The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Fresh" Milk Can Make You Sick

In perusing the inner tubes a couple of days ago, I came across an article with this title: "Feds shut down Amish farm for selling fresh milk." Aha, I thought, another example of the nanny state grown excessive, why don't they just leave the poor Amish farmer alone.

 I started to move on past the headline, but some old memory from my past gave me pause. I read the article and essentially the headline is correct, but in the interest of complete accuracy, I would add two words--raw, unpasteurized.

What the Amish farmer is selling and what his upset customers want for their children is raw, unpasteurized milk.

That changed everything in my mind, and in this case, I think the FDA is doing what needs to be done.

In 1945, when I was ready to begin first grade, we lived in the little Middle Tennessee town of Watertown, pop. approximatel 800. Sometime in the summer before I was to begin school in the fall, I became ill. My head hurt, I sweated a lot, I ached all over, I had no appetite, and my fever fluctuated wildly, sometimes going up to 103-104F.

After a series of tests, x-rays (I seem to remember that they thought I might have TB), etc. in the nearby metropolis of Lebanon, I was diagnosed with Undulant Fever or Brucellosis which is caused by "ingestion of unsterilized milk" among other things. My aunt--we were living with her until Dad got out of the service--and my Mom frequently bought "fresh" (raw) milk from one of the neighbors up the street who had a few cows.

The disease can become chronic and did so in my case because it took awhile to diagnose. Undulant fever has also had some small but not insignificant effects on my health over the years which I'll not bore you with here.

I was treated with multiple injections of a mycin drug and bed rest. Bed rest for a six year old all through the rest of that summer and for the first 6 weeks of my first year of school was not a good thing. I did listen to a lot of radio during that time, even a WSM farm show called Noontime Neighbors which included daily agricultural reports on the prices of farm products, livestock, etc.

Right. I was bored. Even though I was a preschooler, I did read a lot, whatever my Mom could scrounge up for me. Comics mainly. But I remember that time vividly. The continuous aches and pains. The sweats. The fear in the beginning because we didn't know what it was. The cold hard XRay machine and medical table which looked like some hideous invention out of Flash Gordon. The daily injections. Watching the other kids walk up the street as they came home from school. Day after day. The boredom.

One of the farmer's angry customers said, "I can't believe in 2010 the federal government is raiding Amish farmers at gunpoint all over a basic human right to eat natural food." I guess most everything's a right in somebody's mind these days. But I'm unsure about the customer's use of the plural (farmers) and about the FDA coming in to the barn with guns drawn. I suppose when you're going up against Uncle Sam you also have the basic human right to exaggerate.

I think our food supply today is generally safe and that's due in no small part to the work of the FDA. I'm for small government. But there are some things a government should do. Ensuring the safety of the food supply is one of them.


  1. There are two issues here--the legal issue, and food quality. Legally, what the FDA is doing here is overstepping their jurisdiction to regulate interstate commerce. These Maryland consumer are sending an agent to purchase milk legally in Pennsylvania on their behalf. Quality wise, the pasteurization laws are designed to protect the big dairy processors from direct farm-2-consumer competition.

    Also your anecdote about your Burcellosis does not apply because Burcallosis is excluded from herds through herd management--not by pasteurization.

  2. I agree with you, Dan. (So... one for, one against) I wouldn't drink unpasteurized milk on a bet.

    I wonder what sorta "herd management" an Amish farmer uses?

  3. Thanks for the info. And I understand that personal anecdotes aren't the best kinds of arguments.

    Legally, doesn't the FDA have the authority to intervene when there is an interstate commerce violation? Congress makes the regulatory laws but the FDA enforces, right?

    Also, if burcellosis is somehow in the milk, pasteurization will kill it. Herd management, I'm sure, will eliminate most of it, but the possibility still exists, that a diseased cow could somehow slip through the system. I do recall some instances in the past few years when that has happened.

    Also, I don't quite understand what you mean when you say, "Quality wise, the pasteurization laws are designed to protect the big dairy processors from direct farm-2-consumer competition." Aren't they also designed to protect the consumer?

  4. Buck, thanks for the vote! And I'm with you, I wouldn't drink unpasteurized milk under any circumstances.

  5. Jury's out on this one guys. We consumed a whole lot of unpasteurized milk when we were kids (got it from a neighbor up the road) with no ill effects.

  6. Adults drink milk???

    During the seminar break, the old farmer dressed in his torn coveralls & holding his John Deere cap while scratching his head said, "Well, I learned more about fresh milk then I really wanted to know". :)

    P.S. Dan, they had X-rays when you were a kid? (ha,ha)

  7. Deb, I too know lots of people who drank unpasteurized milk regularly with no ill effects. But, as I say in my title, this kind of milk "can" cause illness. I don't say it will. If the unpasteurized milk comes from an infected cow, it can cause the disease I had as a child. Even though anon above points out that today's "managed herds" makes that unlikely, a diseased cow can still slip through the system. The "mad cow" disease scare a few years ago is an example of that.

  8. George, my milk these days usually comes in the form of a white russian cocktail! Actually, I've never had one of those but I do still like a glass of cold milk with a just baked fudge brownie.

    And yup, they had x rays a way back then. I met Wilhelm Roentgen in a bar one afternoon and he showed me his primitive machine and gave me a demonstration. I might have been the first person to get an x ray!