The raw milk movement in the USA is very complex and attempting to explain some of the dynamics behind it, to those who have not been following international raw milk trends for some years, will be challenging and time consuming. There has been a huge opposition to making raw milk available to consumers for more than a decade, but recently there has also been an even bigger anti-raw milk propaganda campaign that defies belief, and its success in influencing people depends on them not knowing or understanding the details.
There is a new urgency to impress on everyone that all raw milk must be pasteurised.
This urgency has surprisingly also become an instrument in changing people’s perceptions. People ponder on the details surrounding this situation of limitation, and this enables them to reach new conclusions of their own, about what may be behind raw milk prohibition. This article may elicit all sorts of different reactions, but it is a story that needs to be told. Australian politicians may be fearful of supporting raw milk from cows, because they don’t understand the details around the conflict on the other side of the world. Historically Australia has looked to the US for guidance and followed its trends. How come raw goat’s milk is allowed in four Australian states, and raw milk cheese production is allowed, but raw drinking milk from cows are not acceptable?
The jostling between those who want it banned, and those who want access to it have intensified during #FebruDairy, the social media hashtag to promote the dairy industry. There has been a renewed energy to ban raw milk, with a North Carolina bill that allow herd shares under fire, three seperate bills being knocked back that may have allowed raw milk sales in Montana, and a medical doctor who filed a senate bill to criminalise drinking the milk from a herd share program in Tennessee. Some states like Utah had overwhelming success in passing a bill to further expand raw milk sales. Hawaii and West Virginia were also considering further moves to expand raw dairy access during February. Many of America’s 50 states now have access to raw milk distribution in some form. Raw milk laws are a hodgepodge, and it is challenging to know at any one time exactly what the numbers are, but based on the latest information on the Raw Milk Nation Map, New Jersey seems to be the only state where raw milk “cannot be legally obtained in any way”. The FDA criminalises interstate sale or distribution of raw milk, however, when more states allow the sale of raw milk within their own borders, it is an important step toward building a foundation to nullify the federal prohibition scheme. In other words, if all 50 states allow raw milk, markets within the states could easily grow to the point that local sales would render the federal ban on interstate commerce pointless. History indicates the federal government do not have the resources to stop people from transporting raw milk across state lines. It is well known that consumers who cannot obtain it in their own state, routinely bring the contraband in from bordering states.
The anti-raw milk propaganda campaigns that the American media often blow out of proportion, and the failing to share all the details, are designed to shock people to the core, and get them to stop seeking or drinking anything other than pasteurised milk, as some of the recent shocking media articles about a vaccine that sheds a pathogen in raw milk indicate. It’s a really bizarre situation, and those on the other side of the globe shake their heads in disbelief…
Lawyer Pete Kennedy from the Weston A. Price Foundation recently wrote a brilliant article:
This was after various media had been waging one of the bigger anti-raw milk propaganda campaigns in memory through their reporting on a recent individual case of brucellosis attributed to raw milk consumption. Cases of brucellosis (also known as undulant fever) attributed to drinking raw milk in the U.S. are extremely rare. Brucellosis is a systemic disease in cattle and humans that is caused by the bacteria Brucella abortus. This bacterium was a problem many decades ago and a national eradication campaign was launched in the 1950s and, according to USDA statistics, the number of cattle/bison herds affected in the U.S. has been less than 10 every year from 2003 onwards. In humans the symptoms of the infection are similar to the flu and include a fever, with high spikes that occur in the afternoon, back pain, body aches, headache, poor appetite and weight loss, night sweats and weakness, according to WebMD.
Australia has been free from the zoonotic bacterium Brucella abortus (B. abortus), in both domesticated and wild animals for well over two decades thanks to eradication success. According to a Department of Agriculture online document, bovine brucellosis was eradicated in 1989. That was 30 odd years ago. Australian dairy farmers are not required to vaccinate for it.
The US media campaigns during #FebruDairy centred around the case of a third person where brucellosis was attributed to raw milk consumption. There was also a confirmed case of a Texas woman in August 2017, and a New Jersey woman in November 2018. Public health officials found the RB51 strain in the case of all three people. Pete writes that “the media have been taking their cues from press releases issued by public health departments that have been giving the advice to pasteurize all milk. However, the solution to avoid getting brucellosis is far different from what public health and the media are telling you. In the words of one healthcare professional, “For public health officials to issue public notices that the solution to this avoidable problem is to pasteurize all milk, is astonishing.”
Where did this Brucella strain RB51 come from?
The RB51 strain of Brucella is an antibiotic-resistant, modified live strain of Brucella that veterinarians give to young heifers (female cows) as a vaccination 4 to 12 months of age in the commercial dairy industry. RB51 is a mutant, rifampicin and penicillin resistant bovine Brucella vaccine strain developed in a laboratory specifically for vaccination. It does not exist in nature. That is why it is so traceable and unique. There is nothing else like it out there in nature.
There are two vaccines agains brucellosis: the S19 and the RB51. Pete writes that "the RB51 vaccine does not cause the antibody testing of cows to become positive but another problem arises with its use.”
“The RB51 vaccine must be administered to calves before they become fertile; a side effect is that, if a cow is given the RB51 vaccine when pregnant, it may actually cause an infection with the vaccine strain of Brucella in the vaccinated cow. It is, therefore, possible that if the RB51 vaccine isn’t given strictly according to the protocol, the vaccinated cow may become infected and may shed the pathogen (i.e., the RB51 strain of Brucella) into the milk."
Pete says it is also worth noting that hundreds of people drank raw milk produced by the herds responsible for the three cases of brucellosis and, as far as is known, no one else became sick. One of the headlines claimed “Deadly Disease Caused by Raw Milk Has Already Put 19 U.S. States on High Alert.” Pete says that there have been no deaths from brucellosis attributed to raw milk consumption since the eradication program succeeded in substantially eliminating the incidence of the disease and possibly even long before then. The article is misleading people into think something different.
For more details, read Pete’s article:
Journalist and food writer David Gumpert wrote that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control made a federal case (quite literally) out of a single instance of illness last November from the RB51 vaccine that wound up in raw milk produced by a Pennsylvania farm. The CDC and state agencies have issued multiple press alerts about the illness, which is their job, but then, the CDC put out a media alert saying that the farm’s milk had turned up in 19 states, suggesting there had been some kind of large-scale outbreak.
Being exposed to a pathogen is far different than being sickened by it; we are exposed to various pathogenic bacteria such as listeria and e.coli in the environment, and arguably in the food system every day. Many foods commonly contain pathogens, as well as paper money, and shopping trolley handles.
David says the two main agencies charged with overseeing North American’s food health issues are on a warpath against raw dairy, and the American media have joined in on the latest
frenzy. There has been a string of negative media articles during #FebruDairy, but they are not telling the whole story. The author of this article don’t know the entire story either, but there is sufficient information to indicate that the media is telling a one sided, decidedly anti-raw milk version that blames the raw milk, instead of taking responsibility for sharing all the details of the story and applying the sensitivity that is required.
The energy behind many of these reports are disruptive, self-absorbed, out of balance and written in hostility. Some of the articles may appear genuine on the surface, but there is a manipulative thread underneath. A lot of the scaremongering has also taken place on social media, Twitter in particular. This may have left uninformed people confused.
It is not our job to correct every whirl of convoluted anti-raw milk sentiment, but this issue has been dragging for a few years. There are a few details worth highlighting in seeking justice for the raw milk movement, and those who do take their responsibilities towards the public serious.
In November 2017, the Pennsylvannia Department of Agriculture did the responsible thing and sent out a letter to all raw milk producers warning them about the vaccine. The state went on official record advising raw milk producers against using this Brucella vaccine. Here are their exact words: "PDA recommends that producers who sell raw milk stop immunizing their cattle for Brucella." Raw milk advocate and journalist David Gumpert wrote an extensive article about it. In effect, the letter seems to shift blame associated with at least the two recent cases of brucellosis in humans from dairy producers to the vaccine itself. The letter, signed by two PDA officials, was sent out only a few days after the previous turbulent string of media articles. Earlier in November 2017, media reports blamed Udder Milk in New York state, who is a private co-op, for the New Jersey woman who fell ill with a human infection of brucellosis.
According to the new February 2019 reports, Millers Biodynamic Farm is also a private co-op and is not licensed or permitted by Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture for raw milk sales, but the farm does distribute raw milk and other produce in a private arrangement that seems to stretch across state lines. The members of the private association know that Miller’s farm is not regulated, and don’t want the government’s protection. In the USA many private food clubs and herd shares exist and not all of these private arrangements are required to do milk testing and animal testing, depending on individual state laws.
The state of Pennsylvania, however, has had a regulated raw milk industry for more than a decade, and all dairy cows in approved raw milk herds are annually blood tested by a licensed veterinarian. It is mandatory. On top of this, some Pennsylvania (and New York state) raw milk producers are listed with The Raw Milk Institute, who require them to maintain a very high level of integrity and responsible raw milk production.
According to the CDC, the RB51 is a weakened strain of Brucella abortus used to vaccinate young female cattle. The bovine vaccine supposedly reduces the risk of people contracting brucellosis from infected cows.
However, in rare cases, vaccinated cows can shed RB51 in their milk.
Denial is not a river in Egypt, and doing what is right.
What is concerning, is the eagerness of some North Americans to take the opportunity to blame raw milk at every possible turn, and the lack of taking responsibility to fairly redress the situation in a sensible manner for the highest good of all concerned, whatever that may be. There is also no acknowledgement of regret from authorities for the misfortune of those who were unlucky enough to be infected with the RB51 strain that shed in the milk, as far as we’re aware. The Australian Raw Milk Movement cannot stand up as an arbitrator in this case, but as spectators it does seem like an injustice when there is not sufficient fairness extended to everyone involved, when there has been sufficient time to do so.
The CDC seems to have found a perfect solution for themselves, but not for raw milk consumers. A 2017 news release from the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that, “the only way to avoid this potential exposure to RB51 is to drink pasteurised milk.”
The vaccine was licensed for use in 1996. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture with cooperation of the Centers for Disease Control conducted a risk analysis to assess the potential effect of this product on the safety of animals, public health, and the environment. Based on the risk analysis, APHIS prepared an environmental assessment (EA). APHIS concluded that the licensure of this veterinary biological product would not significantly affect the quality of the human environment (FONSI).
Many genetically engineered vaccines in recent years have shown themselves to be inherently unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Different individuals and groups of people have different perspectives on issues, but this much is true:
The RB51 vaccine has now been found to be a problem.
North American mainstream media did not share sufficient information and detail when they published their wild exaggerated stories, that sway readers with tricky words and lead them to believe something different. In general, the American media seem to take what opportunity they can to demonise raw milk in people’s eyes, and their partial reporting is creating confusion for people.
Encouragement from authorities are missing.
Authorities are also in denial about the evidence that show the demand for raw drinking milk is here to stay. By not encouraging the installation of fair production systems and fair testing regimes, even in unregulated systems, authorities have a hand in the continuation of the problem. Instead of encouraging responsible raw milk production, authorities participate in a situation that seeks more opportunity and evidence as a stick to beat farmers up, while the American media create a humiliating spectacle that shames the dairy farmers. This is not rational decision-making or the behaviour of good governance.
Dairy farmers are producing a product that consumers desperately want.
Just like everyone else farmers want to feel comfortable and secure in their role in society. They too want to be able to hold their heads high, in neither pride nor humility. They too want to enjoy a position of integrity and dignity in their communities. They too want to enjoy relationships that elicit a sense of emotional safety and reciprocation.
Farmers in the USA want to meet the growing demand for raw milk that American consumers are asking for. The Centres for Disease Control, the FDA and other state agencies say they want to help keep people healthy.
Federal and state agencies' operating procedure for more than a decade has been to ignore the consumer-driven growth in the raw milk industry.
Agencies have attempted to squash access via threats, scare tactics, and intimidation against farmers rather than working with farmers on best practices and problem-solving.
In the past, if there was a suspected illness allegedly linked to raw milk, the CDC, FDA, and state agencies often took an aggressive approach to immediately shut down a farm, whether or not there was any actual evidence that an illness came from that farm. FDA and state agencies have also attacked farms for simply producing raw milk, whether or not there was any indication of illness. Often, putting the farm entirely out of business and leaving lasting trauma on the family, and even never properly clearing farmer’s names when agency reports were inaccurate or misleading.
The American Freedom of Choice/Liberty argument.
In the early days of the raw milk movement consumers saw the unfair harassment and enforcement against dairy farmers, and they continued to see behaviour on different occasions to put farmers out of business, even after raw milk was regulated in some states. Various pro-raw milk websites tell the stories in detail. This is why some American consumers are delighted to buy from private food clubs and farms who are not regulated by the state with sometimes harsh, over the top requirements. The private food arrangement trend, where farmers and consumers are in direct relationship with no middlemen in between, seems to be on the rise in recent years.
Consumers say they need raw milk.
There are many pathogens that have been around for aeons. We can’t change that, but by consuming carefully produced raw milk for human consumption, some people have been able to enjoy the benefits of the trillions of beneficial bacteria that promote colonisation resistance, has protective benefits and other benefits. Evidence has shown that raw drinking milk can be done well when the right controls are applied.
Prohibition-based policies around raw milk - which focus solely on minimising risk - are missing the critical point of raw milk's unique health benefits, at a time when they are desperately needed. Nature has a system that must not be adulterated. The microbial diversity we require for good health can be obtained from carefully produced raw milk. Microbes are part of our nature as human beings, and we need regular supplementation in the diet to keep a large ratio of the right commensal microbes that protect us, in place in the gut.
By only considering the risks of zoonotic dangers and pathogens in prohibition, and ignoring the dangers of losing our beneficial inhabitants, we are making mankind more susceptible to disease.
The shedding of the Brucella abortus RB51 strain may not have been intentional, however, it should now be considered for what it is: a potential trojan horse that is now a public health risk around which wise and carefully considered decisions must be made. The vaccine still seems to be available for purchase to this day…
On February 28, Lancaster Farming published a poll asking how people feel about raw milk. Below is a snapshot taken on 12 March. Also of interest is the reader response after an executive from the conventional dairy industry wrote to suggest that states should ban raw milk sales to the general public. Read the response here.