Raw Milk Debated – September 7, 2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Daniel Mintz

Eye Correspondent

HUMBOLDT – A local movement has emerged opposing the county’s longstanding ban on the sale of raw, unpasteurized milk but county staff has warned against rescinding it.

The Board of Supervisors heard contrasting presentations on raw milk at its Aug. 24 meeting. Raw milk supporters told supervisors that unpasteurized milk is safe, proven to have medical benefits and is even endorsed by the Girl Scouts of America.

Mark McAfee, owner of the Fresno-based Organic Pastures Dairy, said preoccupation with antibiotics and sterilization has led to the reduction of beneficial bacteria in our digestive systems. McAfee cited studies and linked sterilization of foods to the prevalence of diabetes.

“What have we done to American children?” he asked. “We’ve taken the bacteria out of their gut, we’ve fed them the wrong kinds of foods.”

Raw milk supporters wore buttons that said, “My Health, My Choice, My Right” and McAfee spoke for them. “They want the choice to decide on a food – not a drug – a food that doctors and perhaps your staff don’t understand.”

He told supervisors, “I would strongly suggest you don’t look to staff for this, but that you look into the science for this and make your own determinations – staff needs to learn a lot.”

Humboldt is one of only three counties in the state with a raw milk ban. The managers of Eureka Natural Foods and the North Coast Co-op both said that their customers are asking for raw milk and they want to provide it.

But Public Health Officer Ann Lindsay joined other county staff members in advising against reversing the county’s raw milk ban. “When we get health alerts from (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control) and the California Department of Public Health regarding unpasteurized milk recalls, I’m always delighted that the Board of Supervisors… had decided not to allow unpasteurized milk sales in Humboldt County,” she said.

That decision was made based on scientific evidence, Lindsay continued, and 24 states also have raw milk bans. Lindsay said that when she talks to health officers from other counties, they tell her that they wish their counties also had bans.

A long public comment session followed. Several dairy owners spoke, most of them concerned about effects on their industry if raw milk is made available and there’s a recall. But several people said their medical conditions cleared up after they switched to raw milk.

Supervisor Bonnie Neely sponsored the agenda item and supported lifting the ban. But her motion to examine its legality didn’t get support. Supervisor Mark Lovelace said there’s an “overwhelming medical opinion” that raw milk shouldn’t be legal and he can’t act against it unless county staff advises to do so.

But Lovelace was one of a majority of three supervisors who approved a modified motion to discuss the ban again at a future meeting. Supervisors Jimmy Smith and Jill Duffy voted against it.