In the April 17, 2013 issue, Part 1 explained that the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) says that they want only to reorganize current rules regarding the production and sale of raw milk into one document.
But other members appointed to the IDPH Food Safety Advisory Committee’s Dairy Subcommittee - notably the members that either produce and sell raw milk or who purchase the product - do not see any reason to compromise on rule changes that they say are not necessary.
Part 1 ended with Steve Divincenzo, Public Service Administrator for IDPH, stating that the vast majority of producers in the State of Illinois - over 90% - are able to meet the Grade A standards currently in place for the corporate dairy industry. “It would be incumbent upon us to have these standards for all of the dairy farms, especially for those individuals producing raw milk.”
Donna O’Shaughnessy, who operates South Pork Ranch LLC in Chatsworth, IL, is concerned about the requirement for the Grade A permit, simply because the IDPH has no idea how many raw milk dairy farmers are in the state, nor do they know how many consumers actually purchase raw milk.
“To say that 90% of these farmers could meet the Grade A standards is definitely not true at this point,” O’Shaughnessy added.
Divincenzo clarified his statement, saying “I don’t have [data] for all of the states, but I do know from speaking to someone in one of our co-ops, that they have over half of the Illinois producers in this co-op. They are between 92 and 95% at meeting these standards.”
O’Shaughnessy said she also needed clarification regarding the 100 gallon limit proposed by the subcommittee.
“100 gallons is about 3.3 gallons a day. The average cow is producing about 8 gallons a day. That 100-gallon limit is equal to about 1/3 of a cow. If I am understanding this correctly, you’re saying that if a farmer has one cow, or 3 or 4 goats, and is selling raw milk, they need to have a Grade A permit.
“The question is, if they can only sell 100 gallons a month, that is equal to less than one cow. So if a person is going to try to meet this [limit], they would only have one cow, and you are requiring them to have a Grade A permit?”
“Initially, we were talking about ‘incidental sales,’” said Divincenzo. “When this statute came into being many years ago, it was [directed] to farmers that supplemented their income . . . several states have had to define what ‘incidental’ meant. We’re thinking maybe once or twice a week. Some states actually have the 100 gallon limit a month . . . and with goats, several states only allow 9 goats for the sale of raw milk.
“This was never meant to be a ‘business,’ if you will. This was to supplement income [from] incidental sales, and also, in order to minimize the affect that may come from this transaction. That’s why we were limiting the sales of that product.”
Divincenzo again pointed out that the IDPH does not know how many raw milk producers, or farms that sell raw milk, there actually are in Illinois.
“We were thinking at one point in time that once this [regulatory proposal] came out, it would drive [raw milk farmers] further underground. We just don’t know how this is going to affect those individuals. But we just wanted to minimize the amount of [raw] milk that was being produced on a monthly basis, and there are others on this subcommittee that are concerned about the limit.”
Molly Lamb, Division Chief of the IDPH Division of Food, Drugs and Dairies, said that based on the draft prepared in January, they recognize that people that drink raw milk, will continue to drink it, and not ‘incidentally’ drink raw milk one month, then never drink it again.
“The terminology for this has really changed from ‘incidental’ to ‘unsolicited’ sales,” Lamb continued, “unlike the milk in the grocery stores that advertise all over the place. We’re not trying to ban it here, we’re trying to work to make sure procedures are clear as to how the sale of raw milk is going to happen in Illinois. In so doing, we understand that there is going to be unsolicited sales that are going to re-occur.”
Lamb said that the 100 gallon limit is not set in stone, but that there are some on the subcommittee that feel a certain threshold should be agreed upon, and suggested that if anyone has a “better solution,” to bring it to the attention of the subcommittee.
Contradiction in terms
But O’Shaughnessy sees a contradiction in this goal to regulate the raw milk industry compared to the direction taken by the State, the University of Illinois, state-wide Chambers of Commerce and other organizations, to promote consumers buying more locally-grown food at Farmer’s Markets, and their obvious desire to have more fresh, local food available.
“Honestly, if a limit is put on production, first of all, you will dramatically affect incomes of many, many farmers in Illinois. I don’t think you understand - there will be farms that will close. Not only will there be angry farmers, who have had their income interfered with, consumers will be very upset. These are the moms with their babies, a group that has a lot of power.
“This limit, while we are pushing so hard to make good food available for people at Farmer’s Markets and in the schools, is a contradiction compared to what’s being done in other areas by the State of Illinois.”
Lamb appeared to disagree with O’Shaughnessy by saying that, “Right now, the sale of raw milk can only be from dairy farms.” Lamb then questioned O’Shaughnessy about her farm’s production numbers and consumer base, asking her to give the subcommittee an idea of how many gallons per month would be sold from her dairy farm.
“Well Molly, I have to honestly say that I would be very cautious about sharing that information,” O’Shaughnessy stated. “When we decided to sell only raw milk direct to consumers after Foremost (referring to Foremost Farms USA Dairy Cooperative based in WI) said they would no longer buy our milk from us because we were selling raw milk, we called IDPH and asked them to continue with our Grade A permit. They told me, very abruptly, that there was ‘no box on the form’ for our [type of] farm. They did not want to know that we existed. We wanted to be certified, we wanted to continue to be tested, but the IDPH told us ‘no.’ That’s why I am cautious.
“But I can tell you, if we were limited to 100 gallons, it would dramatically reduce our income and the ability of our farm to survive. This is our livelihood.”
Divincenzo pressed on, asking O’Shaughnessy if she would at least give them an approximate volume of what she believed would be “adequate and fair.”
He also pointed out the fact that, as in her case with Foremost Farms, as well as many other co-ops, if they find out that a farmer is “selling raw milk ‘on the side,’ you’re going to be on the outside looking in. They are not going to have you as a member anymore.”
He again asked her for an estimated volume that she would recommend, “since we don’t have a clue at this point in time of how many individuals are doing this, how much they are producing, or how much they are selling.”
O’Shaughnessy said she could get those figures, but at a later date. “I want it to be accurate.”
Leonard Sheaffer, the retired farmer and +25-year dairy producer, reminded the subcommittee that the raw milk industry has changed dramatically in the last 20 years.
“There were a lot more dairy farmers then, and people were selling a little raw milk on the side. But today, the purchasers don’t want to buy milk unless you say that you are not going to sell raw milk. I see no reason at all why there needs to be a limit. If you get $5 a gallon, that’s only $500 a month. Nobody is going to make a living on that. It seems to me that the more milk somebody sells, the more money they will have to invest back into their operation to make it better.”
“Again, I understand where you’re coming from,” said Divincenzo, “but from our perspective . . . based on the first paragraph of the draft, we say that ‘this is not an endorsement from the IDPH for the sale of raw milk.’ What we’re trying to do is minimize the potential problems that may occur from raw milk. That’s a concern for us . . . and we understand that this is apparently a growing industry, because we just don’t have any figures here. But at the same time, it is our responsibility to protect consumers as best we can.”
Leslie Cooperband of Prairie Fruit Farms in Champaign observed that while the role of the IDPH to protect the public health and safety is a “noble cause,” she proposed that through testing, “if farms could demonstrate that their milk is safe and pathogen free, why not place NO limit on the number of gallons of milk they could sell?”
Larry Terando, a representative of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), gave his opinion on that matter.
“You’re talking about testing the milk once a month. So if there are no pathogens in the milk on that sample, that means it’s safe - that day. It does not mean that it is safe the other 29 days of the month. Pathogens will appear, disappear, re-appear; they come and go and the milk is squat.”
Cooperband suggested that one could look at test result patterns over time. “If a farm has incidents that show up, they’re going to show up in a monthly sample. We can only do so much, and we should be approaching this from a risk-based perspective.”
“I am thinking in terms of risk management,” countered Terando. “The only way to make raw milk safe is to pasteurize it. We’re talking about 150 years of science being turned back. There were many, many, many people sick and dying from milk consumption, but that was way-back-when, and everybody thinks they’ve cured the problem. As long as we continue to pasteurize the milk, we have cured the problem. If you stop pasteurizing, we’re going to have many more sick people.
“Food borne illness is one of the most under-reported diseases out there,” Terando continued. “People get a little sick, they have an upset stomach, they get diarrhea, they say, “oh, I’ve got the flu.’ OK, that’s fine. But then someone in a more weakened condition might get deathly ill from that same bacteria. We’re talking public health, and prevention of illness, not the advocacy of more risk.”
Lamb again suggested that if the subcommittee had better information of the actual figures from the raw milk producers, the subcommittee would be able to have a “more articulated discussion from our perspective in the department for this level of discussion. Because right now, we’re unsure.”
Joe Green (an unidentified caller), asked to “clarify’ some points mentioned by the raw milk proponents. “First, regarding who pays for the testing, the state does not pay for milk testing, the co-op does. I want that clarified. The second point brought up was about the outbreaks from deli meat. The consumption of deli meat is a thousand-fold times the consumption of raw milk. So that is an irrelevant statistic.
“Let’s get back to some facts as to why we need these regulations,” Green continued. “On the CDC site, there is a 93 outbreak of raw milk to raw milk products reported to the CDC from 1998 to 2009. Of those outbreaks, 3/4’s are from states where the sale of raw milk is legal. And, of the illnesses, it is reported that it is 13 times more likely for someone to be hospitalized from raw milk illness versus pasteurized milk. Most of these illnesses associated with this report are from E. Coli, Campylobacter, and Salmonella. That is why those pathogens should be tested for.”
Divincenzo added that the IDPH does test pasteurized milk for Salmonella, and they also have started a program within the last year of testing certain cheese products at various facilities for Salmonella, Listeria, and E. Coli. on a quarterly basis. “Thankfully, so far, we have not had any positive results.”
An Illinois dairy producer that serves on the Illinois Milk Producers Association board, Don Mackinson said he thought it was a good idea that raw milk samples be collected by certified samplers, but that they should be taken several times per month, not just once a month as proposed. “I am not in favor of raw milk, but if that’s the way it’s going to have to be, it’s going to have to be tested for safety.”
O’Shaughnessy asked if Mackinson was proposing that there be increased testing of pasteurized milk farms, or just raw milk farms.
He said “Our milk is tested every load; our milk is tested all the time. When it goes into Peoria, it’s tested for everything Prairie Farms tests for.”
“Are you asking for testing that is greater for the raw milk farmers versus you?” O’Shaughnessy asked.
“No, I don’t know how it could be any greater,” Mackinson replied. “Our milk is tested every load. I think [raw milk] should be tested several times a week. Today, you’re fine. Tomorrow, you could have a bacteria breakout. Not just once a month; we need our milk tested. As you know, milk is the most highly-tested product on the market, and I am in favor of that. Yes, I’ve had problems with bacteria.”
Divincenzo said that while the co-op may test every load on a routine basis, the IDPH only takes one sample per month, basically for the somatic cell quality counts, as far as enforcement is concerned. (Each load tested comes from the dairy tankers that collect several farms’ milk into one truck, then delivered to the respective dairy, where the whole load is tested).
Tony Graves, another Illinois dairy producer, said that he agreed “strongly” with Mackinson. “We’re required to test on a daily basis, and I can see no reason why a raw milk producer should have any special considerations, and not meet the same standards that we have to for the safety of the public.”
Cooperband pointed out that she did not think that pasteurized milk producers had to test for the same pathogens that are listed in the proposal. “I think you’re tested for total bacterial plate count, somatic cell, inhibitor; I don’t think that for every load, those pathogens are being tested by the co-op. You can correct me if I am wrong.”
Graves said that only the pasteurized milk was tested for pathogens.
Divincenzo wants to clear up the two different testing points. One is for pathogens, more than once a month, the other for the quality testing which includes the choloform, bacteria and somatic cell counts. “Are we suggesting that the quality tests should be done once a month, or are we talking about including pathogens as well?”
Mackinson stated that on unpasteurized milk, “Yes, it should be tested more than once.” Then he asked if anyone on the conference call was from Prairie Farms’ laboratories in order to confirm his testing claims. “How often are we tested? I am not positive about that.”
Joe Delaney responded, saying he is not from the labs, but is in Quality Control on the pasteurized milk side of Prairie Farms. “Basically, every load is tested for bacteria every day; that’s the total load. Then each individual producer is rotated by random sampling, but the minimum testing takes place once a week, and typically, 2 to 3 times a week for bacteria, CI and somatic cell counts.”
Random testing is important, Divincenzo added, so that the producer does not know exactly when he will be tested, which gives an overall more accurate picture of the farm environment, as well as the quality of the milk itself.
O’Shaughnessy wondered that since the raw milk producer that sells the product to the public is not allowed to be in a co-op - the ones that pay for the testing of the pasteurized milk producers - who will select the approved samplers, and who would set up the random testing?
Divincenzo has researched several different laboratories that offer these services, both in-state and out, many of whom are connected to co-ops, but also has services that work with individuals.
The next proposal on the 2nd draft states that “Any confirmed positive result of the above listed pathogens shall result in the suspension of the dairy farm permit from selling or distributing raw milk.” Divincenzo said that is “standard operating procedure” for any type of dairy. “Once a negative result is received by the Regulatory Agency, the dairy farm may resume selling or distributing their raw milk.”
The last proposal states “The dairy farm shall assume all liability involved with the sale and distribution of the raw milk. This includes liability insurance, which O’Shaughnessy said is about $1000/year on the average.
Most agreed that obtaining liability insurance on any farm is a business decision, not a public safety issue.
Additional “Points of Consideration” were then discussed, and include the following:
- The term “cowshare” needs to be defined.
- The sale of raw milk is considered income and must be reported to the IRS.
- IDPH will provide laminated warning signs.
- The term “sanitary” needs to be defined.
- The IDPH will have a different permit number for those farmers that only sell raw milk to a consumer. The permit will end with the letter “R.”
- The farmer will be required to have a Grade A permit.
- The farmers will provide a label for the container, but the consumer is not required to put the label on the container.
- The farmer will be required to test for coliform, bacteria, somatic cell counts, temperature and drug residues.
- The standard for coliform will be less than or equal to 10, and for bacteria less than or equal to 20,000.
- Currently, there isn’t a validated test for drug residues for individual cow samples. Dr. Thomas Graham will be contacted about this matter.
- The log the farmer will be required to keep will include the date and volume sold. IDPH will need to check with the legal dept. to see if they can include customers’ names on the list.
To some, these “Points of Consideration” were presented more as “directives” from the IDPH, rather than considerations for a committee to discuss.
Currently, the raw milk subcommittee membership is weighed in favor of the pasteurized milk industry. There are approximately 5 raw milk farmers that were asked to serve, (but not until after the “2nd Draft Amended Rules for the Sale of Raw Milk” was produced on Jan. 11, 2013) and a member of the Illinois Farm Bureau, while Divincenzo and Lamb represent the IDPH, a representative of the University of Illinois Veterinary Clinical Medicine, one with the FDA, five (5) representatives from Prairie Farms, an Illinois Milk Producers Association board member, and two from Dean Foods.
At press time on Monday evening, April 22, The Prairie Advocate had received no further response regarding its “Open Meetings Act (OMA) Request for Review” with the Public Access Bureau (PAB) of the Illinois Attorney General’s office. The Request for Review alleges that the IDPH did not comply with OMA concerning the posting of agendas for the Feb. 22 meeting referenced in this article. In the meantime, it has been noted that the January 11 and possible prior meetings held are also under scrutiny. It is important to note that the agenda for the May 1 meeting has been posted on the IDPH web site.
In next week’s May 1 article, Part 3 will address some final comments made at the Feb. 22 conference call meeting regarding the “Points of Consideration,” and information from the raw milk farmers that was received in discussion with the IDPH after the meeting. May 1 is also the day the set for the IDPH Food Safety Advisory subcommittee’s Dairy Subcommittee meeting in Springfield. Part 4 will address that meeting.