There's a dangerous sense of superiority shared by Minnesotans who buy raw milk and serve it to their families.
They don't go to supermarkets like regular people. Instead, after watching documentaries and doing Internet "research," they have "a philosophy about how you consume,'' according to a recent Star Tribune story by Mike Hughlett. Others refer to supermarket milk as "dead milk." Even after a potentially deadly infection was linked to raw milk from the Minnesota farm of Michael Hartmann, one St. Paul woman told Hughlett: "This is hugely about consumer choice, and I think we need more farmers like Mike Hartmann.''
Had they visited Hartmann's Sibley County farm, they hopefully would have realized they were recklessly jeopardizing their families' health. A June 16 search of his operation by authorities shows it is far from the pastoral utopia they believed it to be. "Milk was drawn in a filthy or insanitary place,'' according to Sibley County court records and photos. Chickens ran free through the milking area. The gutter designed to carry manure out of this area was instead full of feces. The walls, floor, stanchion dividers, posts and other equipment were "visibly covered with manure.'' Piles of trash filled an area of the barn behind the milking area, and heifers were kept in a pen "wet, dirty and full of manure, and the air quality was poor.''
These conditions, which would make responsible dairy farmers blanch, have been a problem for years. In 2001, the operation lost its license to sell Grade A milk because state inspectors documented unsanitary conditions.
State agriculture and health officials have now linked eight cases of a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection to raw milk from Hartmann's farm, though he has argued in court that his farm is not the outbreak's source. The alarming reality is that drinking raw milk from any farm is risky because many pathogens exist abundantly on farms. A well-run dairy can reduce the risk of contamination but not eliminate it. Those who continue to buy raw milk, particularly those who serve it to children, need to be called out for placing their families in harm's way. Grandparents, family and friends shouldn't tolerate this irresponsibility.
The list of potential pathogens in raw milk is a long one, and includes E. coli 0157, listeria, salmonella and campylobacter. A type of chronic diarrhea first discovered in Brainerd, Minn., also has been linked to raw milk in multiple outbreaks. E. coli 0157 is the dangerous bug found in uncooked hamburger; it can lead to kidney failure and death. Listeria infections in pregnant women can cause miscarriage, developmental disabilities, blindness and organ damage in babies. Pasteurization, which heats milk briefly, kills virtually all disease-causing organisms.
Minnesota allows the sale of raw milk purchased for personal use on the farm where it is produced. Those who buy it are engaging in dangerous magical thinking, believing that raw milk is cure-all elixir when there's no solid scientific evidence to back this up. A Michigan State University study found pasteurization does not significantly change milk's nutritional value. Furthermore, nutrients such as Vitamin D and A are added to the milk during commercial processing.
A ban on raw milk sales needs to be on Minnesota lawmakers' busy agenda next year. It'll surely be decried as another example of a "nanny state.'' Unfortunately, this law is needed to protect the vulnerable loved ones of those foolish enough to believe everything they read on the Internet.