Hiya Fat Heads!
I meant to get this out yesterday, but spent a good chunk of the day in my basement with the shop-vac and floor squeegee keeping water moving towards the drain. Just one of those things when you live in the Midwest and have 7 or 8 inches above average rainfall for the year.
Anyway, I figured I’d share my notes from last week’s IDPH meeting before heading back downstairs to do battle with Mother Nature. (Note: as one of my buddies from the Power Squadron says — “water always wins — that’s why there’s a Grand Canyon.”)
Angel Smith, who originally tipped me off to the Illinois Department of Public Health being on the move to “regulate” raw milk out of existence, has already posted her notes from the meeting here. She also links to a three-part series in The Prairie Advocate — here — that has more detail and history.
Here are my observations:
Firstly, and most encouraging, was how many people showed up. I mentioned that in the last post, but I don’t recall ever being in a room where almost everyone in the audience (probably 120-140) seemed to be thinking the same way as I was. Weird, really. Good weird. It couldn’t have felt very comfortable for the 10 or 15 members of the Raw Milk Steering Committee who thought they were just going to have a couple of meetings on the regulations that the FDA was paying them to “write,” then move on.
Which brings up one of the first exchanges; this one between Molly Lamb, Chief, Division of Food, Drugs, and Dairy (the person in charge of this circus, whose salary is around $77,000 a year) and Donna O’Shaughnessy, the raw milk producer who primarily instigated this revolt among the serfs:
Lamb (after Donna refers to the Raw Milk Steering Committee): …I don’t know why you keep referring to this as the Raw Milk Steering Committee. There’s no such thing. This is the Dairy Subcommittee of the Food Safety Advisory Committee.
O’Shaughnessy: Because that was the title of the two emails you sent me when I asked about these meetings.
<insert cricket chirping sound here!>
… The meeting started with the obligatory “rules of order” and agenda, which is of course all done via Power Point Presentation and delivered by the person who was probably really responsible for actually doing all of the work, Steve DiVicenzo, Public Service Administrator. Such service to the public being remunerated at a salary of over $100,000 per year. This included the ground rules, making specific note that although the meeting was being conducted in public, the only people who could/would be speaking during the meeting — outside the 30 minutes set aside for public comment — were the committee members.
[I mention the salaries in case anyone is wondering how to get $9 billion behind on your bills, $70 billion on your pension liabilities, and an even bigger number no one will say out loud on your unfunded health care obligations.]
After a couple of slides on the origin and history of the committee, Ms. Lamb asked if everyone knew how a regulation comes into existence and then clicked to a flow chart slide with about forty boxes titled something like “How a Regulation is Made.” This is like the old “How an Idea Becomes Law” from your old civics class, which is complete b.s. because there’s no boxes for “lobbyists”, “vested interests”, “campaign donors”, or “tragedy stampede.”
The first one was “determine that a change or new regulation is needed” and went on from there. She jumped to the box about meetings and hearings and blah, blah, blah, and was five minutes and about 1 & 1/2 rows into the five or six rows on the slide, which she assured everyone was actually kind of a condensed version.
I was looking at the pen I’d brought thinking “if I turn this around and jamb it into my eye socket really fast, maybe I’ll die before I feel anything.” But I was also thinking, “why in the hell doesn’t anyone ask how they got past the first box — who decided they even NEED a new regulation?!?”
Then, one of the raw milk producers who had been added after Donna started inquiring raised his hand and said “you didn’t explain why or how the decision was made that we even need a new regulation — how did that happen?”
Then, the whole room erupted in cheers. I slowly put my pen down and decided that it was going to be a good day.
Ms. Lamb: Um, well we decided.
Ms. Lamb: Well, let’s move on…
At some point either right before or after this, Ms. Lamb helpfully pointed out (again, backed up with an authoritative Power Point slide) that since the Department had been statutorily given the authority to regulate dairies, and since there were currently no rules regulating raw milk, that meant that raw milk was really illegal. The slide literally had “no rule = illegal” on it.
This is the bureaucratic mindset at its very base: until a bureaucrat passes a rule that says you have their permission to do something, it’s illegal. She said this with a smile like that was going to clear things up, and let people know they were just trying to be helpful by passing some rules. She seemed to be a bit surprised by the (politely contained) expressions of outrage and incredulity from the crowd.
There was also this:
Producer: So, your directive is to regulate dairies?
Ms. Lamb: Yes
Producer: But the regulations define a “dairy” as an operation that collects milk from farming operations for processing and wholesale and retail sales.
Ms. Lamb: Yes
Producer: So, since that definition means none of us are dairies, you shouldn’t be regulating us.
Producer (addressing Larry Terando from the FDA): Why are you on this committee? The FDA has a position that all raw milk is always bad and has made it illegal to sell across state lines. Therefore, all raw milk transactions are intrastate and there is no federal issue here.
Ms. Lamb: He’s here as an expert…
Terando: Because all raw milk is hazardous, so since it can occur in multiple states we have a federal interest.
The correct answer is that the FDA is financing this whole thing, so they get to call the shots. Mr. Terando apparently had a busy schedule as he did not return to the meeting after the lunch break.
Another question — I can’t recall if it was from Donna or one of the other new folks on the committee:
Producer: Why did you send a memo to the state legislative committee with these proposed rules in it before we even had this meeting?
Ms. Lamb: Oh, those aren’t really proposed rules. That’s just like a status report of what we’ve been discussing.
Producer: Well, since you sent that before any raw milk producers or consumers were put on the committee, and since many of the statements are incorrect, can we send a new memo with correct information and let them know there is disagreement on the proposed rules?
Ms. Lamb: Well, since that’s just a status report we really don’t need to do that.
When they got to the part of the agenda labeled “Epidemiology,” another IDPH expert got up. She introduced herself (forgot her name, so I don’t know how much that pays) and started with her section of Power Point slides. She was promptly interrupted:
Producer: How long have you been with IDPH?
Epidemiologist: I’ve been here twelve years (I may be a bit off on this –jn)
Producer: What is your degree in?
Epidemiologist: I have a Masters degree in Public Health Administration
Producer: So, you’ve studied a lot of food-born illnesses and outbreaks?
Producer: How many raw milk outbreaks or illnesses have you studied?
Epidemiologist: Well, I’m not sure specifically raw milk related.
Producer: Is that because there haven’t been any in Illinois while you’ve worked here?
<insert cricket chirping sound here!>
I’m not sure what a Masters degree in Public Health Administration really prepares you for, but apparently it’s not the evaluation of epidemiological data. It seemed to be maybe a G.E.D. level in “Google,” because her presentation consisted of a few slides of “studies” showing — wait for it — correlation! — between food born illnesses and states with raw milk; and one with a recap of dairy related outbreaks where “raw dairy” accounted for a majority of the “All Dairy” category. This probably would’ve played well for the average audience, but it was the equivalent of trying to lecture a room full of Fat Heads (which this kind of was) on the evils of Saturated Fat while citing the Seven Countries Study and then doubling down with the China Study.
Even one of the Big Dairy folks couldn’t let these go, and stepped up to the plate:
Dairy rep: That study has already been challenged. Two-thirds of the illnesses — including the only two deaths –attributed to raw dairy in that report were directly attributed to “bathtub cheese,” where Hispanic people have made their traditional queso cheese using raw milk [probably illegally from dairies before the pasteurization process — not actual raw milk producers — jn]. It was undoubtedly contaminated in the cheese making process or subsequent handling.
Epidemiologist: Um, well, yes, some people do have different opinions. My next slide relates to cheese!….
That may have been my personal favorite.
Once they got to the part where they were supposed to discuss actual rules — now just “suggestions for discussion,” mind you — it was exactly what you’d expect. A bunch of rules related to massive, highly automated, feedlot-style operations that may have value in that environment, but completely non-scalable down to the level of someone or a family personally running a pastured cow dairy operation. Even things like chill tanks would cost thousands and thousands of dollars. And lord help the person who takes that fresh milk into their own kitchen and puts it in the fridge until their customer stops by. No sir, separate milking parlors, chill rooms, etc. etc. With the further caveat that no more than 100 gallons of raw milk could be sold a month. When the producers hoo-haa-ed that one especially, one of the bureaucrats said — I swear to God, months in and ready to pass rules on this that would put most of the producers in the room out of business — “well, we weren’t really sure how many gallons a month you folks usually produce.”
The answer, in case you get asked, is that 100 gallons is about maybe 1/2 down to about 1 full cow’s production for a month. So if you have one healthy dairy cow, during the productive season, you’ll be throwing half of Bessie’s milk away!
That’s mostly what I recall from the official meeting, somewhat in that order. After lunch and moving to a room big enough to hold all the folks there to defend their rights to healthy food, they did allow over a half hour for public comments. They used as a list the folks who’d submitted written comments. Several spoke, all of whom I pretty much agreed with. Angel actually got the last word, and did a great job relating how poor health impacted her military career and that raw milk was a key component of rebuilding her health.
The real standout was a women named Penny Gioja (again, thanks to Angel for taking way better notes than me!), who recounted having run an in-home day care for several years before the regulatory cost and paperwork led her to move on, then her family being talked into selling eggs at a local farmers’ market until they were told of a couple more licenses they’d need to purchase that made it economically unviable, and now looking at having to decide whether they should just leave the state.
Then she got wonderfully animated and told the panel that if the IDPH’s mission was really — as they had asserted — to protect the health and nutrition of Illinois citizens, she wanted them to enforce the same rules for people who sold Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and Monster Drink, which have well-documented poor health impacts — they could only sell 100 gallons a month, they couldn’t advertise, they could only put it in the customers’ own containers, and it could only be purchased on the vendors’ premises. That rocked the house.
That pretty much wrapped the day. The committee had a few more housekeeping items, like setting the next meeting and such. Everyone broke up and started heading for the doors to return home.
I’ve heard from a couple of folks who think the regulators got an education on raw milk. A lot of informed, passionate, motivated people showed up to stand up for things people just took for granted a generation ago. The bureaucrats also accidentally put over 120 of those people in contact with each other, many of whom (like me) didn’t know there were so many more of us out there, not alone. Maybe the bureaucrats would change things up substantially. Maybe even remove impediments to raw milk while setting a few common-sense protocols, as it fits in with the buy local/real foods programs the state and others talk up.
I’m guessing they’ll lay low for a few months or more, and then pass pretty much all of those rules as is, maybe without the 100 gallon limit. Or maybe they’ll bump the limit to 500 gallons. But they didn’t learn anything, and they’re there to pass those rules.
It’s what they do.
Still, it was a pretty good day in the sausage factory.
the Older Brother