TESTIMONY FOR SENATE ECONOMIC GROWTH COMMITTEE ON S2702,
Allowing the sale of Raw Milk in NJ
MONDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2011
By Dr. Drew Harris, Chair, NJ Public Health Institute
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Drew Harris, chairman of the NJ Public Health Institute, and I am here today to urge your opposition to S2702, a bill that allows for the sale of raw milk in New Jersey.
Raw milk is essentially milk taken from the cow, chilled, bottled and sold without further treatment. Any contamination introduced during the milking and bottling process remains. Pasteurization kills disease-causing bacteria by heating the milk to 161 degrees for 15 seconds. This simple treatment is vitally important for protecting people from serious infectious bacteria such as Listeria, which can cause miscarriage in pregnant women, Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli, a fecal germ that can cause severe diarrhea and worse. E. coli can also spread from one small child to another. Since 1998, there have been over 1,800 illnesses linked to raw milk.
Just last month, five children in California were sickened with genetically linked strains of the deadly E. coli O157:H7 bacteria. Three of them were hospitalized for several weeks with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication that can cause kidney failure in about half of affected children. Drinking raw milk from the same dairy was the factor linking these children.
Because it is illegal to sell raw milk to the public in New Jersey, our Department of Health and Senior Services reports* no recent outbreaks linked to local milk. However, there have been illnesses linked to raw milk purchased in Pennsylvania, where it is allowed.
Supporters of this bill use economics to justify raw milk sales. However, we should also examine the financial risks, which may be greater than any potential benefit. The direct health care costs for the five children in the California E. coli outbreak will likely range from $143,000 to over $2.3 million dollars, depending on the severity and duration of the complications. Of course, the damage awards will be much greater.
The families in these cases will likely sue the dairy that produced the milk and retailers who sold it. Unfortunately, these farmers probably lack liability insurance because insurers are reluctant to cover raw milk sales. So, dairy farmers are literally betting the farm when they sell raw milk to the public. Similarly, retailers like Whole Foods have stopped selling raw milk over safety and liability concerns.
Imagine the damage done to the image of New Jersey’s fragile dairy industry should an out-break occur. The recent listeria outbreak almost immediately linked to melons from one Colorado producer devastated fruit farms in several states. Strong regulations protect the NJ Fresh brand.
Our nation’s health officials have concluded that pasteurization does not significantly alter the health benefits of milk nor does raw milk convey any special advantage. I strongly urge you to vote against this bill in the interest of public health. We may have the right to consume what we want, but no one has the right to sell an unsafe product.