Raw milk, and raw emotion, go to court
Posted: May 22nd, 2012 - 4:46pm
Source: Star Tribune
Melinda Olson has given her 12-year-old son raw milk for years. When he walked away virtually unscathed from a serious bike accident last year, she credited his healthy diet of raw milk dairy products.
Matthew Caldwell fed his 2-year-old son, Owen, raw milk in the spring of 2010. The boy was hospitalized for 13 days, victim of an E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak traced to raw milk producer Mike Hartmann.
The two parents' stories are bookends to a debate that is on high boil in Minnesota. One farmer accused of breaking state law barring the off-farm sale of raw milk, Alvin Schlangen, is slated for trial in July. Hartmann was hit with the same criminal milk charge last month, and also faces a civil suit from Caldwell.
Raw milk isn't pasteurized -- heat-treated to kill pathogens. Advocates see it as integral to a superior diet, and decry what they see as heavy-handed attempts to limit its free flow and punish suppliers. "This is about the freedom to choose the foods we want for our families," said Olson of Richfield.
But restrictions on raw milk are based on longstanding beliefs among public health authorities that non-pasteurized dairy products pose a special risk. This year alone, there have been five outbreaks of raw-milk related diseases spanning eight states.
The debate surfaced in Minnesota two years ago when eight people got E. coli O157:H7, a bug that causes fever, vomiting, diarrhea -- often bloody -- and other nastiness. At its worst, it can lead to kidney failure and death.
After state health and farm inspectors linked the bug to Hartmann, the Minnesota Agriculture Department ordered him to stop peddling unpasteurized milk and cheese, as well as uninspected meat. He didn't, the Agriculture Department says, so Hartmann was charged in Sibley County with eight misdemeanors and one gross misdemeanor for selling improperly labeled frozen food.