The ‘explosive growth’ of raw milk carries costs for the state
“Explosive growth.” This is how the Washington State Department of Agriculture describes what has happened in the raw milk industry over the past 10 years. The numbers say it all. There were only six raw milk dairies in the state in 2006. There are now 39, more than double the number in 2013, up from 18. All are grade approved dairies. A, which means their milk must meet the same food safety standards. as milk from conventional dairies. State officials say the number of raw milk dairies is likely to continue to increase. Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized. When milk is pasteurized, it is heated to a temperature high enough to kill pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli , Salmonella and listeria. Health officials warn that children are particularly vulnerable to pathogens in raw milk, mainly because their immune systems are still developing. Washington State law requires all raw milk products sold at retail to carry a warning label that states: “WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and may contain harmful bacteria. Pregnant women, children, the elderly and people with reduced resistance to disease are at greatest risk of harm from the use of this product. “ Despite numerous outbreaks and recalls of raw milk across the country and warnings from federal and state agencies about the potential dangers associated with consuming raw milk, demand is high. And keep growing. Passionate supporters of raw milk have many reasons for avoiding pasteurized milk. Many say they can drink raw milk without experiencing allergic reactions such as bloating and other digestive discomforts. Others like that it often comes from family farms, unlike what they call “factory farms”. Still others praise it for its power to cure conditions ranging from arthritis to cancer – claims the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says they are anecdotal and not based on science. And most consumers of raw milk say it just tastes better. “The real deal” is a popular rallying cry in raw milk circles. “The cat has been taken out of the bag and no one will be able to put it back,” said Jim Sinnema, owner of Old Silvana Creamery north of Seattle, referring to the growing popularity of raw milk. WHAT’S OK AND WHAT’S NOT OK The United States Food and Drug Administration prohibits the sale or interstate distribution of raw milk. In other words, raw milk produced in one state cannot be sold in another state. the U.S. Pasteurized Milk Ordinance requires that milk sold through state lines be pasteurized and meet the standards of the ordinance. A dozen states currently allow the sale of raw milk at retail outlets. Among them are California, Idaho and Pennsylvania. However, milk must meet certain standards, usually Grade A standards. Sixteen states completely ban raw milk. Along with Washington State’s requirement that raw milk dairies be certified as Category A, operations must be inspected and their milk tested regularly. It is a practical way to face reality. If sales of raw milk are illegal, say many public health officials, consumers will seek it out anyway, putting themselves and their families at risk. HOW MUCH IS SECURITY AND WHO PAYS? Here’s the catch: Raw milk requires more testing than conventional milk. Yong Liu, director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s microbiology laboratory, said that raw milk is not pasteurized, so it must also be tested for foodborne pathogens, in addition to same quality control tests performed on pasteurized milk. The five pathogen tests concern Salmonella, Listeria, campylobacter and two types of E. coli. Up to nine tests are often performed on raw milk samples. Washington officials say raw milk is one of the riskiest food items for sale in the state.
“Raw milk and products made from raw milk such as artisan cheeses and fresh cheeses are high risk products and potential sources of pathogenic bacteria that can cause serious illness, hospitalization or death,” said the state agriculture department in its request for funding to hire another. microbiologist to cope with the increasing workload associated with raw milk. The ministry is performing more than five times the number of tests on raw milk than it did in 2006. With this in mind, the ministry’s initial budget request was $ 252,000 per year to hire two microbiologists to ‘it’ can continue to fulfill its statutory obligation to analyze samples of raw milk. “Without this funding, the lab will have to reduce or eliminate critical surveillance testing of raw milk products, putting consumers at greater risk of serious illness or death,” according to the budget request. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee only requested half the amount the ministry requested in his 2016 budget proposal to the Legislature. The fate of the proposal, which will include how much money the ministry Agriculture will actually get for microbiological testing of raw milk and other expenses related to testing, will not be known until April. Even so, Hector Castro, the department’s communications director, said “any additional funding is a plus.” “Our goal is to secure the appropriate funding for testing,” said Steve Fuller, policy assistant for the department. “We are committed to doing this in the interests of food security.” “We want to make sure the risks are mitigated,” Castro said. THE NUMBER GAP – ‘TOO SMALL TO FAIL’ The large discrepancy between what raw milk dairies pay to be certified as Category A dairies, compared to the costs they incur, is made clear in a recent report that the state Department of Agriculture has prepared for the Washington Legislature. Right now, all dairies – conventional and raw – pay an annual royalty of $ 250, an amount that was recently increased by $ 50. This represents a total of $ 9,750 per year for the 39 state’s raw milk dairies. Samples are taken each month from raw milk dairies by the department’s food safety officers. The microbiology laboratory receives approximately 52 samples from the 39 farms. Some farms produce more than one product, which is why there are more samples to analyze than individual farms. Considering the costs per sample and the annual cost of the microbiology laboratory to analyze samples from raw milk dairies, the total cost is $ 252,000 per year. By distributing this amount on a dairy basis, it costs the department $ 6,462 to analyze samples of raw milk products. Then there is the expense of finding a foodborne pathogen. Follow-up work may include an outbreak investigation, a recall of contaminated products, and other response activities. This additional work involves the agricultural department’s food safety program and the microbiology laboratory. In the past eight years, the microbiological laboratory has found pathogenic microorganisms in raw milk 15 times. Fifty-three illnesses associated with raw milk have been reported during the same period. The lab added modern lab testing methods and technology to provide faster turnaround time for test results. This, in turn, allows the department to respond more quickly to foodborne illnesses caused by contaminated milk. But this new technology, which includes molecular testing, is more expensive than the old methods, according to the department’s budget request. There are other costs, some of them considerable, as well as offsets, but when you look at the bigger picture, the ministry report says that if every raw milk dairy had to pay all the costs required for the production. license, the price would be $ 12,378 more. the license fee of $ 250. As it stands, the state pays around 98% of these costs. But, according to ministry officials, given that raw milk dairies are so small, “an annual assessment of this magnitude would be extremely difficult for most raw milk dairies to absorb.” WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM OLYMPIA It is an outbreak of E. Coli in 2006 that sickened 18 people who drank raw milk from a herd-shared dairy, galvanizing lawmakers in Washington state to act. In herd-sharing agreements, which many refer to as a “legal loophole,” the customers, not the dairy, own the cows. Dan Wood, now executive director of the Washington State Dairy Federation and then a senior official in the state’s Farm Bureau, said that in response to the 2006 outbreak, a state lawmaker proposed to making anything relating to raw milk a Class C felony, subject to a fine of $ 5,000 and one year in prison. It was then that the Dairy Federation and the Farm Bureau realized that the state should decide to either require inspections and tests or to turn a blind eye to the fact that people were going to get raw milk anyway. . “This is why we have supported Category A requirements,” said Wood. “People have to have confidence in the whole industry. Our argument 10 years ago was that all dairy products should be safe, and inspections and testing help us do that. The public should know that the milk they get here in Washington is from a Class A dairy. ”Referring to the herd-sharing dairies that were operating“ under the radar, ”he said the state had taken the lead. right decision in opening the door for them so that they can get a license as Category A dairies – provided they meet all the necessary requirements, which includes inspections and testing. In addition to helping raw milk dairies get into Category A by assessing only a fraction of the actual cost of obtaining a license, the state has also taken other means to help the industry. In 2006, thanks to a legislative appropriation, the Ministry of Agriculture receives $ 45,000 annually. And in 2005, a change in state regulation allowed raw milk producers to cap milk bottles by hand, instead of having to cap them with machines. This reduced the investment costs required to create a raw milk dairy and, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, “fueled at least part of the growth observed”. Regarding the budget request to fund another microbiologist for raw milk testing, milkman Sinnema said it is very important that raw milk continues to be as safe as possible. “If there is a need to hire another microbiologist to help maintain the quality of raw milk in Washington State at its current level, then this is something that should be looked into,” he said. . 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