No More Raw Milk in Ohio:

The Ohio Department of Agriculture is clamping down on dairy farmers who enter into "herd-share" agreements in an effort to evade the ban on the sale of raw milk.

The state's Department of Agriculture revoked a Darke County farmer's milk producers license this week after finding that its "herd-share" agreement to distribute raw milk was an attempt to evade laws against selling the unpasteurized product. Officials announced the decision Thursday.

Raw milk advocates have said they established herd-share programs with farmers to circumvent the law. The arrangement allows people to buy portions of cows on a farm and then pay a boarding or management fee; in exchange, shareholders receive dairy products.

State law does not prohibit individuals from drinking raw milk taken from their own cows. The law does not address the issue of herd-share contracts.

But Ohio Agriculture Director Fred Daily wrote in this week's revocation decision that the state intended its ban on raw milk sales to apply across the board: "To hold otherwise would defeat the intent of the legislature to protect the public health," Daily wrote.

I am not a fan of raw milk myself, but I hardly think the state needs to go after those who are. I also think it is a reasonable assumption that anyone who goes through the trouble of entering a "herd-share" agreement is sufficiently aware of the risks of raw milk consumption that they do not need the state's "protection" from their own choices in this regard.

This case is typical--raw milk producers in Virginia must operate on a cow-share basis (much harder to run than herd-share), and still face continual harassment.

State Agriculture departments are generally very hostile to small farmers and direct-to-consumer sales--it's a classic case of regulatory capture.
9.29.2006 3:05pm
At what point do the nanny state's presumptions of the incompetence of the average citizen in particular situations add up to a presumption that the average citizen is incompetent in general? And how do we justify elections after that?
9.29.2006 3:07pm
I KNEW that someone here at the VC was an expert on raw milk herd-share agreements. Now THAT'S a comparative advantage!
9.29.2006 3:29pm
Ilya Somin:
I KNEW that someone here at the VC was an expert on raw milk herd-share agreements. Now THAT'S a comparative advantage!

Actually, Jonathan is an expert on environmental and safety regulation. So this is indeed in his area of comparative advantage.
9.29.2006 3:43pm
I buy a couple gallons of raw milk each week and have never investigated the legality of it up here... Stuff is fantastic, the cream is so thick that it solidifies in the fridge and melts into my coffee... Bound to give me a heart attack someday, but way tasty in the morning...

Oh, and butter made with the cream is pretty incredible too... So much fat that it's bright bright yellow, the color of that fake margerine crap...

I hope buying raw is legal here 'cause I don't think I can ever drink my coffee any other way and I sure as hell don't want to have to own a cow....
9.29.2006 4:36pm
Right. This is generally the flaw with all such bans. While we can probably agree that the legislature would be right to enact a law against deceptive sales practices: e.g., you assume that the milk you're buying has been heat-treated but in fact it has not--ergo you deceived into a risk that you did not expect, versus laws which attempt to nanny legally competent people (i.e., adults).

Lets apply this reasoning to a few cases:
Raw milk: legal in-trade
Cigarettes: legal in-trade to legally competent people
ditto Alcohol and other presently designated controlled substances
9.29.2006 4:37pm
curious (mail):
LOL. I strongly suspect Adler is intentionally being a wiseguy here. If so -- nice.
9.29.2006 4:39pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Person - I don't know, but I suspect that if the state feels motorists aren't capable of pumping their own gas (as do NJ and OR), they have already reached that point.

9.29.2006 4:57pm
Alan P (mail):

if the state feels motorists aren't capable of pumping their own gas (as do NJ and OR),

Actually, the restriction on pumping gas in NJ has more to do with a restraint on trade (an attempt by independent dealers to block company owned large volume retailers) than anything to do with real safety concerns.
9.29.2006 5:01pm
Smallholder (mail) (www):
The regulation of Raw Milk is the direct result of the political contributions of the big three milk processors, who wish to maintain a high economic barrier to entry for potential competitors. Milk processing plants are hideously expensive. In Virginia, one must provide a seperate office and bathroom within the facility for the exclusive use of the milk inspector. A bare-bones pasteurization plant that meets state requirements is a multi-hundred thousand dollar investment.

Dairy farmers are receiving in the neighborhood of 22 cents per pound of milk - about 1.60 a gallon. Most grocery stores use dairy products as loss leaders, so the vast majority of the difference between 1.60 and the actual grocery price of milk is gobbled by the milk processors and their transportation costs. The fact that they hold near monopolies perverts the free market and does not allow farmers to shop their milk to earn higher prices.

The justification used to paper over this blatant exploitation of the farmer and consumer is that raw milk is dangerous.

Over two million Americans drink raw milk on a daily basis.

There have been about 1700 illnesses attributed to drinking raw milk over the last thirty years.

This comes to about 60 people per year out of 2 million daily consumers.

Additionally, there had never been a single case of illness attributed to grass-fed dairy cows who are not fed grain.

This requires regulation that creates a virtual monopoly for a troika of companies?

9.29.2006 5:56pm
ras (mail):

Thx for the info. A q, tho: do you have a link? Cuz ... 2 million daily consumers of milk? I would think that figure is way too low (which would only strengthen your pt if a higher number were substituted, but I am curious).
9.29.2006 6:31pm
ras (mail):
Oh wait, I misread. The 2 million figure is fine. Still, got a link?
9.29.2006 7:14pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Never been an illness? This is epidemiological illiteracy.

Raw milk bans are about TB. TB epidemics are not easy to start, but they're hell to stop.
9.29.2006 7:21pm
subpatre (mail):
If raw milk bans are really to prevent transmission of TB —a worthy goal— then the appropriate legislation would prohibit sale of milk containing TB.

Mandating a procedure (heat treatment) to accomplish a different goal (stop TB transmission) is illogical and anti-capitalist. There are many ways to prevent milk from being a TB vector.

The problem with current practice is —as Smallholder wrote— the enormous investment in pasturization. (I'll add that pasturization per se, such as stovetop processing, isn't allowed either, the entire process is mandated by regulation.) The unintended consequence is centralization of supplies, creating a security target.

The heat process may break up microbes, but also breaks up other milk components. Many people labeled 'lactose intolerant' aren't; their bodies reject these byproducts, and they can digest raw milk well.

Question: What is the standard, or resonable standard, to force compliance under the umbrella of public health?
9.29.2006 7:53pm
John Anthes (mail):
Coincidentally, the Seattle Times had articles yesterday and today that put this discussion into a useful context. The front-page article yesterday, titled "E. coli haunts victims long after outbreak", tells the story of a woman who contracted an e. coli infection from a hamburger chain in 1993 at the age of 10 and still suffers symptoms. Today's article, on the front page of the local section and titled "E. coli sickens 2 kids who drank raw milk" tells of children aged 5 and 8 who acquired e. coli infections from raw milk purchased from a local dairy.

At what point should parents be resticted from submitting their minor children to health risks that are well known to health authorities and can cause them to have adverse health effects for many years in the future?
9.29.2006 7:53pm
See, this is why Prof. Adler is mistaken. People who "go through the trouble" of entering into these agreements are more likely to be informed about the case FOR raw milk, sure. But there's no reason to assume they're informed about both sides of the issue.

The law necessarily contains an exception for people drinking milk from their own cows because it would be preposterous for the state to try and regulate that behavior. But the economic reality is that people who are "renting portions of a cow" are, in fact, buying and selling raw milk. It's straightforward exploitation of a loophole and of course it shouldn't be permitted.
9.29.2006 7:59pm

At what point should parents be resticted from submitting their minor children to health risks that are well known to health authorities and can cause them to have adverse health effects for many years in the future?

Maybe at the point where the authorities are willing to forego immunity for their acts?
9.29.2006 8:10pm
Dr. T (mail) (www):
As other commenters noted, raw milk is dangerous because of the presence of bacteria. E. coli and TB were mentioned. TB is especially troublesome because the raw milk drinkers who acquire TB can be asymptomatic yet still transmit TB to other persons. That is what makes this a public health issue. If raw milk drinkers could guarantee that they would never transmit a milk-acquired disease to others, I would support lifting the restriction.

As a child I drank raw goat's milk. As an adult physician I shudder: the goats' udders and bellies were not clean, bits of dirty straw would fall into the milk pail, and all we did was pour the milk through filter paper. Fortunately, we all had good immune systems.
9.29.2006 8:42pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Alan P - as long as state legislators want to publicly defend their cooperation in rent-seeking on spurious safety grounds, I'm willing to point out that they are calling their constituents idiots.

9.29.2006 9:41pm
I saw a simpler but workable small scale arrangement a few decades ago in another state: lactose larceny.

The thieves would park on the road outside the farm gate, climb over; walk to the dairy barn; draw off their gallon or two from the cooler vat; leave money on the floor corresponding to the amount of milk taken, and drive away. Thieves came and went all evening. Farmer didn't call the sheriff if he didn't notice you from the house. Short change him, and he might notice you the next time.

As the bard sang, "to live outside the law you must be honest."
9.29.2006 11:53pm
Steve White (mail) (www):
As a physician, the ban on raw milk is appropriate. It's part of what we do in our basic public health system to assure ourselves of clean food and drink.

Bacterial and mycobacterial (TB) infection from raw milk are serious issues. One need only look back to the time prior to routine pasteurization to see the extent of the problem. There may well be more modern methods of ensuring that milk does not contain bacteria (e.g., beer may be pasteurized or 'cold-filtered'), and one could work to change the law on that basis.

But the idea that raw milk is harmless is simply wrong, and we have substantial medical and public health data to demonstrate that.
9.30.2006 12:24am
bellisaurius (mail):
I have a lovely book from the early 1900's that talks about typhoid, typhus and an assortment of other lovely issues that occured when treatment wasn't as common as today. We forget how bad it really was once upon a time.

In part, we won't be having the huge epidemics even if we did legalize this, because we treat our water now, thereby reducing one of the main vectors, but your still stuck with people who don't wash their hands thouroughly after getting their diarrheal disorder (and they don't. I believe I've seen more than a few studies that point that out).

This is intersting, because sometimes people talk about old laws and rules as if they're silly, or that they don;t apply anymore, but they forget that rules exist because sometimes lawmakers write laws based on solid experience.

This all being said, I agree with fub's comment. I couldn't sanction this legally, but I don't think it will be all that bad either.
9.30.2006 11:39am
subpatre (mail):
Steve White's comment highlights the failure (and the despicable success) of the "gun control" theory of public health.

TB was introduced with the domestication of cattle. It's a readily identified disease; spread primarily by repeated, prolonged exposure --primarily cough droplets-- to other infected persons.

In the first half of the 1900s, public health succeeded in suppressing TB by isolation and treatment of infected individuals, followed by mandatory testing of school children. Food industries were regulated to wash or otherwise sterilize products.

With the advent of antibiotics around WWII, efforts to further reduce TB infections have stopped, and no significant change has been made since.

Statistical detection is still 'acceptable rates' based, medical detection is a 1907 test with judgmental results. Available vaccines aren't mandatory, even for those at most risk (or creating most risk). Detection technology has been ignored. Except for some antibiotics that coincidentally prove effective, the US level of effort against TB stopped at 1950.

The success has been suppression of active cases to an 'acceptable' level and --until recent emerging resistant strains-- antibiotic treatment. Success is also a gargantuan bureaucratic regulatory structure.

Hence the total disregard to alternative sterilizing like microbial filtering, UV or ionization, cryogenics, or molecular locking. Eradication of TB in cattle, a simple and basic step, has never been proposed. Non-invasive, immediate detection is becoming feasible; thanks to Homeland Security, not the public health sector.

There is progress. Current trialing recombinant vaccines should be marketed before 2015, but it's in spite of the government, not because of.

Milk. This screed started with raw milk. There is no legitimate reason why raw milk has to be, or is, a carrier of TB or salmonella, diphtheria, and e. coli. It was once a vector for polio (a virus) but that was eradicated in the campaign to eliminate polio.

The bottom line is that government --the public health services-- have kept milk unsafe and uncidentally perpetuated a small but sustainable TB infection rate. It's also true that a milk producer, through combinations of source control and/or treatment, could produce perfectly safe raw milk.

If the government wants to mandate safe milk, let them mandate "no tuberculin, no salmonella" regulations. It is dishonest and ultimately harmful --as technology progresses-- to mandate procedure or process rather than outcome.
9.30.2006 1:18pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
subpatre sez, 'Eradication of TB in cattle, a simple and basic step, has never been proposed,' a statement I have seen before from rightwing sources.

This is not true. Ask any rancher what happens whwn his cows tests positive. USDA kills his herd. In my county, when the infection proved intractable, ALL the cows were killed.
9.30.2006 3:10pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
At what point should parents be resticted from submitting their minor children to health risks that are well known to health authorities and can cause them to have adverse health effects for many years in the future?
At the point where "health authorities" start giving birth to these children.
9.30.2006 9:22pm
Ken Arromdee:
At the point where "health authorities" start giving birth to these children.

By this reasoning, there should be no child endangerment or child abuse laws at all.

It makes no sense to answer the question of "when shall the government interfere with what a parent does to a child" with "never". Everyone recognizes that there's a point where the child is subject to enough risk that society can't tolerate it. We're only arguing about exactly what "enough" is.
9.30.2006 9:54pm
J. L.:

At what point should parents be resticted from submitting their minor children to health risks that are well known to health authorities and can cause them to have adverse health effects for many years in the future?

As it relates to e. coli, you'd also have to restrict parents from feeding their child sprouts, lettuce, spinach, salami, beef, juice.... Where would it end?

Would we also need to restrict parents from taking their children outside (air polution) or going swimming without testing the water? Or what about parents who drive in cars? Even with proper child seats it's still a "risk."

Do we really need want parents being so regulated that giving your child spinach may be subject to government review? You'd end up with a country full of parents who were scared to feed their own children! Which, of course, would also be a "risk."

Parents need, absolutely, to act reasonable. But to try and ban a parent from exposing their child to any/every potential risk out there would be impossible without virtually criminalizing parenting.

I'm with David M on this one.
9.30.2006 10:20pm
Urijah (mail):
I found this very informative. (About a third-way down the page.) Apparently part of the resistance to raw milk is protectionism from the cheese industry that is afraid of imports of raw-milk cheese. It also mentions that California allows the sale of raw milk as long as it meets the standards for pasteurized milk. (As an aside, FAIRWAY rocks!)
10.1.2006 12:38am
happy lee (mail):
Thank you Urijah and subpatre. Very informative.
People should be free to choose -- but that would upset so many people who cannot bear to live in such a world.
To paraphrse Mencken: that fear that someone, somewhere just exercised free will...the horror.
10.1.2006 4:15am
Smallholder (mail) (www):

The 2 million number comes from Joel Salatin's testimony before the Virginia House of Delegates. I don't know of a link easily available online. Last year a bill allowing the sale of raw milk by people with 3 or fewer cows or six or fewer goats, directly from the farm to the end consumer, provided that the farmer's cows had veterinary certification that they were free of TB, Bangs, etc., passed one house of the Virginia legislature. The milk lobby went nuts and killed it in the other chamber. The 1700 illness is from the pro-pasteurization milk lobbies own testimony. Salatin cleaned their clocks - famously (at least to us libertarian farmer types) compating the number of deaths from Viagra use to raw milk.

The two million drinkers, as I recall (and this was a while ago, so I wouldn't bet the farm - so to speak - on it), was based on the number of people who drink raw milk on their own farms (as I do), as well as a survey by the Weston A. Price foundation (an admittedly libertarian group), and government data. Can I replicate for you? No way. But even diminish this by half and the 1700 illnesses claimed by the milk lobby are still less than the numbers of men suffering heart attacks from the little blue pill.

As to epidimeology, larger, grain-fed herds suffering from acidosis and consuming a steady diet of antibiotics are a recipe for new and nasty bugs. Grass-fed cows who don't live in their own own manure, have clean teats, are healthy, able to enjoy the disinfectant power of sunshine, and aren't living cheek by jowel next to five hundred other cows are healthier and less likely to pass on the disease.

No one who favors raw milk is saying that cows shouldn't be tested for diseases capable of transferring to humans. We do support that - it is, after all, our kids who will be drinking the milk.

The lie beneath the "public health" invocation of the milk lobby is obvious in that it is only illegal to SELL raw milk - one can give it away quite legally. I served raw milk ice cream to sixty of my students and their parents at our post AP-test party last year. Legally. Safely.

For those who say that the problem is milk-handling and that milk is a "perfect medium for bacteria," I'd reply: The same goes for pasteurized milk post-handling. One can have a much greater level of safety if one knows the farmer and the milk went into clean bottles immediately instead of being passed through dozens of hands and transporters in the industrial chain.

One last note - the historical background to pasteurization in the United States results from the New Immigration at the turn of the last century. With refrigeration unavailable to the vast majority of slum dwellers, entrepreneurs built dairies in the basements of tenements, next door to distilleries, and began feeding distellery waste grains to their cows. These cows lived short lives in the disease-laden conditions and passed TB back and forth. A combination of crowding, lack of sanitation, no refrigeration at all, acidosis (grain feeding alters the ph of the rumen) lowering the immune system of the cows, as well as the disease-infested poor immigrant workers, all contributed to the growing health crisis of the rapidly growing cities. Progressive reformers argued for pasteurization as a way to safeguard public health. Milk processors now had a competitive advantage: paseurized milk could be sold for a higher price.

The historical neccesity of pasteurizing urban milk no longer exists - but we still have the processors demanding laws that protect their comfy little industry.
10.1.2006 11:59am
Smallholder (mail) (www):
As to the "food saftey" homeland secutiry argument:

Because milk processing is so centrealized, we are indeed vulnerable to terrorist attack. At one point an egghead in homeland security suggested that the government mandate guards at farm bulk tanks. Dairy farmers collect two days' milking proceeds in a bulk tank. Milk trucks show up every other day to pump the bulk tanks into the truck - where it comingles with the milk of many farms. This milk is then trucked to a centralized pastuerizer, where it is further mixed with hundreds of farms' milk. The milk plants can't test for every poision. In order to poison the milk goinbg to thousands of school children, a terrorist could stop by any family dairy farm and pour his nasty concoction into a milk tank - and then our own industrial agriculture will disperse it for him. Of course, the realization that no family farm could affored to pay three additional salaries (thee eight hour shifts for guards), killed that proposal.

A more reasonable way to limit the potential danger would be to decentralize the food chain. If we got rid of some of the more ridiculous regulations regarding milk processing (like the inspector's bathroom for the love of God), we might see smaller co-ops arrive that only handled the milk from twenty farms and was served locally. A terorist could still get a small population, but the great reduction of the reach makes this route less attractive to those who would do us harm.

But we won't see that: The big milk processors would fight tooth and nail to stop any loosening of processing requirements.

We could also reduce naturally-occuring disease by stopping the subsidization of corporate farms. Note that I'm not saying we should ban 1000 cow dairies like the ones where most of California's "happy cows" live in long sheds, never to see daylight. But these gigantic farms only make sense when the government has "cost-share" programs that pay for huge manure lagoons, and milk-basis, and milk payment vouchers, and the whole stinking lot of farmer welfare. Remove the government welfare to the big farms, and the little farmers can start competing.

More decentralization = more biosecurity.

Smaller herds = better cow health and comfort.

Smaller herds = less environmental damage.

Less farmer welfare = smaller government expenditures and lower tazexs (well, slightly lower, ag is a small piece of the budget pie).

Viable small farms = Healthier rural America.

Everyone wins.

Except the big farmers and the drug companies...
10.1.2006 12:14pm
Happy-lee (mail):
Blog threads like this reaffirm my view that VC is better than porn. More exciting, rewarding and a lot less likely to land one a postmortem hotspot.

Thank you so much, Smallholder. A little hisotrical perspective goes a long way.

The milk issue reminds me of the debates surrounding, for example, radiating meat (cheaper than running a clean pen) FDA "organic" rules (cheaper to change meaning of word than to actually engage in the farming that results in the produce originally referred to with that word), etc.

It makes me wonder why any thoughtful and decent fellow would be anything but libertarian in his outlook. But I suppose faith in government is the true opiate of the masses.
10.1.2006 3:19pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Smallholder, did you see my comment above about killing all the cows in my county because of intractable TB?

I did not say there, because I did not know you would make it an issue, but they were all range-fed beeves. No grain and no barns in 140 square miles. No dairying and no dairy within 50 miles.

It took about 20 years to eradicate TB from that area.

I don't know if you really know anything else about cattle, but you're wrong about range cattle and TB.
10.1.2006 10:57pm
TJIT (mail):
My personal inclination is to let people buy raw milk, as long as they can keep any diseases developed from this limited to their own family.

This becomes an issue in setting like child care facilites where improper handwashing by the children of staff can lead to the spreading of pathogens from one child to the other.

What are the ethical, legal, philosophical implications of a family drinking raw milk and vectoring an e coli 0157 infection from their children to other children who don't drink raw milk?
10.2.2006 12:37am
TJIT (mail):
Some commenters have raised concerns about large dairy producers and centralization.

Getting rid of the dairy subsidies would be a good thing, having a working market might go a long way to making sure farms are rationally sized. However, there is no assurance that rational sized farms would be small farms.

Interesting points about centralization. Again this is a case of trade offs and I'm not sure what is safer

1. Bigger centralized processors with abundant resources for QC and food safety measures or

2. More diffuse distribution with less resources to devote to qc and food safety issues.

Would smaller more diffuse distribution systems be able to supply the amount of product needed, in a timely manner, at a price the consumer wanted?

I don't know the answer but these are issues that tend to get glossed over by proponents of the smaller more diffuse system.
10.2.2006 12:51am
Smallholder (mail) (www):

I didn't mean to argue that TB is nonexistent in range cattle - I was pointing out that the explosion of disease was an artifact of bringing dairy cows into the city. That said, with modern testing, there have been NO illnesses transferred to humans from grass-based dairies - but grass-based dairies, like all dairies, have testing procedure for those diseases. TB is watched much more closely is dairy cattle since the disease is quite contagious in milk form. I'm not arguing that there should be no regulation - only that regulation should be health-protection oriented (i.e. Bangs, Brucellosis, TB, Somatic Cell Count, E. Coli testing), not "protection of the big company" testing.

TJIT, if we also withdraw the ridiculous corn subsidies started by Butz, rational meat and grain producers would become smaller - only artificially subsidized corn (a subsidy that is designed not to help the family farm but food conglomerates like Archer-Daniels-Midland), grass feeding becomes cheaper. Additionally, without cost-sharing to alleviate corporate farm and feedlot waste "manaegement," the cost of disposing of a thousand cows' waste become untenable. With a small-sized farm, the dairy and beef cows do not have a waste problem - the bacteria in the soil can easily handle the waste of a cow per acre. Particularly with grazing dairies, there is a maximum limit set by how much energy the cows spend moving from paddock to paddock. If the cows spend all day walking, they don't have time to eat, chew their cud, or make milk. New Zealand is about at that limit right now.
10.2.2006 9:45am
Worth noting on TB--TB can be passed from cows to people quite easily. But bovine TB is extremely rare in the US, due to the long-standing Bovine Tuberculosis Eradication Program, and all dairy cattle are routinely tested for TB.
10.2.2006 12:09pm
Volvodriver (mail):
I was under the impression that most raw milk is used to make cheese, rather than consumed directly. I therefore understand the ant-raw milk charge to be good old fashioned protectionism: We can't have people eating that dangerous Francified cheese when they could be having Kraft American singles, right?
10.2.2006 4:41pm