CONSIDERATIONS & SUGGESTIONS for Lawmakers Regarding Raw Milk Cow-Shares


As Utah lawmakers consider what to do with HB 104, the proposal to re-legalize raw milk cow shares, I want to offer a few considerations and make some suggestions for their consideration.

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 8.46.21 AM1. Take Fundamental Principles Seriously.  Consider how the following statement applies to this discussion:

We believe government properly exists by the consent of the governed and must be restrained from intruding into the freedoms of its citizens.  The function of government is not to grant rights, but to protect the unalienable, God-given rights of life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.

Is this what you believe?  Is this what you stand for?  Then do something about it.  Quit depriving people of their fundamental rights, freedoms and liberties by attempting to micromanage their lives and personal decisions.  In order to remain free as a people, both in this country, and in this state, these fundamental rights need to be respected and preserved.  Although this is a statement from the Republican Party Platform, it should be part of every party’s platform, and should be the fundamental foundation for this discussion.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 7.04.18 AM2.  Raw Milk is Not a Public Health Issue.  Come to grips with the hypocrisy of the whole raw milk cow-share discussion.  Compare, for example, the raw milk cow-share discussion with the woodsmoke discussion.  Although many believe that people should have the freedom of choice to heat their homes with a woodburning stove, if they desire, and if it doesn’t affect or injure others, there are those who argue that woodsmoke does pose a public health hazard for everyone else.  Clearly the woodsmoke discussion is a balancing act between freedom of choice and public health, safety and welfare.  Raw milk, on the other hand, has no real public health implications.  People who choose to drink raw milk also consciously choose to assume any risks associated with its consumption.  But such risks are really not practically contagious* (see note of clarification, below), so consumption of raw milk poses little or no practical health risk to anyone else.  Unlike alcohol or drugs, there is likewise no credible evidence that raw milk can cause intoxication, which combined with such activities as driving, might put others’ safety at risk. The only people really at risk are those who make the conscious choice to drink raw milk.  Even in those situations where there have been issues and health concerns associated with raw milk consumption, they have not been real “public” health concerns. Raw milk poses little, if any, legitimate public health or safety risks.

3.  Familiarize Yourself with the Documented Health Benefits of Raw Milk.  This isn’t just a raw milk cult myth.  Although it is well-documented that raw milk can be an effective way to address lactose intolerance, there is solid evidence that health benefits go well beyond lactose intolerance.  Consider these facts as reported by the New York Times:

“These days, one in five American children have a respiratory allergy like hay fever, and nearly one in 10 have asthma. Nine people die daily from asthma attacks. While the increase in respiratory allergies shows some signs of leveling off, the prevalence of food and skin allergies continues to rise. Five percent of children are allergic to peanuts, milk and other foods, half again as many as 15 years ago. And each new generation seems to have more severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reactions than the last.

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 7.03.09 AMBut according to paradigm-busting studies, Amish children suffer from a far lower incidence of asthma and other allergies.  Consumption of raw milk from an early age has been identified as perhaps the biggest reason Amish children are healthier.  Although such studies are well-documented in a variety of media, and are especially prominent in natural health media circles, including The Complete Patient, even mainstream media, including this New York Times article have addressed this issue.  According to ABC News, “One of the most important observations in the study was the benefit derived from drinking raw, unpasteurized milk.” According to an article from Global Research:

An international team of researchers recently confirmed that children who drink fresh milk – unprocessed and unpasteurized – have a better immune response to allergens and are far less likely to develop asthma.

True intellectual honesty requires consideration of all the statistics, including weighing the health benefits associated with drinking raw milk as well as the risks.  While this is a balancing act that requires weighing the pros versus cons and risks versus rewards, it is a balancing act that should be left to individuals.

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 7.10.56 AM4.  There is No Justification for the One-Size-Fits-All Approach.  When the cow-share approach is typically described, it is presented as a means by which small dairy producers may attempt to circumvent and get around regulatory requirements, including inspections and testing.  But the reality is, in far more cases cow-share arrangements are primarily consumer-driven, as raw milk consumers become more assertive about seeking and finding raw milk options.  The diagram at the bottom of the page is just one approach.  Cow share co-ops take a variety of forms, and are also much more common in rural areas of the state where families, friends and neighbors make such arrangements — typically on a non-profit basis — to work together, to be more self-sufficient, and produce their own milk.  Yet the one-size-fits-all prohibition makes such arrangements illegal, regardless of location, size and other important factors and considerations.

5.  Cow-share Consumers Can Govern Themselves.  Raw milk consumers are different.  They are serious about what they eat and drink. There are a growing number of people who want to have a closer relationship with the farmers who produce their food.   They are not satisfied to just buy their food off store shelves.  They want to know who is producing it, and see how it is produced.  They want to have a relationship with the people producing the food.  In the case of milk, they want to know and have a relationship with the animals. Typical cow-share advocates fit within this niche.  They want to have ownership.  Cow shares provide a good option for people who desire such relationships.  Herd shares allow such people to have much more control of their own destinies.  Rather than be dependent upon government to regulate them, or the people milking the cows and putting the milk in the bottles, they are in a position to engage in such direct regulation themselves.  They have a direct opportunity to observe sanitation and cleanliness, and to make informed decisions.  Cow-share consumers and producers are equipped to govern themselves.

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 6.57.11 AM6.  Rights vs. Entitlements.  The single biggest reason why lawmakers vote against raw milk related issues is because of pressure applied by Big Ag special interest groups associated with the conventional dairy industry, including dairy associations and the Farm Bureau.  The thing lawmakers need to bear in mind is that just because these groups and their members have the right to produce and market milk as they desire — to the masses — that right does not reasonably include an inherent entitlement to interfere with others’ right to make other choices and to do differently, including the decision to drink raw milk and/or to enter into cow-share arrangements as an option for producing the raw milk they desire to consume.  Individual freedom and liberty should not be sacrificed to the conventional dairy industry’s fear of competition, and perceived entitlement to dominate and control the entire marketplace.  In a free market economy, supply and demand should be the primary considerations. There is growing consumer demand for raw milk that the conventional dairy industry simply ignores.  The conventional dairy industry should not be entitled to manipulate the marketplace by attempting to create unreasonable fears, and unduly interfere with the reasonable production and supply of raw milk to those who insist that is what they want.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 7.07.55 AM7.  Quit Being Ruled by Fear.   It has become clear that irrational, exaggerated fears fuel much of the sentiment against both raw milk and cow-share arrangements.  Such fears run the gambit from legitimate health risks — that must be weighed against all other health risks, and benefits  — to crazy concerns about what to do with all the extra milk a good cow is capable of producing, to whether cows will receive proper vaccinations, and what will happen to the cow’s calf, and how the proceeds from the sale of the cow will be divided among the cow’s owners.   There are already a host of other laws addressing these issues, concerns, and governing transactions and interactions among human beings.  Cow-share arrangements and consumption of raw milk is not rocket science.  People can figure it out, and should have the right and opportunity to do so without nanny-state lawmakers attempting to micromanage their affairs.

8.  Take a Positive, Pro-active Approach.  Rather than deprive people of their fundamental freedom to exercise property rights and make basic choices about what they eat and drink and how to acquire it, by attempting to micro-manage their every move, I recommend pro-active education and providing opportunities for interested parties to learn correct principles, and allow them to govern themselves.  To that end, I recommend giving people the freedom and opportunity to make Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 7.04.17 AMsuch choices themselves, coupled with voluntary options for proactive education.  If sanitation associated with raw milk production is a concern, and lawmakers feel like extra precaution is warranted, I suggest teaming up with Utah State Extension Service, and offering workshops once or twice a year to those who want to produce and consume raw milk, including cow-share participants, providing classes on how to produce, store, and consume raw milk safely, small herd management issues, etc.  If the Amish can produce and consume raw milk safely, using 19th century methods and technology, certainly we ought to be able to do so as well.  But then again, because of the way they live, the Amish have more opportunities to develop common sense, which is something our children are are increasingly being deprived of opportunities to develop, based on the multitude of ways we are increasingly being micromanaged.

This simple diagram illustrates one possible approach to a cow-share arrangement:

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 7.01.45 AM

* Note of clarification: Technically, Salmonella, E. coli, campylobactor and listeria are arguably contagious person-to-person, with listeria only being contagious from mother to unborn child. My understanding, however, is that  as a practical matter, spreading those risks person-to-person is extremely rare, unless people do absolutely nothing to address the issue, through even reasonable everyday sanitation and cleanliness. In other words — and I hate to be this graphic — but if someone is essentially swimming in (and consuming) the vomit or feces of someone who is infected, without any effort at basic sanitation and cleanliness, there is definitely a risk of contagion person-to-person — as well as a whole bunch of other risks as well!


6 thoughts on “CONSIDERATIONS & SUGGESTIONS for Lawmakers Regarding Raw Milk Cow-Shares

  1. Thanks for putting together such intelligent commentary. I’m a raw milk drinker who has been watching the political climate in Utah wrt raw milk for over a decade.

    In fact, I met with my rep twice to talk about the idea of supporting/introducing a bill this session (he opted not to introduce upon hearing about this bill), and I thought I would pass on his thoughts, since it’s always a good idea to understand the other point of view. If you want to have a mutually respectful, genuine conversation, that is. As a public health physician, Dr Redd has been personally responsible for investigating food-borne illness outbreaks, and his concern is that when one of the Scary Diseases pop up, a lot of money is spent by our health departments to identify the source and protect public health. That concern is separate from the reality that occasionally people get so sick from one of those Scary Diseases that they become disabled or die, which is a burden on families (in every way) and the state (financially). On one hand, I’m glad that our health department has such a system in place, because you bet I want to know if my tap water is safe, or the produce I buy from the grocery store (because we all have to rely on the grocery store to a degree, right?).

    I know, I know that people VERY RARELY get sick from raw milk, or at least raw milk that is produced the way raw milk is supposed to be. So catching a Scary Disease is virtually impossible from raw milk, but it does happen. Dr Redd advocates for some kind of tracking system – yes, giving your name to the government – for the purpose of investigating outbreaks. And his rationale for imposing on privacy is that nobody really has privacy today anyway; also, if we’re so confident that our raw milk is so safe, allowing the health department to have our names would enable raw milk to be cleared more often than it seems to be of late. Test the cow, no disease, they move on. Anyway, I pass that on for the sake of understanding a different point of view. I don’t agree/disagree or endorse those views.

    Secondly, I wanted to point out what could be perceived as an error. I know as well as you do that it’s next to impossible to catch a Scary Disease from raw milk, but your statement, “such risks are not contagious, so consumption of raw milk poses no health risk to anyone else,” is not necessarily true. Salmonella, E. coli, campylobactor and listeria are contagious person-to-person, with listeria only being contagious from mother to unborn child. The only reason I point that out is that I want your articles to be iron-clad and something to be taken seriously by all sides. 🙂

    Thanks for carrying the torch!

    1. Thanks for the input. My understanding is that although the specific health risks you have mentioned may technically be contagious person-to-person, as a practical matter, spreading those risks person-to-person is very rare, unless people do absolutely nothing to address that issue. I appreciate your help to make the the point even more iron clad. Thanks.

  2. I don’t comment very often. Just want to say well done!
    I was in a local super market the other day and I asked the butcher if they had any grass fed beef or soup bones, or any grass fed products. He said “Mam, this is a grocery store. Items like that are at home in my freezer.

    Well there you go! I love raw milk!

    1. Great article Mr. Macfarlane. This should go to every lawmaker and politician out there. I hope you actually sent it to the State Legislatures. The points you made should apply to every law they are trying to act upon.


  3. This isn’t just about raw milk. It’s about private property rights and being told what you can and can’t do with your property. I know people who milk their own cow and pasteurize the milk because they prefer it that way. But even if it’s pasteurized they can’t do anything with their neighbors. The current law is an effort to stop anyone from doing anything out of the ordinary, and not being part of the fully regulated corporate system. It’s all about big business and control. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like real people even have a chance.

  4. Well done, Todd!

    Additionally, I would like to add the stewardship aspect. It’s expensive to keep a cow. I know our beef cow cost us about $1000 a year, because we had to feed her baled alfalfa. Nearly 100% of small farmers in Utah must feed baled hay for anywhere from 3 to 6 months out of the year. We plan to get a small Jersey, and we’ll have to feed her baled feed, too, as we have no pastures her on the desert.

    When you have a dairy cow, which will produce anywhere from a couple of gallons of milk (Dexters) to as much as maybe 8 gallons a day (Holsteins), the farmer’s responsibility as a good steward is to use as much as possible for the highest use. That means drinking milk, then making butter, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc. The second highest uses are very time consuming.

    When you get to the lesser uses of milk, like feeding other animals, primarily pigs and chickens, the benefit becomes clouded, especially if raising pigs and chickens isn’t part of your farm plan.

    The last, and final personal use is as fertilizer. We all know that you can only use a certain amount of fertilizer, and a little milk, goes a long ways.

    That means inevitably some milk will get dumped… an absolute waste.

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