Law and sausages

Supposedly–though you can find cites on the ‘net, well, it’s the ‘net–Otto Von Bismark said, “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.”

I got to see a little bit of the lawmaking process firsthand, and I will agree with him that laws are like sausages, but I would suggest that, as a smart, ethical consumer, you should be very aware of how both of them are being made.

So, some background. For hundreds, probably thousands of years, people drank milk out of cows. There was no refrigeration, and it’s very perishable, so the milk never travelled far. It was nourishing. Occasionally people got sick from it, perhaps even dying, but probably not many, because it was easy to see when the animal was sick, and you wouldn’t drink milk from a sick cow.

About a centry ago, as our society began its move away from a largely agrarian populace, milk producers started to find it necessary to transport large quantities of milk relatively long distances to get it to consumers in larger, more metropolitan areas. People started to get sick because standards for hygiene and such were not up to the task of handling such large quantities of such a perishable product. Someone had noted that pastuerizing milk tended to kill most–though not all–of the dangerous critters, so many places enacted laws that required that all milk for commercial sale be pasteurized. Some places left loopholes or varying sizes that generally took the form of a very direct producer-to-consumer relationship–either so-called “cow-shares” programs, or allowing the sale only at the farm where it was produced.

North Carolina used to have a “cow-shares” program, but someone slipped language that stripped that protection away in an unrelated spending bill several years ago.

There remained one loophole–milk sold for pet consumption. Many animals find cow milk nourishing, and it can be used for weaning animals–say if you run a goat dairy–or in some cases it is simply for pets–say, for people who don’t want to accidentally feed their cat melamine.

Well someone–presumably related whoever decided that the “cow-shares” program had to go–decided that this represented a loophole: people could buy the milk pretending it’s for their pets and drink it themselves! The nerve!

So a regulation was passed at the Department of Agriculture decreeing that all such “pet milk” must be dyed a charcoal color, because presumably the animals wouldn’t care but humans would be so put off that the state would finally have succeeded in truly forbidding people from consuming raw milk.

I think you can probably guess what side of the argument I’m on.

A bill was introduced in the legislature to disapprove that regulation. I went to a hearing of the legislature’s Agriculture Committee this morning to show my support. Though the bill was recommended by the committee, it still needs to go to the Health Committee and then, hopefully, be voted on on the floor before the legislature goes into recess–or the regulation goes into effect.

The disenheartening thing was what I have a hard time not characterizing as duplicity on the part of those supporting the regulation.

The CDC reports that between 1993 and 2006–a period of 13 years–there were roughly 2000 people in, if I remember correctly, 89 incidents, made ill by outbreaks of food-borne pathogens transmitted by unpasteurized milk or milk products. In a population of between 250 and 300 million in this country, this is .008% of the population. 100 of those people were hospitalized. There were no deaths. The number of outbreaks from 1972 to 1992 were 46.

Now one of the pathogens that can be present in unpastuerized milk is _Listeria monocytogenes_, which cause in miscarriage or stillbirths. One case was presented where a cheese made of unpasteurized milk caused the miscarriage or stillbirth of 9 women.

In 2002, an outbreak of Listeriosis caused “seven deaths and three stillbirths”: The culprit? Chicken.

It is for reasons like this that it seems absured that the response to all this is to *forbid* any sale of unpasteurized milk for human consumption, and to place stringent demands on producers in an effort to make it so unpalatable that people won’t consider doing anything to get it through the back door. It was characterized by one presenter–an MD–as a medical, scientific necessity.

On the other hand, salmonella infected spinach, or tomatoes–more than 160 people sickened since April of this year, 43 hospitalizations, with at least one death that may have been hastened by the disease–aren’t subject to such stringent measures. In those much more far-reaching incidents, the producers at fault are found and dealt with while everyone else is free to sell.

This makes absolutely no sense to me. No fucking sense at all.

I hate conspiracy theories, but good lord, when there’s this sort of willful blindness, when the decision is made to take such extreme hard-line measures in the face of risks that are not only objectively small, but smaller than that borne by eating many foods that are merely regulated, it’s hard not to wonder what the hell is up?

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Michael Alan Dorman

Yogi, brigand, programmer, thief, musician, Republican, cook. I leave it to you figure out which ones are accurate.