Wednesday, February 22, 2012

CDC: More Outbreaks Where Raw Milk is Legal

A recent bill before the Indiana General Assembly stirred up significant controversy about whether "raw" or "unpasteurized" milk sales should be legal in Indiana. Ultimately, the bill did not make it out of committee, but I understand that the Board of Animal Health (BOAH) will undertake a study to determine whether raw milk can be safely sold in Indiana.

Now the Center for Disease Control ("CDC") has published a report stating that the rate of outbreaks caused by unpasteurized milk and related dairy products was 150 times greater than outbreaks linked to pasteurized milk.  The study finds that states that have legalized raw milk sales had more than double the rate of outbreaks than states where it was illegal over a thirteen year period.  According to the CDC:
The study included 121 dairy related disease outbreaks, which caused 4,413 illnesses, 239 hospitalizations and three deaths. In 60 percent of the outbreaks (73 outbreaks) state health officials determined raw milk products were the cause. Nearly all of the hospitalizations (200 of 239) were in those sickened in the raw milk outbreaks. These dairy-related outbreaks occurred in 30 states, and 75 percent (55 outbreaks) of the raw milk outbreaks occurred in the 21 states where it was legal to sell raw milk products at the time. The study also reported that seven states changed their laws during the study period. 
Dr. Robert Tauxe from the CDC's Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases (DFWED) concluded:  “This study shows an association between state laws and the number of outbreaks and illnesses from raw milk products.”  The study also had some harsh words for parents that feel that the health benefits of raw milk far outweigh the risks to their children:
The study also found that the raw milk product outbreaks led to much more severe illnesses, and disproportionately affected people under age 20. In the raw milk outbreaks with known age breakdowns, 60 percent of patients were younger than age 20, compared to 23 percent in outbreaks from pasteurized products. Children are more likely than adults to get seriously ill from the bacteria in raw milk.
“While some people think that raw milk has more health benefits than pasteurized milk, this study shows that raw milk has great risks, especially for children, who experience more severe illnesses if they get sick,” said study co-author Barbara Mahon, M.D., M.P.H., deputy chief of CDC's DFWED Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch. “Parents who have lived through the experience of watching their child fight for their life after drinking raw milk now say that it's just not worth the risk.”
I have a lot of respect for the CDC and the work it does.  There is little doubt that BOAH does as well, and if authorized to study whether Indiana can safely legalize raw milk sales, I am sure this study will be one of the many items discussed.

To view the study, please visit
To view the press release regarding the study, please visit:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

$1.5 Million Fine Levied Against Hog Farm for Violating the Clean Water Act

The Department of Justice issued a press release earlier this week:
WASHINGTON – Freedman Farms Inc. was sentenced today in federal court to five years probation and ordered to pay $1.5 million in fines, restitution and community service payments for violating the Clean Water Act when they discharged hog waste into a stream that leads to the Waccamaw River, announced the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
William B. Freedman, president of Freedman Farms, was sentenced to six months in prison to be followed by six months of home confinement.

Freedman Farms was sentenced to pay a $500,000 criminal fine and $925,000 in restitution. The judge will hold a status conference in 30 days to determine the scope of restitution to compensate for or repair lost or injured resources that resulted from these violations. In addition, a community service payment of $75,000 will be paid directly to the Southern Environmental Enforcement Network (SEEN), one of four U.S. regional environmental enforcement associations established to train environmental enforcement professionals. SEEN is to use the funds for funding environmental projects designed to preserve and restore waters in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Continue reading here.

As an outsider, I certainly do not know all of the facts surrounding this case, and therefore cannot comment as to culpability of Freedman Farms or the correctness of the result.  Still, a seven figure fine against a farm for violating the Clean Water Act is remarkable--the highest of which I have ever heard.  What's troubling about the press release is the indictment of all CAFOs, as if they are ready to pollute--but for the EPA's keeping them in check: 
“Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), like Freedman Farms, are an EPA enforcement priority because manure, if not properly controlled, can contaminate both surface waters and ground waters that may be used as drinking water sources and harm fish and other aquatic species,” said Maureen O'Mara, Special Agent-in-Charge of EPA's criminal enforcement office in Atlanta. “In this case, hog wastes flowed through sensitive wetlands, posing a risk to water and wildlife. Today's sentences send a clear message to CAFO's and their owners that if you disregard the law, you will be prosecuted.”
Most people would be surprised to learn that CAFO operators--at least those I work with--actually know the law better than most smaller, unregulated livestock farms. They do not need the EPA to make an example out of another farm to make them follow the law.    

Monday, February 13, 2012

Egg Producer Agreement Shows the Value in Mediation

A recent NPR story provided a good synopsis of how the United Egg Producers (United Egg) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) came together to resolve their differences. Rather than spend millions of dollars fighting years of litigation over animal welfare, United Egg and HSUS signed an agreement that requires egg producers to increase cage sizes over next 10-15 years, and in exchange, the HSUS will retract its litigation talons (and likely sink them into something else).

As explained on NPR, the dispute between HSUS and United Egg was years in the making:
[Wayne Pacelle, president of HSUS,] has been among that industry's fiercest critics. He took aim, specifically, at the industry's standard practice of crowding chickens into long lines of wire cages, with hundreds of thousands of birds in a single chicken house.
"I said that these factory farms were cruel and inhumane, no question about that," he says. "We're passionate about this issue. We want to see changes within this industry."
This did not stop Gene Gregory, president of United Egg from sending Mr. Pacelle a request “to talk.” The result:
Within a few months, the two sides came up with a compromise. They agreed to jointly lobby Congress for a law that would allow farmers to keep their chickens in cages, but the chickens would get twice as much space, plus perches and "nest boxes" where they could lay their eggs.
The changes will be phase in over the next 15 years.  The settlement now moves to Washington, D.C., where it must be approved due to antitrust concerns.

This story reminds me of the many mediations I’ve attended over the years. Mediation is a purely voluntary process, where litigants sit across the table from each other and, with the help of a neutral third party mediator, attempt to reach a compromise. Often times, as with the HSUS and United Egg agreement, the result is something that makes both parties equally unhappy, but as a result, a deal is struck. The alternative, potentially years of litigation, expensive discovery and trial preparation, and the possibility that a party might ultimately get nothing or lose everything, makes a compromise more desirable to both sides. The process is not always pretty, but it often works.

Read or listen to the entire NPR story here:  How Two Bitter Adversaries Hatched a Plan to Change the Egg Business.
The United Egg and HSUS agreement can be found here:  Historic Agreement. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Toxicologist Responds to Atrazine's Critics

I recently attended a seminar with Tim Pastoor, a toxicologist from Syngenta and a leading expert on atrazine (also simazine and propazine), a popular farm herbicide used to control weeds in corn and sorghum. This was particularly interesting to me, having spent many days as a young farm-hand spraying atrazine on row-crop acres.

Atrazine has come under fire in recent years from environmental groups, who have lobbied the EPA to restrict atrazine’s usage, claiming it is harmful to humans and amphibians and has led to groundwater and surface water pollution. Dr. Pastoor knows these complaints well, but says the science does not back them up:
These claims are baseless and wrong. The EPA just completed a 12-year evaluation of the corn herbicide atrazine in 2006 and concluded that it can be reregistered for use. The EPA's painstakingly detailed review of more than 6,000 scientific studies led it to state very clearly that atrazine poses "no harm that would result to the general U.S. population, infants, children or other ... consumers." 
One would think such a thorough review with this much data and with so many qualified scientists examining each aspect of atrazine's safety would be enough. But not for the agenda-driven activist organizations that just don't like EPA's conclusions. Political pressure by these groups has pushed the EPA to announce yet another "comprehensive" reevaluation of atrazine.
Dr. Pastoor believes another reevaluation of atrazine is unnecessary. He explained that atrazine has been safely used for over 50 years and in more than 60 countries. Read more about Dr. Pastoor's comments in the Winona Daily News:  Atrazine is Proven Safe, Despite Critics' Assertions.

Still, atrazine has its critics. A Google search will pull up hundreds of articles cautioning people to be wary of atrazine in their drinking water and the negative health effects. The New York Times, for example, published a story: Debating How Much Weed Killer Is Safe in Your Water Glass, where it discussed both sides of the controversy surrounding atrazine.

There is a lot of information available for interested persons.  If you want to know more, I suggest starting with EPA’s regulatory webpage on atrazine, which addresses some of the claims that the herbicide is harmful to humans and amphibians.  The atrazine website also responds to the various reports and studies that claim that the herbicide is unsafe.

Syngenta is currently fighting a class-action lawsuit involving claims by homeowners in Holiday Shores, Illinois, that atrazine contaminated their water. Stay tuned for more posts about atrazine and the Holiday Shores litigation in the future.