Role Reversal: MD Legislators Put Public Health Officials on the Hot Seat Over Legalizing Raw Milk


Maryland public health officials (left to right) Laurie Bucher, Katherine Feldman, and Diane Elizabeth Adenay, testify against legislation to allow raw milk herdshares in Maryland.I have been watching legislative and court hearings about raw milk for a number of years now, and the scenario runs something like this: Raw milk proponents parade up to the stand to describe how drinking raw milk helped them resolve chronic illnesses and generally improve their health. Farmers talk about how selling raw milk allows them to get closer to their customers and improve their financial conditions. 


Then the public health officials take the stand, and you can kind of feel the air go out of the room as they testify that raw milk is terribly risky, and causes diseases that kill. Legislators and judges kind of pale and defer to the scientists from on high. 


That was the scenario that seemed to be unfolding in a Maryland House of Representatives hearing room in Annapolis on Tuesday.  Raw milk proponents, including Liz Reitzig, Mark McAfee, and Sally Fallon, among others, had testified forcefully on behalf of legislation that would legalize herdshare arrangements in a state that has steadfastly refused availability of raw milk in any way, shape, or form. (The testimony can be viewed online; the proponents begin at the 29-minute mark, the opponents at the one-hour-45-minute mark.)


After the proponents were done, Katherine Feldman, state public health veterinarian for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, testified that illnesses from raw milk are twice as common in states that allow the sale of raw milk versus those that prohibit it. “Pasteurization is a triumph of public health,” she said. She cited several outbreaks, in Alaska (from last year) and California (from 2006). She referred to a child being sickened after being given milk at a friend’s house. 


Laurie Bucher, chief of the Maryland department’s Center for Milk Control, picked up from Feldman without losing a beat. “No matter how careful the farmer is…. it is impossible to ensure pathogens will be absent from milk.” She pointed to a Pennsylvania study showing “5 to 20% contamination” of raw milk. She said that the Family Cow dairy has had three outbreaks in the last two years, with “huge financial costs to the farm.” She added, yet again, there have been “two deaths and thousands sickened from consuming raw milk products.” 


Diana Elizabeth Adeney, a county public health official and pediatrician, said that in her experience 75-80 per cent of illnesses from raw milk affect children and teens (those under 18 years old). She, like the others, went down the list of organizations that recommend against raw milk—the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and so on and so forth. 


But before the air could completely leave the room, a number of legislators began asking tough questions, and raising objections. I couldn’t identify them from the video, but at least half a dozen raised sharp objections to the public health testimony. Here are some examples: 


—“What illnesses could occur from raw and undercooked beef and chicken?” a legislator asked. He wanted to know if these were the same pathogens that can taint raw milk. 


Feldman said the pathogens are the same, but that raw milk sickens more children as a percentage of illnesses than do other foods. 


—“In only eight states is raw milk illegal,” a woman legislator observed. “We’ve had 36 witnesses today. This bill keeps coming back over and over….It is time for you to sit down with all these stakeholders and come up with some kind of plan” to allow raw milk. 


Feldman said, “We are always happy to sit down and discuss these issues….” But you could tell her heart wasn’t in it when she added that “We are looking for scientific evidence….” to support raw milk safety. 


—“Do we have scientific studies on everything before we can eat it?” a legislator followed up. “You said we need clear scientific studies to determine that raw milk is safe.” There was hemming and hawing by the public health people, but no clear response. 


—The same legislator observed: “We are talking about a 13-year period, two deaths in a 13-year period…In the grand scheme of things….two people in 13 years is not significant….When I look at this data, there is nothing here.” Feldman hemmed and hawed some more. “Death is not the outcome we are talking about.” (I could have sworn she and others referred a number of times to the danger of dying from raw milk.)


—Another legislator questioned the public health people about their assertion of many raw milk illnesses in neighboring Pennsylvania. “You said there were hundreds of illnesses in Pennsylvania….between 2005 and 2013 there were 17 outbreaks from salmonella, not hundreds….I am wondering where you got hundreds.”  Feldman responded, “I’m sorry….17 is a lot.” 


I took several messages from the sharp questioning coming from the legislators. 

1.The politicians are beginning to become informed about this issue. They aren’t blindly accepting the assertions from on high by the “scientists” as gospel. This is almost certainly occurring because they are hearing from their constituents that raw milk and food rights is something increasing numbers of people care deeply about. 

2. The public health people are going to have to clean up their act. They are going to have to do less fear mongering and more serious interpretation of their data. (Though that does present a problem, since the data, when annualized and otherwise made more understandable, become much more benign.) They may even, imagine this, have to sit down face to face and have serious discussions with ordinary people who are demanding access to a particular food, as in Maryland. 

3. Finally, we saw first-hand the need to bring up the same legislation repeatedly, even if it is defeated on initial go-rounds. A couple of Maryland legislators were clearly frustrated as they asked the obvious question: Why is this legislation continually being proposed, with lots of public support, and then defeated, on a regular basis?

I still wouldn’t bet on the Maryland proposal for herdshares being passed and signed into law. There are huge obstacles in its path, including committee chair people and a governor who don’t want to endanger campaign contributions from Big Ag and assorted health and medical organizations. But we heard for one of the first times some serious questioning of whether the emperor is wearing clothes.  Crying wolf inevitably wears thin. 

For more information about the Maryland hearing, take a look at activist Liz Reitzig’s report. She’s been leading the effort to make raw milk available in Maryland for some years now, and helped organize proponents for the Tuesday hearing. 

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29 Comments on "Role Reversal: MD Legislators Put Public Health Officials on the Hot Seat Over Legalizing Raw Milk"

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Deborah - Pacifica
January 30, 2014 5:58 pm

Speaking of legislation & the health department…finally a positive break-through for those of us living in California!!! Read about it here:

January 30, 2014 6:03 pm

With all of the fear mongering that has been done by the public health officials for so long I’m in doubt that they can actually still seriously interpret any data without their special addition of percentages and numbers for their advantage.

January 30, 2014 6:57 pm

Mark, first off, the safety of raw milk is irrelevant, if consumers want it.

Second, there is no reason to listen to testimony from raw milk’s competitors. Remember we drink raw milk for our health not for it’s taste.

Third, if pathogens were unavoidable and inherent, as they say, then a minimum infectious dose would have to be established for certain types of raw milk sales.

Fourth, raw milk has already been proven a low risk food.
“Raw milk myths and evidence by Nadine Ijaz pdf”

Fifth, when the state makes any false accusations, on the record, like “there have… Read more »

January 30, 2014 7:12 pm

If there really were pathogens in raw milk, giving it to children would be much safer then vaccination and you would do it for the same reason.
Also diarrhea is normal for children, especially for children in school or daycare. And 60% of adults are lactose intolerant which means pasteurized milk gives them diarrhea.

January 30, 2014 7:39 pm

No, we need scientific evidence that raw milk is unsafe and has no nutritional advantage.
Also they would need to disprove all the evidence against pasteurized milk.
“Do we have scientific studies on everything before we can eat it?” great question. Write that one down.
The risk of infection and death from medical mistakes associated with spending a night in the hospital is much greater than driving or eating raw oysters.
“You said there were hundreds of illnesses in Pennsylvania….between 2005 and 2013 there were 17 outbreaks from salmonella, not hundreds….I am wondering where you got hundreds.”  Feldman… Read more »

mark mcafee
January 30, 2014 7:49 pm


Very good coverage of this very historic event. I testified many years ago on raw milk in Maryland so this was my second time back to the legislative trough. In summary….the Maryland State Health Department and their affiliates ie…FDA sponsored speakers, “have cried wolf too many times and now their very own legislature does not believe them”. This was clear in the tone and tenure of the comments and questions of them. One of the members of the committee brought up the FTCLDF US map of American raw milk and demanded the right answers based on facts not… Read more »

January 30, 2014 10:56 pm
January 30, 2014 11:23 pm

last year in Canada, 8000 people died after contracting Methycylin-resistant Staph. Aureous IN HOSPITALS. Meanwhile, immune milk has been proven to work in over 4000 peer-reviewed studies, since 1949. People are suffering while the very anti-dote is staring us in the face, and those who proffer a way to improve the natural immunity of the individual as well as “the herd” ( the community) are sent to gaol. “There is nothing new under the sun … wrong is put in place of right ; that which is right is called wrong, and the… Read more »

January 31, 2014 1:15 am

In listening to this hearing I find that the discussion of mandatory vaccine reporting for healthcare providers just as scary as the anti-food and vitamin discussion.
As far as the fresh milk discussion, I must say that the first speaker was perfect and the others I listen to were very good also. But hears the kicker; without even knowing anything about this particular bill I can tell you with almost complete certainty that it will only make raw milk more difficult to obtain in Maryland.
Raw milk is not illegal in the US. Think about it. If it were,… Read more »

January 31, 2014 1:24 am

OK, maybe it’s not a lie. What do you call it then? Disingenuous, or evasive maybe.

January 31, 2014 4:06 am

The expansion of raw milk access in New Zealand via dispensers on the farm may be an opportunity to scientifically refute some of the arguments of the US regulators. It could offer before and after data.

Ora Moose
Ora Moose
January 31, 2014 12:52 pm

There are pigs, and then there are PIGS with guns. You decide which invasive species should be spared. Conventional Pork Industry, I saw them back up Saw Dust with Ministry in the 70s.

demoncratic!! Mark, I think you just coined a new word, very appropriate.

Ora Moose
Ora Moose
January 31, 2014 1:07 pm

Which reminds me I also saw at a summer festival The Fridge Crazies backing up the Evasive Maybe and Canned Comments, Butt Kisser featuring Smoke, Powered Wigs and with Hears The Kicker as a headliner, not that our heads needed any further lining.

Ora Moose
Ora Moose
January 31, 2014 1:32 pm

I will second Mark’s comment regarding Liz, that is outstanding lucid commentary! Any non-bought thinking person can certainly read between the lines as to the ulterior motives, they are clear as blue skies and self evident. Udderly Absurdities, I saw them back up the Abhorrent Inlaws in my college dorm.

Just don’t go jumping off a tenth story building, have a nice glass of raw milk instead.

Liz Reitzig
January 31, 2014 3:11 pm

As always, David, thank you for the great coverage of events! Mark, thanks for attending the hearing and speaking to the normalcy of raw milk being available in states like CA.

We still have much work to do here in Maryland within the legal/regulatory framework so that our peaceful farmers are no longer criminalized for the peaceful action of providing wholesome, wonderful foods to their communities. Meanwhile, there is no shortage of out-of-state raw milk available here and the access grows every day.

A “working” group with the maryland department of health and mental hygiene would be nothing short of a… Read more »

Ken Conrad
Ken Conrad
January 31, 2014 3:22 pm

Is this the sequel to “Animal Farm”?

Ora Moose
Ora Moose
January 31, 2014 5:51 pm

Could be Ken, are you saying I should write a book? I prefer short snippets but we could compile.

mark mcafee
January 31, 2014 7:33 pm

I am moved by a link to Mr. Bakers Pork Pebelliun. It appears that the regulators are hanging a label on him as dangerous and gun weilding so they can be more dangerous and really bring in the big guns ( the old police escalation of force based on threat assessment ).

Be ware of this path… much as any one of us would love to let our frustrations out and start shooting back in defense of the damn truth and our rights…do not do it. They will put you into a body bag!!

Why not shoot back??? Well… Read more »

mark mcafee
January 31, 2014 7:44 pm


Food safety is totally relevant….you are 99% wrong on this issue. Raw milk access loses when they get to show news reports of sick kids with the culprit being raw milk…we lose big time. Freedom adn rights is a great and worthy fight..but it is the sign & symptom of really pissed off “radicallized consumers” that are infuriated with continued denial of access to raw milk for their families, when other Americans can readily access clean safe raw milk.

Food safety is a battle ground. It is their battle ground. We can not fight our battle because they have the… Read more »

January 31, 2014 9:06 pm

The fight continues in a Toronto court room next week.

Shawna Barr
January 31, 2014 9:39 pm

“Mark, first off, the safety of raw milk is irrelevant, if consumers want it.”

Wrong. This may be true in a legal sense, but not in a practical sense.
Safety is very relevant to our milk consumers. It is very relevant to me. Free-of pathogens is one part of our broad and holistic definition of safety.

D. Smith
D. Smith
January 31, 2014 9:41 pm

Nowadays the thugs tend to shoot first and NEVER ask questions. They also aren’t often held accountable for their actions.

Passive resistance (read: mass refusal) SHOULD be what it takes to dismantle something unwanted by the people in general, but it isn’t enough to know your enemy anymore because the chameleon enemy is hard to spot. Another scheme that has worked for our lawless gubment.

And the media is reluctant to do anything but hide behind their clipboards. What they report most of the time isn’t news, it’s gossip, which is why I call newspapers “rags”.… Read more »

Ora Moose
Ora Moose
January 31, 2014 9:52 pm

“mental hygiene” I saw them with broccoli dip and ideal world. what a great show that was right up there with the turnips featuring the beets. But enough about obscure music, let’s get on about real milk.

Ora Moose
Ora Moose
January 31, 2014 9:59 pm

Wow nice new pic Shawna you and the babe are just beautiful barr none

D. Smith
D. Smith
January 31, 2014 9:59 pm

@ rawmilkmike: You said “raw milk is not illegal in the US. Think about it. If it were, why wasn’t Vernon Hershberger charged with selling raw milk?”

Every State has different “legal” borders for raw milk. There is a graph/chart over at the FTCLDF home page showing which States have what laws.

It shows ND as being herd-share legal, but as far as I know it’s still only sold there as pet food. It may be that this has changed recently and I just didn’t pay attention. Imagine that! Also, it shows SD as… Read more »

D. Smith
D. Smith
January 31, 2014 10:04 pm

@ EdDavis: A very logical and sound idea. Maybe David could pass this idea on to someone with enough clout to make it a viable alternative argument. Good tip.

February 1, 2014 2:45 am

Shawna, I agree, gorgeous picture.

So as far as the relevance of raw milk safety; We are talking about “legislation that would legalize herd-shares”. So the law is what I was referring to.

Now in a “broad and holistic” view; “Safety” is “relevant” when “you” are talking to new raw “milk consumers” and if an inspector comes around it is important that your farm is “Free-of pathogens”. – But, just for your own peace of mind – The average American gets diarrhea 3 times a year, so any customer drinking your raw milk for at least 4 month without… Read more »

Shawna Barr
February 1, 2014 4:17 am

Thanks Ora…baby is now a toddler but still likes to squeeze herself into the backpack…oof, what a workout. :)

Ken Conrad
Ken Conrad
February 2, 2014 9:33 am

Regulatory intrusion in the apiary industry is second to none. The regulators narrow focus on eradicating disease and pests via the use of antibiotics and mass eradication (their “terms of war”) has weakened overall immunity within bee colonies and has caused a great deal of grief among apiarists.

As well the persistent use of government-regulated protocols that sanction toxic chemicals, drugs and novel technologies (GMO’s) in the honeybee’s overall environment adds to the dilemma.

With respect to the documentary “Queen of the Sun the following article states, (I’ve added microbes in parenthesis for a little perspective), “it explores the ancient… Read more »