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March 27, 2014

Got Milk???? Another Blow to Farmers

Chris Cavey

One of my favorite childhood memories was the twice a week trip to my uncle's dairy farm to get milk. When I was six or seven, I would ride the four miles to the farm in my Aunt Mary's 1960 ugly green Mercury Comet and help dip milk out of the bulk tank.


Once filled we would pack the metal screw top glass half-gallon jars in the cardboard box with wads of newspaper to keep them steady, then head back home. Our family of five would consume about three to four gallons per week of raw milk. Dad loved it.


This past week Del. James Hubbard (D., Prince George’s) withdrew his "Raw Milk" bill (HB 0003) because it was painfully clear it would be trapped in the House Health and Government Operations Committee for the seventh year in a row. Perhaps the difference this year is he is awaiting a "scientific study," which will presumably help his cause in proving raw milk is a limited hazard to public health. What a pile of crap!


California allows the sale of raw milk to consumers currently. In 2013 there were six people who were made sick from drinking this milk – California has a population of 38,332,521! That is one person per 6,388,753. Maryland only has a population of 5,884,563. This means you have a 16 times greater chance of contracting West Nile Virus from crows than you do E. coli from raw milk. Seriously!


I remember going to elementary school and buying milk for lunch for two cents. We got a half-pint size waxed paper carton, not sure of the brand. It was red and white with a picture of a farm on it. What I do remember was I hated the taste! Yuck! It was like drinking water, and all of my classmates who grew up on farms or lived next to farms thought the same thing. Who owned a cow with this type of milk!


After 10 years with a 4-H dairy project, a college career as an agriculture major and living in a rural community littered with small dairy farms, I can point to hundreds of healthy people who grew up like me drinking straight from the bulk tank and learning to shake the milk jar every time so the cream would mix. Now, oddly enough, "big dairy" opposes most raw milk legislation. What? My uncle would turn in his grave if he knew!


Hey, I get it – they have fear. Their fear is mass media, instant communication and a litigious society. Dairy co-ops are dreading the day when some child drinks a partial glass of raw milk that sat out all night on the kitchen table due to parental negligence and then gets sick, hospitalized or worse. Society will then turn its ugly head upon the dairy farmer and his produce, labeling it as unsafe and a "milk scare" will ensue. So, there goes the product and the profit – the farmer would rather play it safe than lose the family farm.


Somewhere there has to be a compromise. Currently milk is the only farm product that cannot be sold from the farm by the farmer. How strange to think such a beneficial and natural produce is illegal to sell direct to the consumer when we are sitting on the cusp of having marijuana farms in Maryland. Will our society (and General Assembly members) really condone pot farms while continuing to ban the sale of raw milk? That is totally screwed up!


The entrepreneur in me says the farmer should be allowed to sell, package and market his produce. The consumer in me knows the saying "caveat emptor." (Let the buyer beware.) I am sad our dairy farmers must fear those who would take legal actions. I am sad many people of all ages will never know the taste difference or health benefits of truly fresh milk. Perhaps Delegate Hubbard's study will prove there is a limited hazard. Who knows?


What I do know is my great-grandmother lived to 92 – and she had a milk mustache.


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