Mmmm, what’s that flavor, Campylobacter?


The Tomah Journal writes:

In most circumstances, the test of whether an activity should be illegal isn’t whether it creates harm, but whether the cost of eradicating the harm is exceeded by enforcement costs.

Many activities — drunk driving, manufacturing methamphetamine, hunting from the side of the road, dumping untreated sewage — are worth the cost of enforcement. But is selling raw milk? Two area lawmakers don’t think so, and they’re probably right.

State Rep. Chris Danou (D-Trempealeau) and state Sen. Pat Kreitlow (D-Chippewa Falls) have introduced legislation that would legalize on-farm sales of raw milk in Wisconsin. Critics claim that raw milk is unsafe, and that’s true in the narrowest literal sense. According to the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 39 raw milk-related bacterial outbreaks in the United States between 1998 and 2005 sickened 831 people, hospitalized 66 and killed one. In Wisconsin, bacterial outbreaks linked to unpasteurized milk sickened 189 people and hospitalized three.

In the large scheme of things, however, those aren’t large numbers. Last year, 23 people died in Wisconsin snowmobile accidents, and nobody suggests banning snowmobiles.

The benefits of raw milk are economic. Raw milk has a passionate, if small, base of consumers who are willing to pay farmers top dollar. In a struggling economy when it’s difficult for dairy farmers to make ends meet, it’s an economic boost that can’t be easily dismissed.

Most Americans grew up with pasteurized milk, and in an easily grossed-out food culture like ours (how many of us eat beef tongue, sweetbreads or chicken gizzards?) the prospect of raw milk as a widely consumed commodity appears very slim. And there’s no doubt that if a consumer wants to follow a safety-first approach to food consumption, pasteurized milk is the logical option. But if consumers want to take a moderate risk and consume raw milk, it’s not worth the resources of the state to tell them they can’t. Wisconsin has bigger law enforcement problems than people who take their chances.

How many kids have to get sick and die from consuming unpasteurized milk? If the consumer wants to take the risk and consume such a product, fine, just don’t impose it on your kids and don’t say you weren’t informed.

            I remember quite fondly when I worked in the Provincial Lab in Alberta and was testing unpasteurized milk that had made a number people sick. I was shocked from the number of positive bacterial cultures, in particular, Campylobacter jejuni, a nasty foodborne pathogen.