In the past few weeks, you may have asked yourselves,”Why should I care about Raw Milk regulations? I don’t drink raw milk.”
Does this concern Illinois citizens? In February, Gov. Pat Quinn said he had reached an agreement with AFSCME, state government’s largest labor union. As of May 6, the governor still hasn’t let the public see a copy of the contract. In this week’s “Reeder Report,” Scott Reeder asks the question, “Haven’t Quinn and the representatives of state workers forgotten whom they are supposed to serve?”
Parts 1-2-3 of this series attempted to show how an Illinois agency, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), feels the need to regulate and control the state’s Raw Milk farmers and consumers, despite the contrary evidence that any regulation is required. This week’s Part 4 will answer these questions: Are these meetings the result of the IDPH receiving federal grant money if they agreed to adopt federal guidelines? Are they the result of state agency officials creating a problem, and then “fixing” the problem as job security? Is it a valiant effort to protect the public from food borne illness, or to try to protect the public from themselves?
Has this state agency forgotten whom they are supposed to serve?
The Illinois Food Safety Advisory Committee of the IDPH conducted its fourth Dairy Work Group Meeting on Wednesday, May 1, 2013, at the Illinois Corn Growers Association facility in Bloomington. Because of an expected large turnout (over 125 people attended) the meeting was moved to Bloomington from the usual location at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
Molly Lamb, Division Chief of the IDPH Division of Food, Drugs and Dairies, called the meeting to order, but stressed that this was a Dairy Work Group (DWG) meeting, “and not, per say, a formal public hearing . . . with respect to all of us and what we are trying to accomplish, we as a Work Group are coming together in this form to discuss the ‘Points of Consideration’ and ‘Rulemaking.’ The part of the agenda that will be open for the public is the ‘Public Comment’ period on the agenda.”
Introduction of the DWG members was conducted by Steve Divincenzo, acting Dairy Program Manager for the IDPH. Members in attendance were Guy Sproels, State Rating Officer for Grade A Dairy Farms and Production Plants; Brandy Lane, Assistant Division Chief for Food, Drugs & Dairies with IDPH; Lori Saathoff-Huber, MPH, Epidemiologist, Communicable Disease Control Section of the IDPH; Logan Kirbach, intern with Food, Drugs & Dairies with IDPH; Leonard Sheaffer, “a Dixon farmer that doesn’t produce raw milk, but I drink it.”; Larry Trandel, representing the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), Regional Milk Specialist; Donald Mackinson, an Illinois dairy producer for Prairie Farms Dairy who serves on the Illinois Milk Promotion Board; Tony Graves, a producer for Prairie Farms Dairy, Illinois Milk Producers Association (IMPA) member; Tom Hendricks, representing Whitey’s Ice Cream in Moline; John Nadig, a farmer, raw milk producer and consumer from Courtland; Bill Scheffler of Pure Prairie Farm in Wheaton, and raw milk consumer; Kevin Reid, a consumer from Chicago; Robin Migalla, a raw milk consumer from Elgin; Leslie Cooperband, co-owner of Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery, Grade A Goat Dairy, and on-farm cheese making in Champaign; Marc Gravert, Spring Valley Farms and raw milk dairy in Fulton “since I was 19 years old,”; Cliff McConville, Barrington Natural Farms and a raw milk producer; Kelly and Rick Boge, Golden Guernsey of Illinois, raw milk producers from Elgin; and arriving late with a bus-load of 30 citizens and raw milk supporters was Donna O’Shaughnessy, operator of South Pork Ranch LLC in Chatsworth.
Note that this was the first meeting that new members from the Raw Milk industry were invited to. The May 1 meeting was represented by five from the state and federal government, four from the pasteurized milk industry, and eleven from the Raw Milk industry.
After a rundown of the agenda, great emphasis was placed on the “Rulemaking” section that included the Process and Reasoning of Rulemaking (ie: where they get the authority to make rules), Epidemiology, and the Sale of Raw Milk. Lamb confirmed that the Food Safety Advisory Committee (FSAC) has been functioning for over a decade in Illinois, and in the Spring of 2012, had received and is supported by an FDA Food Safety Task Force Grant. “This money provides us the opportunity to bring together . . . all interested persons and stake-holders to work on food safety in an integrated fashion to move us forward in Illinois.
“This Advisory Group,” Lamb stated, “is supported through the FDA grant, and operates under by-laws. But it is not statutorily mandated. That means the (IL) Legislature does not tell us that we must have this venue, nor do we have to operate under the components of that. Are we being transparent, and trying to work with all interested parties and stake-holders? Yes. We are trying to meet that need.”
(The Prairie Advocate’s Open Meetings Act (OMA) Request for Review with the Illinois Attorney General’s office contends that because of the above-mentioned factors, particularly the fact that the FSAC operates with grant money from the FDA, a federal agency, a fact just discovered at this meeting, that they are obligated to abide by Illinois’ OMA. IDPH disagrees.)
Why rules on Raw Milk sales?
Divincenzo presented the DWG’s “Mission and Purpose” extensively throughout the meeting, stating that the sale of Raw Milk was just one of the issues the DWG has discussed. They have made changes in the Pasteurized Milk & Milk Products Act, and the adoption of an updated Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) from 2011.
The Food Safety Modernization Act was explained by Larry Trandel of the FDA. The Act is legislated by Congress and “directs FDA to further enhance their program to supply a safe food supply to our nation.”
This was a point of contention with several of the DWG committee members, especially Kevin Reid, board member from Chicago. “I understand that the FDA has not approved the interstate sale of raw milk, which begs the question: Why are you here?”
The question caught Trandel a bit off guard, but he responded that he was an “advisor under the Food Safety Committee for 2 or 3 years.” Reid again questioned that since this was a “state’s rights issue; why are you advising the states?”
Trandel stated that one of the reasons for his advisory role was that “Raw Milk is considered by FDA as potentially hazardous food,” and recognized that most of the audience would object to that statement, since most were raw milk advocates and lived to tell the tale.
Reid said that he sees a “conflict of interest” with the FDA granting operating funds to the IDPH, when this is not a federal issue, as the role of the FDA is only in an “advisory” role, confirmed previously by the FDA’s Trandel. “It is a federal issue, in that the FDA is very much concerned about public health,” Trandel said. “Many times, our authority is involved with Interstate Commerce,” Trandel replied. “We try to work with the states where possible.”
“But hasn’t the federal government taken themselves out of the raw milk game by banning the interstate commerce of raw milk?” Reid asked. “Can you have it both ways?”
“We do not consider raw milk safe for human consumption. All raw milk is considered potentially adulterated,” Trandel claimed.
But Reid held his ground. “If the federal government has [banned] the sale of raw milk across state lines, then how can the federal government fund a state agency, such as [FDA] is doing now, to discuss how to regulate raw milk? Seems to me that it’s a conflict . . . Why does the federal government work with the states on an issue that they specifically said they don’t want to be a part of by banning interstate commerce?”
Lamb interjected, insisting on getting through the slide presentation in order to get to the hot issues. “We need to work together, and be respectful and considerate of each other, and not have a line divided between us.” But the conflict of interest question remained unanswered.
Lamb added that the FSAC had incorporated the PMO, “which is a model ordinance across the country with FDA. A big part of that are the issues we are dealing with at the Dairy Work Group, and serves the purpose for Larry being at the table.”
Getting back to the “rulemaking process,” Lamb presented several power point slides that are available at the IDPH web site. She said they have been given the authority to “promulgate rules” and enact the law, whether it be a new law, or an amended version of current law.
The focus of IDPH was apparently less on “public food safety,” and more on requirements for the public to do or not to do, reimbursements of methodology, deadlines for submitting requirements, documentation, grant formulas and language, forms development, and criteria for approval by administrative agencies. This explanation used up more than an hour of the allotted meeting time.
Lamb stated, “There is not a rule on the sale of Raw Milk,” which confirmed the intent of the IDPH to most in attendance. Lamb and Divincenzo were explicit in their apparent defense of their right to create laws, whereas most of the Raw Milk producers and consumers in attendance were questioning, “If it ain’t broke, what are you trying to fix?”
WHO sets the rules?
Reid questioned that if the IDPH has been granted the authority to create rules by statute, “What kind of power does this body (DWG) have to enforce [rules], if any?” Lamb said it has none. John Nadig asked, “In this rulemaking process, who determined that a rule NEEDED to be made?” Lamb reiterated that “There is not a change - there is not a rule on the sale of raw milk in Illinois.”
Cliff McConville Barrington Natural Farms stated that most raw Milk producers and consumers in the past, “have operated under a set of rules, maybe not formalized in any one area, that we could offer raw milk off the farm, in the customers’ containers, and no advertising. So when you say there is no set of rules, we’ve all had it in our minds that there was a set of rules.”
Marc Gravert of Spring Valley Farm in Fulton asked for confirmation as to who developed the proposed rules that were presented to date (referring to the “Second Draft Amended Rules for the Sale of Raw Milk, dated 1/11/13). Gravert asked that since the group had no idea how many raw milk producers there were, how could they start making up rules, especially with no input from the raw milk producers or consumers themselves? Lamb verified that they still do not have that data.
Reid stated that he had still not heard the answer to the question, “WHO decided that there needed to be a Work Group to deal with [the raw milk] issue? Which member?,” Reid asked.
“Actually, it was me,” Lamb admitted. “I’m the Division Chief, and it is my responsibility for the division to look and see what regulations are needed . . . and how we ‘brand’ the committee itself. But dairy wasn’t represented as a work group. This is new . . . our by-laws are still at legal.”
Transparency under wraps
Kelly Boge asked, “As part of the DWG, why is this the first group we have been invited to, if the process has already been started? That’s the question everybody has. We have not been involved in this process until now.”
Lamb said they apologized to Donna O’Shaughnessy of South Pork Ranch LLC in Chatsworth, who first participated in the January 11 meeting. O’Shaughnessy then clarified the process of her inclusion into the DWG, which was originally called the “Raw Milk Steering Committee” (often referred to as the “Dairy Subcommittee”). Lamb objected, saying that it has always been called the “Dairy Work Group.” But O’Shaughnessy has several emails received that clearly call it something else.
O’Shaughnessy said she was contacted by Divincenzo in January and asked to serve on the Raw Milk Steering Committee, and was sent proposed rules that were already in their second draft before she ever saw them. She asked for minutes of the previous meetings and was told there were none.
“During the Feb. 22 conference call, it became very clear to me that other entities, other small raw milk farmers, had not been contacted,” O’Shaughnessy stated. “Leonard Sheaffer and his daughter (Renee) were able to call in, but that was the first time, the 3rd meeting, that there were any raw milk farmers pulled in, nor were there any consumers contacted. In the department’s own minutes from the January meeting, it was stated that the IDPH was fully aware of the rawmilk.com website, a very easy way to access more raw milk farmers to invite.”
If the IDPH was interested in facts, why were only Pasteurized Milk Dairy producers invited to set standards for Raw Milk producers? Why did it take 3 meetings before any Raw Milk advocates were asked for input?
The Grade A Milk Act
With the IDPH’s insistence on explaining how they derive their authority to create rules and regulations pertaining specifically to Raw Milk production and consumption, the Raw Milk advocates on the DWG were equally insistent in their demands to know why the IDPH needs to develop rules that they feel are not needed.
Lamb declared that because there are no specific rules regarding raw milk in Illinois, that alone makes it illegal to sell. Despite Reid’s observation that, indeed, there may be a conflict of interest between the federal government and the State of Illinois, Lamb said that since the IDPH had adopted the federal government’s Food Safety Modernization Act, the IDPH must now create rules for Raw Milk simply because the Act says it must.
O’Shaughnessy then read how the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) describes how many of the state’s Raw Milk farmers do not meet the legal definition of a “Dairy Farm.” The PMO states that a Dairy Farm is a place that a part of the milk or milk products are provided, sold, or offered for sale to specifically, a Milk Plant, Transportation, Receiving Station” . . . “We don’t sell our milk to any of those. Does this not defend the position that we are not dairy farms?”
Lamb again fell back on the fact that there are no rules, so they need rules to make it legal, a concept that obviously made no sense to the Raw Milk advocates, who have been selling and consuming the product, with no adverse affects, for many years.
After more discussion about epidemiology, statistics, and reasons why milk was pasteurized 50 to 100 years ago, the conversation hit on another sticking point relating to transparency and the intent of the IDPH in relation to the legality of raw Milk sales and production.
O’Shaughnessy produced an April 9, 2013 letter from IDPH Director LaMar Hasbrouck. “Clearly he is vehemently opposed to raw milk when he says “Unpasteurized milk cannot be considered safe under any circumstances.” This mirrors the comments previously made by the FDA. Dr. Hasbrouck also states “the department and its Dairy Work Group proposes the following main focal points . . . for consideration and development in rules.”
In an email from O’Shaughnessy, she expressed her dismay with Hasbrouck’s letter.
“I have been a member of this Dairy work group since asked to participate in January, and I have been OBJECTING to these proposed rules ever since the first conference call I attended Feb 22.
“The fact that these PROPOSED RULES that were developed prior to adding any raw milk consumers or raw milk farmers to the table were presented to the General Assembly at such an early stage makes it obvious to me that Dr. Hasbrouck does not even trust his own staff to manage the process in a way that is acceptable to him. Why else would he feel the need to jump so far ahead?”
O’Shaughnessy debated the intent of this letter with Lamb, who defended the letter by saying some of the items were misunderstood.
“In addition the list he sends to the General Assembly includes actions that are not even in the proposed rules,” O’Shaughnessy stated. “Specifically: ‘Allow for sale targeting animal consumption’, ‘Institute a maximum sell date from the time the container was filled,’ and ‘exempt dairy farms or producer distributor based from permit and inspection based on a minimum volume of sales, such as no more than 20 quarts per day’ are all bullet points never put in writing by the Dairy Work Group.”
Since this was not technically a “public meeting,” as was pointed out by Lamb at the start, a 30-minute public comment period was allowed after the lunch break. The meeting was also moved next door to the Asmark Building in order to accommodate the overflow audience of over 125 people.
It was also noted that not all of the members of the Dairy Work Group, specifically those opposed to raw milk, bothered to come back for the second half of the meeting. “In fact,” O’Shaughnessy observed, “more of them were completely missing than what showed up for the Feb. 22 conference call.”
The exceptional behavior of the audience members was striking, compared to some “protest” gatherings observed by this reporter. There were a few signs held by families expressing their support for and right to drink Raw Milk. But there was no chanting of slogans over and over, there were no t-shirts passed around to show the proverbial “strength in numbers,” nor were there any legislators being harassed by the throng.
Instead, there were well-educated, well-informed citizens, who not only stated their case in favor of their rights to produce and consume an often misunderstood and debased healthy product, but who also argued their case in a controlled, peaceful, and passionate approach.
In the time frame allowed, 14 citizens were allowed to speak for 3 minutes each. There were young and old that were born and raised on raw milk; a professional clarinetist who said raw milk was one of main nutritional therapies to treat her serious digestive issues, pointing out that people have been drinking raw milk for over 40,000 years; a licensed medical doctor read a proposed resolution being considered by the Chicago Medical Society that in essence, says that proposed regulations are unnecessary and onerous; a farmer who shared how his customers have changed him. He values looking his customers in the eye, having that relationship. He spoke of the “human side” to selling and producing raw milk; there were mothers who choose to feed their families the most nourishing food they can find, and asked not to regulate and restrict their access to raw milk.
There were also 3 attorneys who spoke, all raw milk consumers. Two of them addressed the obvious fact that there has been no transparency in this process, and that this lack of transparency reflects badly on Illinois, and on IDPH.
Many attendees, both from the audience and committee members alike, expressed their view that the outcome of this meeting, and future meetings, will have statewide ramifications not only for the Raw Milk issue, but for state’s rights, consumer rights, and trade restriction rights. Some feel that Illinois has a chance to be a leader in Raw Milk commerce, instead of a follower of other states that restrict and regulate this small industry.
There are two scheduled meetings as a result of the May 1 advisory committee meeting. The first is a Conference Call set for Tuesday, June 11 at 1 p.m.
The next is on Tuesday, July 16, at 1:00 p.m., with location to be determined.
For video of the Public Comment section of the May 1 meeting, and links to the complete series on the Raw Milk Regulatory issue, please see below. More information may also be found, including contact information, on the IDPH web site at www.idph.state.il.us.