In Louisiana, we are known for great food. And it is no secret that we sometimes eat things that are not common in other parts of the world. Crawfish, of course, come to mind. But despite our adventurous palate as a state, we still have to be careful. Foodborne pathogens like Escherichia coli O157, Campylobacter jejuni, andSalmonella are incredibly serious, sometimes deadly. These pathogens often inflict the greatest damage to the most vulnerable — kids, the elderly, or those with compromised immune systems. Our Louisiana public officials — elected and regulatory — should take appropriate steps to protect against outbreaks of foodborne pathogens. That is why a bill making its way through the legislative process merits attention.
The Louisiana House of Representatives recently passed a bill allowing the private sale of raw milk in limited circumstances. Raw milk is milk from cows, sheep, or goats that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful microorganisms. As a result, it can carry harmful pathogens that “cooking” or heating the milk is intended to reduce or eliminate.
My friend and colleague, Food Safety Lawyer Bill Marler, wrote about the House committee hearing for this bill. He followed that up with an article about a letter to state health officials by Robert V. Tauxe, who is an MD and MPH and a bigwig at Centers for Disease Control in DC. In that letter, Dr. Tauxe outlined the historic issues with raw milk and the value of pasteurization. Dr. Tauxe states that, “Raw milk was recognized as a source of severe infections over 100 years ago, and pasteurization of milk to prevent these infections is one of the public health triumphs of the 20th century.” He concluded his letter to state health officials by saying, “To protect the health of the public, state regulators should continue to support pasteurization and consider further restricting or prohibiting the sale and distribution of raw milk and other unpasteurized dairy products in their states.” Sounds like maybe Dr. Tauxe is someone our state legislators may want to listen to on this subject.
I know, I know. I can hear the complaints about Dr. Tauxe now — “I don’t know where this doctor is from, but here in the Great State of Louisiana, we eat crawfish! And raw oysters! And boudin! And we wash it all down with hurricanes. We don’t need some federal bureaucrat with a bunch of letters behind his name telling us what to eat and drink!” Well, let’s forget about the federal bureaucrat for a moment. And for the record, I am with the folks who are betting Dr. Tauxe doesn’t even know what boudin is. (Plus, it’s hard not to notice that the “e” is in the wrong place in his last name. If he were Dr. Teaux — instead of Dr. Tauxe — our trust factor in Louisiana would increase exponentially. But for now, we will write the good doctor off.)
The problem with that kind of jingoism, however, is that our own health officials have gone on record that raw milk is a bad idea. In a straightforward Q&A, Louisiana’s Office of Public Health has stated that “Raw milk can carry harmful bacteria and other germs that can make you very sick or kill you. While it is possible to get foodborne illnesses from many different foods, raw milk is one of the riskiest of all.” OPH also states that “Raw milk can cause serious infections. Raw milk and raw milk products (such as cheeses and yogurts made with raw milk) can be contaminated with bacteria that can cause serious illness, hospitalization, or death. (My emphasis.)
So it’s not just that pointy-headed federal bureaucrat warning about the dangers of raw milk. It is also our very own Louisiana Office of Public Health. And OPH’s position is rather uncontroversial. In fact, the Academy of Pediatrics issued a similar policy position earlier this year in which it stated that “Raw milk and milk products from cows, goats, and sheep continue to be a source of bacterial infections attributable to a number of virulent pathogens, including Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella species, Brucella species, and Escherichia coli O157.”
The pediatricians recognized that some swear to the health benefits of raw milk. But the baby doctors stated that the “benefits of these natural factors [the natural or unprocessed factors not inactivated by pasteurization] have not been clearly demonstrated in evidence-based studies and, therefore, do not outweigh the risks of raw milk consumption. Substantial data suggest that pasteurized milk confers equivalent health benefits compared with raw milk, without the additional risk of bacterial infections.” (My emphasis.) Maybe Dr. Tauxe is on to something.
And finally, there are real victims of raw milk contaminated with foodborne pathogens. Bill’s firm has an informative website, Real Raw Milk Facts. That website outlines many of the hot topics but, just as importantly, profiles victims who offer their insights on the dangers and benefits of raw milk. it is worth a look for anyone interested in this issue.
I guess adults should generally be free to eat and drink whatever they want. But it’s not a “nanny state” or “Big Brother” when elected and regulatory officials make policy decisions impacting public health — particularly when the victims are society’s most vulnerable. Indeed, I guess that’s why we don’t see a bunch of un-immunized kids riding around on the back of motorcycles,without helmets, smoking unfiltered cigarettes and drinking out of open containers on their way to cockfights. Our state legislators make these kinds of policy decisions all of the time — and rightly so. Let’s hope that they will ultimately make the right one here.
J. R. Whaley understands the law and how to get results in litigation. His reputation for quality and results means you can trust him to get the best results for your case. In addition to complex litigation cases, J. R. also has years of experience working on serious personal injury cases including death, financial injury cases and disputes between insurance companies and their policy holders.