The sell of raw milk is a raw deal

Senate Bill 711 included an amendment that would allow the sale of raw milk to consumers. In years past this measure was debated and finally cast to the side. Unfortunately, as an amendment the debate was rather limited.

When you look at the big picture, over the past two decades there have been 137 outbreaks linked to raw milk that resulted in 1,909 reported illnesses and 144 hospitalizations. E. coli is particularly hard on children, thus they are the most impacted population. Hemolytic-uremic syndrome sometimes is the result. Hemolytic-uremic syndrome causes the destruction of red blood cells and acute kidney disease. It has a mortality rate of 5 to 10 percent and another 30 percent suffer residual renal injury.

Tennessee is having an outbreak currently. Information is hard to gather because the health department is not allowed to verify the condition nor the extent of it because of the state’s relevant law. The Agriculture Department also has no authority. This mirrors North Carolina’s law in that no agency has any regulatory responsibility over this action. What is known is that 14 children have been identified, with four of them admitted to intensive care. Again, children are the most impacted because they tend to drink more milk and their immune systems are immature and cannot fight off the pathogens.

And then to bring it into our house, Robeson County had the largest outbreak of E. coli in North Carolina in 2001. While much attention was paid to the outbreak associated with the state fairs, a far larger number of people were infected in and around Prospect Elementary School. Some students remained out of school for months, as they could not deliver negative cultures. Most were children, but there bus drivers and teachers also were infected. Several of the children had HUS.

We asked the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help with the investigation. Meetings were held with members of the community who remained upset, suspicious and scared. At one point the school was shut down. The culprit? A native dinner was prepared in advance of Thanksgiving. One of the items that the children and staff could try was homemade butter. A little bit of the unpasteurized butter was put on a cracker and was consumed. With hand hygiene being what it was in an elementary/middle school, it spread like wildfire.

So Sen. (Danny) Britt, I ask that you consider these facts and the children who will be put in harm’s way if this unregulated product is distributed. I believe the agricultural commissioner has said he has concerns because he knows the human reaction to an outbreak is to discontinue using any product similar to the offending product. In this case, milk sales will decline, which severely impacts the dairy farmers. Your consideration is appreciated.

Reps. (Charles) Graham and (Garland) Pierce, I ask that you continue to oppose this measure. Thank you.

Postscript: Sen. Britt voted for the override, which means he voted for this action.

By Bill Smith

Contributing columnist

Bill Smith is director of the Robeson County Department of Health.