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Got Raw Milk?

Early this month, some West Virginia state lawmakers and staff had a very bad weekend after celebrating the passage of a bill that loosens restrictions on raw milk. As a way of toasting their supposed accomplishment, Delegate Scott Cadle, R-Mason, invited fellow lawmakers and others to “live dangerously” and sample the raw milk he procured from a Mason County dairy.

Unfortunately for some of the lawmakers and staff who drank the milk, they soon came down with flu-like symptoms – fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

In the 1912 Journal of Infectious Diseases, biology Professor and Curator of Public Health at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, C.E.A. Winslow recognized raw milk as a source of severe infection after an outbreak killed 48 people in the Boston area. Marveled as one of the public health triumphs of the 20th century, pasteurization of milk kills disease-causing bacteria. “Raw” milk is milk that has not undergone the pasteurization process.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , raw milk can carry harmful bacteria including campylobacter, listeria, e. coli, salmonella and other germs that can make people sick and are even deadly. The CDC further explains “getting sick from raw milk can mean days of diarrhea, stomach cramping and vomiting.”

Sound familiar?

Cadle, who was among those who experienced the symptoms, denied that the raw milk was to blame and insisted that it was a mere coincidence. “It ain’t because of the raw milk,” explained Cadle.

Though it weakened government restrictions of raw milk, the new state law and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources still forbid its sale and distribution. And since offering or selling raw milk to the public is still prohibited, Cadle had better watch out.

Last Thursday, the West Virginia State Bureau of Public Health started an investigation after receiving a complaint that the raw milk in question was given illegally and could have caused the outbreak.

“I might have been breaking the law,” Cadle admitted to the Charleston Gazette-Mail . “Hell, I don’t know. I gave it away.”

Some say that rules and regulations put into place to protect the public take away personal choice and is evidence of the “nanny state.”

However, countless public safeguards like state laws mandating the wearing of a helmet when riding on a motorcycle, the state and local ordinances restricting smoking in public areas, the banning of lead in gasoline and rules requiring automakers to equip vehicles with airbags, seat belts and child safety restraints save millions of lives every year.

The same is true when it comes to safeguards for food and beverages. Those who decry the so-called “nanny state” seem to be willing to revert to Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest. There may be some legislators and staffers in West Virginia who would feel differently about that now.

Michell K. McIntyre is the manager of the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, a project of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

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