger farm would, and in the event of an outbreak, most just quietly fold and auction their cows and then they're gone.  That's what foundation farms did.  I don't know who's paying the medical costs for that upgrade, but I'm guessing it's us as taxpayers.  I'm all for free choice and rugged individualism, but most of the time when this stuff goes bad it's the taxpayer that picks up the bill.  A single day in an intensive care unit can cost 30 to 50 thousand dollars.   So it looks like a high profit margin item to the individual running the farm, but when you look at the overall cost of treatment, any profit that foundation farms made is probably a drop in the bucket.  Society as a whole did not profit from that farm at all.  This is the farming equivalent of a superfund cleanup site.    

Food risk.  What odds are acceptable to you?


BigGAdawg said...

Georgia law only allows the sale of raw milk for pet consumption. Each gallon must be labeled that it is NOT intended for human consumption. So if a human should consume it and have a problem, they have been duly warned not to do so in the first place.
I am not a lawyer but I think that gives the farmer some protection that is not available when sold for human use.

Cathy said...

I like being able to buy no hormone, no antibiotic milk produced locally. It may be a bonus that it is cream on top milk though I usually drink skim. I am very glad it is pasteurized milk.

As a child I drank raw milk when I visited my great aunt Mary. I was always glad to get back to the pasteurized milk at home. I liked it better.

My parents generation was very aware of the problems associated with raw milk. In their day they thought of undulant fever as the big risk. Though not such a risk today there are other risks such as this E.coli variety that has increased in the frequency and the Campylobacter outbreak that occurred in the eastern US in the last year.

From time to time I hear about the Surgeon General of the 1960s saying that we have conquered infectious disease. Not so much.

By the way, I always heard that E. coli was more of a problem in grain fed beef. I would guess that this was a grass fed dairy. Do you know if this milk was from grass fed only cows?

Anonymous said...

Bruce, that's a great question. I would imagine it's going to be different for each person. I will say that I trust myself more than other people I know, and people I don't know, I don't trust at all (and only trust the gov to watch over them to a degree.. I spent a week in Evergreen in second grade from e-coli I got from the Puyallup fair). That trust level goes from growing food, to preparing food, to driving cars, to teaching.... And that gets kicked up a notch when my children's health is on the line. That said, I trust our raw goats milk, more than the pasteurized milk from the store, and our kids sure won't be tasting raw milk from other farms any time soon. They also eat veggies from our garden out of hand. All the food that we bring home (farmers market or grocery store) gets a thorough washing. I still think Education is the key, and when that's absent, government regulation to minimize risk to the teeming masses is imperative. To put odds on my risk tolerance though? That's tough, as there are loads of variables, and often some of them are unknown. I can imagine that the father of the kids on the Oregon farm figured the odds were in his favor, and as I don't know the entire story, it's hard to make a judgment call, but a lack of education or knowledge would be my guess as the root of the problem.

Emily said...

When we first started feeding our toddlers raw milk I have to say I was a little nervous - I've had similar feelings feeding my family our homemade nitrate free bacon and ham...and yet we are all healthy and none of us have ever been sick from eating real food. After five years of our family drinking raw milk and making raw milk yogurt and cheeses I have no concerns because I know exactly how our animals are raised and milked.

Milk becomes contaminated by the introduction of feces. If a goat shakes her hoof above the uncovered portion of the milk pail and a fleck of something falls in, the pail gets dumped and cleaned before we resume milking.

I think that if consumers want to drink raw milk they need to either raise their own dairy animals or get to know their raw milk provider intimately and trust them whole heartedly. I really can't imagine trusting someone else - even close friends - to be safe enough with our milk. I don't think pasteurized store bought milk is a safe alternative - I wouldn't feed that to my family either.

Emily said...

I think it is one thing to milk your own animals and drink raw milk from them - I feel very safe doing so. Raw milk becomes contaminated by feces. If a goat shakes a hoof over the opening in my mostly covered milk pail - the milk goes to the chickens and I wash the pail before continuing milking. I'm not sure I'd trust anyone else to provide our raw milk. Nor do I trust store bought pasteurized milk.

I think farmers tend to become over confidant with their laid back practices. When I first started asking local goat and cow owners what their sanitizing practices were, most replied that they didn't have any - didn't wash udders or hands, didn't sanitize milk jars... if you are going to feed your family raw milk, you can't be careful enough - and I'm not sure you can know your raw milk provider closely enough. So I guess I don't have any answers - our answer to our milk dilemma was to buy dairy goats. I know that is not possible for everyone.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

I'm with Emily, we only drink our raw milk that we produce. I grew up on raw milk and have had family cows my entire adult life. I also used to sell milk to a few neighbors, and at that time into the early 90's you could purchase raw milk at Fred Meyers. Then along came the e coli outbreaks. It's legal here in Oregon to sell raw milk, I would never do that again due to the liability, you never know how compromised someone's immune system is, despite what they say.

I think for me as a cow person the biggest problem lies with consumers expecting raw milk year round, and new farmers willing to provide it. As you say there is money to be made up front selling raw milk. People are willing to pay through the nose for raw milk. The perfect storm for disease brews when you take year round milking, high producing dairy breeds, newbie farmers, poor land management and no pasteurization. It's hard for a cow to lactate and be pregnant out of the grass growing season, sure they can do it, but it's hard on them. So pretty soon you need those gallons of milk to sell, so you start feeding more and more grain, or worse yet no grain, and pretty soon you have an unhealthy cow, she's got a tummy ache, she's being milked to the bone, she's trying to stay warm, maintain a pregnancy or even manage to ovulate and all the while the consumer is demanding raw, grassfed milk in December through March. Really, it's no better than the store bought conventional stuff, the only difference is the pasteurization.

There is no easy answer except consumers need more education and farmers do too. If consumers are really so concerned about their raw milk being healthy then they should demand that it come from a seasonal type dairy when the animal has a better chance to provide a healthy product. Unfortunately I don't see that happening anytime soon, there is too many uniformed folks touting, filming, and writing about things they know nothing about. Consumers watch a feel-good video about some small farmer milking his cow, and the consumer assumes that because the film was made, it must be safe right?

It's too big of risk in my opinion, we drink our milk, but none from our friends who have raw milk,like Emily says if somehow a hoof or something else finds its way to my bucket I dump the milk, I have no idea what my friends do each milking...

* Crystal * said...

I'm a raw milk drinker..... My baby brother was raised on raw goat milk & my munchkins (ages 7 & 9 now) drink raw milk.

BUT, it's raw milk from MY herd of dairy goats. I pull blood myself for yearly health test, I milk them, I'm responsible for all sanitation, I know 100% of what goes into them.

I won't drink raw milk from another farm with health status/sanitation practices that I don't know everything about. I won't serve it to my children. I have seen practices on some licenced, inspected, small farms that I consider down right nasty.... Even though their somatic counts look great and they've never failed an inspection I still would not touch raw milk from them.