I grew up on a small family dairy and drank unpasteurized milk growing up, so the debate over whether or not people should be allowed to buy and sell it really hits home for me. The raw milk debate is also a window into how intrusive state government has become.
Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, recently said, “We don't like to get into what people do at home – that's your business – but when you start selling it, that's our business.”
That's a Republican saying that commercial transactions are not just the business of the buyer and seller; they are also the business of government. Dahle's statement came in opposition to a bill by Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, to allow small hobby farms permission to sell and trade limited amounts of raw, unpasteurized milk.
It is already legal for large established dairies to sell raw milk. So Yamada's bill would've simply allowed those same small businesses and entrepreneurs that politicians like to pay so much lip service to sell raw milk too.
Yet, the bill was defeated, as the big guns of the commercial dairy industry led the charge against it.
Yamada's proposal was part of a larger wave of raw milk legislation across the country. The Washington Post reported that 40 bills have recently been introduced in 23 states to legalize raw milk. But the same dairy and corporate interests fight the bills in every state and very few of them have passed thus far.
The major dairy firms use reports from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control to drum up safety concerns. The FDA claims raw milk is particularly risky for small children and pregnant mothers, and the CDC reports that illness may occur after consuming raw milk. However, these risks are relatively small.
The CDC's own data show that over 9 million people consume raw milk regularly, yet only 100 people a year, on average, get sick from drinking it. Health writer Chris Kresser crunched the CDC numbers to show that you have a “roughly 1 in 94,000 chance of becoming ill from drinking unpasteurized milk” and “a roughly 1 in 888,000 chance of becoming ill from drinking pasteurized milk.”
“To put this in perspective,” Kresser writes, “you have a 750 times greater chance of dying in a car crash than becoming hospitalized from drinking raw milk.”
Not only that, but Kresser calculates that as “unlikely as dying in a plane crash is, it's about three times more likely than becoming hospitalized (not dying) from drinking unpasteurized milk.”
So if safety isn't really much of a concern, and there are consumers who want to buy raw milk and accept any risks that may be involved, what is the big objection?
The dairy industry and big companies don't want the competition. They want the government to block their competitors, and legislators in Sacramento obliged.
As is true in so many cases, state legislators should be standing up to special interests, but they aren't.
In this instance, allowing family farms, and all dairies for that matter, to sell or trade raw milk would've benefitted everyone. The buyers who are going out of their way to buy raw milk have done their homework. The sellers would still be liable for tainted milk and have every incentive to keep it clean. And a legalized market would've encouraged further safety improvements. Instead, California went the crony corporatism route, again.
Dr. Adrian Moore is vice president of policy at Reason Foundation. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register.