Monday, August 16, 2010

You are not free even to choose what milk you drink?

America is a soft-Fascist State

“I still can’t believe they took our yogurt. There’s a medical marijuana shop a couple miles away, and they’re raiding us because we’re selling raw dairy products?” When the Rawesome organic food coop in Venice, California, was raided by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, the Los Angeles County Sheriff, the Ventura County Sheriff, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture, plus the federal Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture in late June, one of the store’s volunteers was widely quoted expressing incredulity that dairy products would attract more attention from law enforcement than weed.

And it’s a funny line; we’re used to thinking of pot as something that must be purchased in secret and under elaborate ruses, while milk can be bought in the open. (Substitute fried chicken for marijuana, and you can find the same joke driving a recent episode of South Park inspired by a Reason cover.) But for the people who produce, sell, or drink unpasteurized milk, the comparison between medical marijuana and raw dairy is all too apt. Both are governed by a patchwork of state laws, some of which can be surprisingly liberal, but nearly all of which are vague enough to leave entrepreneurs with a massive amount of uncertainty about the viability of their business. Sale or distribution of both substances across state lines is essentially forbidden and operations attempting to go legit are restricted by the boundaries of the state where their cows or cannabis grow. Federal agents have a habit of involving themselves in actions within states as well, often in an unpredictable way.

Raw milk devotees—like medical marijuana fans—make claims for their consumable of choice ranging from the relatively uncontroversial (unpasteurized milk tastes richer and fresher) to the unlikely (raw milk cures autism). When people buy and drink raw milk, they tend to do so advisedly, understanding that they are trading safety for taste or other desired attributes, just as marijuana patients tend to notice that smoking dope involves, well, smoking and a certain amount of dopeyness.

No one is proposing that raw milk become the national standard—pasteurization was a great boon for food safety and isn’t going anywhere. But as more people become interested in raw milk, raids on dairies are becoming increasingly common, according to Pete Kennedy of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. And attempts to accommodate an increasing byzantine and inconsistent body of law become more difficult and expensive.

Headlines about “renegade” dairy farmers aside, raw milk producers don't tend to be people who enjoy breaking rules or living with any more uncertainty than their occupation already provides. But sometimes trying to do the right thing just draws more regulatory attention. The same day Rawesome was raided, one of its suppliers was also hit. The Palmer family is trying their darnedest to figure how to comply with the law. The problem is that laws that specifically address this area of commercial activity are few and far between, and tend to be open to a variety of interpretations. Thus the third raid on the Palmer’s farm in late June, resulting in, among other things, the family’s third confiscated computer and the removal of a supply of raw milk they planned to use to feed other animals, not people.

Or consider the case of Brigitte Ruthman, a woman running a very small-scale dairy in the Berkshires—she has a single cow that started giving milk in April. Last week, she received a cease and desist letter from the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture.

Fans of raw milk and other forbidden dairy products often say that their fallback plan to is buy their own cow or goat if the crackdowns get worse, as the excellent site The Complete Patient points out in its coverage of the Massachusetts case. But unless you’re planning to drink a cow’s output every day, the logical thing to do is share the cow with some friends or neighbors. And that’s where you get in trouble. Ruthman’s was co-owned by three milk drinkers, an arrangement she believed made her enterprise legal. Massachusetts law doesn’t have much to say about such “herdshare” arrangements. In fact, it doesn’t say anything at all on the subject. Ruthman sought out advice on how to make her operation legit but got mixed messages from the state. And the cease-and-desist letter is likely just the beginning of a long legal battle over her cows.


Call for 'sunshine vitamin' in milk to help beat cancer in Britain

I understand that this is already done in some parts of the USA. It seems reasonable but there should be some opt-out available for those who don't like their food messed around with -- or feel that they may be at risk of getting an overdose.

What about babies who are fed entirely on milk? Would they run a risk of getting an overdose? Infant formula would surely have to be produced under its own rules

Milk could be fortified with vitamin D to strengthen bones and prevent heart disease and cancer. In England, half of the population is low in the 'sunshine vitamin' when winter ends – in Scotland, it is two-thirds.

Government scientific advisors are looking for ways to boost levels. Options include fortifying milk, something already done in countries such as Canada.

Dr Ann Prentice, chairman of the scientific advisory committee on nutrition, said: 'It is widely recognised within Government circles that we have a problem now that needs to be addressed. Milk is one of the potential vehicles that could be used.'

The vitamin is vital for calcium absorption and bone health and may help to prevent Alzheimer's. Recent research has shown that vitamin D supplements are as good as some drugs at keeping prostate cancer under control – and it is said that taking supplements of the vitamin in pregnancy and childhood could wipe out 80 per cent of cases of multiple sclerosis.

Low levels of vitamin D are linked to a higher risk of dying from cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Dr Susan Lanham-New, a SACN member and a Surrey University nutritionist, said that a study of 14,000 pregnant women in Bristol during the 1990s found that more than 90 per cent of them were not getting enough of the vitamin. She said: 'Vitamin D is known to be vital for a wide range of body functions. A lot of us are very worried about [deficiencies] and think it needs looking at.'

Vitamin D-rich foods include oily fish and eggs but with 90 per cent coming from the action of sunlight on the skin there are concerns that advice on abstaining from sunbathing is unnecessarily restrictive.

Finland became the first country to add vitamin D to milk supplies in 2003. Fortification is carried out – but not mandatory – in Canada, Israel and Jordan.

Opinions on the success of the Finnish initiative are mixed. A 2006 study of young men found that fortification led to a ' substantial' rise in vitamin D of more than 50 per cent. But a similar study the following year concluded that fortification only slightly boosted vitamin D levels.

Any plans for compulsory fortification of milk in the UK could lead to criticisms that consumers were being stripped of choice, although the vitamin has been added to margarine for many years by law.

The Department of Health said the SACN's report into fortification would take at least three years to complete.

The Food Standards Agency says most people should be able to get all the vitamin D they need from their diet and sun exposure but recommends ten micrograms per day for over-65s and pregnant and breastfeeding women.

It warns that high doses can weaken bones but says that taking up to 25 micrograms in supplements a day is unlikely to cause any harm.



John A said...

In the USA, Vitamin D is added to almost all milk from large distributors. As it is to orange juice. And breakfast cereals. And, I think, packaged cake mixes, possibly [consumer] flour itself (just as idoine is added to consumer - table - salt but not commercial or specialty [eg "sea" which already has it] salt).

The recommended total dosage for adults, as with most "dosage is key" things, it is not considered even remotely dangerous until levels of about 1200x the "recommended" dosage: I think drinking enough milk to reach a danger level is effectively impossible, at any age.

John A said...

Oh, Vitamin D and cancer - unlikely...

and "Finland became the first country to add vitamin D to milk supplies in 2003." Uh, pehaps the first European country - in the USA I have been drinking "Vitamin D Added" milk since the 1950s, but I admit it may not have been required by the government that early.