Earlier in the week, Food Safety News ran a piece by the great Bill Marler on why we are seeing so many raw milk outbreaks lately. He was immediately referring to the Oregon outbreak vectored to Foundation Farms, and a similar outbreak in several counties in Missouri. I’ve got my Google News Alerts set to sniff out “Raw Milk” articles and I too have noticed that my daily queue is always full. A good 70% of the stories are illness-related.

Whether you are a raw milk proponent or a public health scold, Marler poses an excellent question.

Product popularity has to play a part in the increase we are seeing. For better of for worse, the market for raw milk has become the beneficiary of a die-hard group of consumers and their zeal for the product is drawing in new producers. More producers, more milk, more outbreaks – simple arithmetic.

Yet it’s still pretty shocking that raw milk producers are not doing more to turn out safer product. Besides pasteurization, vastly improved handling practices should be able to at least slow the rates of illness we are seeing.

The reason we are seeing more outbreaks also stems from ignorance of the law. Even in states where selling raw milk is legal, dairies still have to face strict liability in civil court for the harm caused by their products. If farmers had a better understanding of the almost-absolute duty the law imposes on them to make food that is safe to eat, they would either leave the raw milk business altogether or implement the technologies and practices that would lower the overall incidence of infection. The up-tick in outbreaks tells us neither is being done, and that is a shame for the farmers who may have to part with land to compensate the sick.

Cari Rincker and I will be covering some of these topics in our upcoming CLE, “Counseling the Local Food Movement“. Check us out on May 10, especially if you are an attorney who would like to begin advising some raw milk producers on the comprehensive issues they’ll have to contend with when they get into the business.

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