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Wisconsin Safe Milk Coalition strongly opposes raw milk bill

Sept. 19, 2013 | 0 comments

The Wisconsin Safe Milk Coalition, a group that includes dairy farmers, health professionals, public health officials, dairy processor groups and veterinarians, opposes a new state proposal that would allow the sale of raw milk from dairy farms directly to consumers.

During a press conference held last week in advance of a hearing on the bill, members of the group outlined their objections to the measure Senate Bill 236 and the companion bill in the Assembly, AB 287.

Shawn Pfaff, a spokesman for the group, said the reason for the group's strong opposition is that unpasteurized (raw) milk is unsafe for human consumption.

He outlined about 120 outbreaks of illness that have occurred in the United States since 1998, gleaned from reports at the Centers for Disease Control database and from news reports nationwide.

Of these outbreaks, the majority came from consumption of fluid milk that was unpasteurized rather than other dairy products.

Pfaff said he was asking lawmakers to "carefully consider the impacts to public health before supporting any legislation that allows for the sale of raw milk in Wisconsin."

Pfaff said the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had reached out to him to add its voice to the opposition to Wisconsin's raw milk bill.

John Sheehan, director of plant and dairy food safety at the FDA, provided written testimony to the Wisconsin Senate's Committee on Financial Institutions and Rural Issues, chaired by Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center.)

The FDA official said there has been a lot of misinformation on raw milk and pasteurized milk. "Allowing any type of raw milk sales directly to consumers does increase the probability of serious harm occurring to Wisconsin consumers, especially children, the aged, infirm and immuno-compromised.

"This bill would actually increase the probability of a statewide outbreak occurring in Wisconsin," he added.

"Raw milk is inherently dangerous and may contain a whole host of pathogens," Sheehan added.

The Wisconsin Public Health Association and the Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments also opposed the bill in very strong language. "Raw milk is known to contain human pathogens and can expose individuals to food-borne diseases capable of causing severe illness and even death.

"Fortunately milk pasteurization is a simple process that can effectively kill disease-causing bacteria that proliferate in raw milk," the group said in a statement.

Similarly the Wisconsin Medical Society's senior vice president for government relations Mark Grapentine said his 12,000-member organization opposed the loosening of standards for the sale of unpasteurized milk on a food safety basis.

Citing several studies and analyses, Grapentine said "the science is clear as are the results when laws protect consumers." For these reasons, his organization urged lawmakers to oppose the bill.

Mike Gutzeit, a pediatrician and chief medical officer at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin said he believes the bill "unintentionally poses a potential threat to the health of children.

"While I appreciate and support free choice, when that free choice may unnecessarily adversely affect the health of children, it is important for that consideration to be raised," he added.

Even well-intentioned and meticulous farms selling raw milk cannot assure safety on a consistent basis at the same level as pasteurization, Gutzeit said. "Pasteurization is the key to safe dairy products."

coalition includes farmers

The coalition also includes dairy farmers and several of their organizations. On behalf of the Dairy Business Association Laurie Fischer, executive director, said her organization "overwhelmingly recognizes the substantial risk for serious infectious diseases to occur with the consumption of purchased unpasteurized milk."

"The DBA's members are proud of the wholesome milk products our state produces. The Wisconsin dairy industry has seen incredible growth over the past decade. We cannot risk losing Wisconsin's title as the nation's number-one cheese producer by allowing Senate Bill 236 to pass."

On the basis of human health concerns and protection of Wisconsin's dairy industry, she asked lawmakers to oppose the bill.

Waterloo dairy farmer Bob Topel said that even back in his youth on the dairy farm, his mother would use a kettle and thermometer to pasteurize the milk from their bulk tank.

Expressing his opposition to the bill, Topel said consumers purchasing raw milk from farms would subject themselves to pathogens.

"Many proponents of raw milk are the same people who wouldn't leave their houses in the morning without their bottle of hand sanitizer. They want to play Russian roulette with the dairy industry," he said.

Ron Buholzer, president of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, said his organization strongly opposes the bill. Food safety is the first thought at Klondike Cheese, run by Buholzer and his family.

"The future of the dairy industry is at stake when some outbreak of a disease occurs," he said.

At Klondike, they have spent $1 million in brick, mortar and equipment related to food safety in the last year and each month they spend $6,000 on product testing for pathogens to assure food is safe.

"This bill proposes to take farms out of the food safety system," he said. "It is a 100-year step backward that purposely endangers families in Wisconsin. It is a terrible idea."

Dr. Kim Hetsko, MD, an internist with specialty interest in infectious disease, told reporters that he has seen diphtheria transmitted to children in other countries through consumption of unpasteurized milk.

When in St. Petersburg after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he saw 70 kids in a hospital ward with diphtheria because the country had seen a breakdown of its immunization and food safety programs. "These were all preventable."

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