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Rejecting The Miracles of Public Health

I have a different take from Bitter over the food police story. I’m generally pretty understanding of the nanny state taken way too far, especially when it comes to small businesses having to comply. But when you’re in the dairy business, and your complaint is a pasteurizer is really expensive, and you think you shouldn’t have to buy one, my sympathy drops off considerably.

To me this isn’t that different than the people who like raw milk, and the controversy surrounding its distribution. Many libertarians believe this is an example of government overreach. I agree it’s an example of federal overreach. If farmer John is quietly selling the unpasteurized teat squeezings from Bessy the Cow out the back of the barn to some local raw milkers, I’m not sure why the USDA or FDA needs to poke their noses in; it’s a job for state and local health authorities. But in the case of this “artisan” ice cream maker, we’re dealing with state public health regulators.

And this is actual public health, not the fake public health that gets authorities involved in gun control and health insurance. Pasteurization is meant to stop communicable diseases, like typhoid and listeria. There’s a reason pretty much everyone knows who Louis Pasteur is, because pasteurization was one of the great public health achievements of modern times. I think people who want to abandon that principle are, to put it mildly, nuts.

That’s said, there has to be some sphere of freedom for people selling food. I don’t want to see public health authorities cracking down on bake sales, flea markets, church pot lucks, and the like. Much like how home brewing is regulated, there ought to be a certain scale that needs to be reached before the man takes notice. Because these measures a bit like vaccination, in that you can have a small group of people free ride on the immunity of others, a small scale operation isn’t likely to have much of an impact on public health. So if you’re making a product and selling small quantities at your stand at a farmers’ market, or in your store, great. When you’re selling your product at Whole Foods, it’s time to accept you’re in the big time and buy a friggin pasteurizer.

31 Responses to “Rejecting The Miracles of Public Health”

  1. Fiftycal says:

    Amen.

  2. Nate says:

    I wonder why the supermarkets themselves don’t ask these questions? It’s directly against their interests to sell products that get people sick. I bet if the USDA and FDA went kaput, you’d see grocers requiring similar or even tougher standards for products they sell, and informing their customers accordingly. The Nice Cream guys would be free to sell their products at other stores with more lax standards, or else if they wanted their stuff distributed at more-respected stores, they’d just shut up and buy the friggin’ pasteurizer. :)

    • Bitter says:

      Nate, it’s surprising a store like Whole Foods doesn’t do more to check on their suppliers because of high expectations from their customers. Of course, it could be that the local Whole Foods store was just a bit lax, but that the corporate policy is actually to make sure their suppliers aren’t operating without the proper licenses and certifications.

  3. David says:

    Or, the free market will do its job and the consumer will determine his acceptable level of quality and price.

  4. Fiftycal says:

    Or, lacking standards, we could all shop at KOSHER or Halal grocery supplys. You want to inspect the meat when it is slaughtered, how it’s cut up, how it’s stored and transported? See even the joooooooz knew that food could KILL YOU 2,000 years ago. One theory of why pork is verboten is that 1) the trincnosis prevalent 2000 years ago would kill you after awhile and 2) pigs take a lot of water to raise and in a DESERT, it doesn’t make sense to raise them.

  5. countertop says:

    The problem strikes me as two fold – 1) is the very real public health angle and 2) is a false and/or deceptive claims angle.

    The marketing behind all these artisinal foods suggests that they are safer. That smaller is better. Not just different, or more flavorful, but actually safer. And whether this particular ice cream maker engaged in that lie – one listen to the marketing arm of the so called “sustainable” foods industry (and trust me, they have a tremendous budget and political clout – at least with Democrats) or a simple stroll down the aisle at any farmers market will see statements to the effect that smaller is somehow safer.

    And that’s not true. Bacteria, which are ubiquitous in our environment, don’t care if your small or big. They are just looking to reproduce. And if your not careful, the results can be catastrophic.

    Now, its one thing to raise your own cow. And drink your own milk raw. Or make some ice cream from it. You are taking a chance, but you know what your doing (presumably, many don’t, and get in trouble) and the only one who may suffer is you and your family. Or your neighbors when you share it with them.

    But, she is packaging this product and marketing it in grocery stores – where it is no longer in her control and is now in the stream of commerce. And of course, its being sold with all sorts of health and purity claims with it, claims that are 100% BS.

    Knowing something about meat, and having an emerging interest in making my own sausage – one thing that always shocks me is going to a farmers market in DC and seeing the local hippy selling home made sausage and marketing it as safer because he raised the animals and because he doesn’t use nitrites.

    Well, that’s all fine and dandy. But its illegal.

    There’s two things going here. One, unless you get a pre mix to add, its awfully difficult to effectively add the required levels of nitrates or nitrites to meat. The pre mix isn’t expensive, but its an added expense. The thing is though, the nitrites are useful in stopping the growth of botulism. As the old saying goes, a cup of botulism spores could kill the entire city of Chicago. And so, you have a situation where if this homemade sausage wasn’t manufactured in a sterile environment, under controlled temperatures (where there meat inspectors present to witness the killing, or the preparation, and make sure Joe Hippy didn’t scratch his ass as he was making it), then you have a real possibility of a catastrophic public health nightmare.

    And when its sold randomly in commerce – at a farmers market say – someone picks it up. Lots of people pick it up.

    And many could die.

  6. emdfl says:

    Never ceases to amaze me that the human race survived all those years without all those three and four letter agencies being there to take care of us, heh, heh, heh.

  7. jetfxr69 says:

    Don’t forget that “survived all those years” also included a drastically shorter (~33%-50%) average life expectancy and the primary activity for MOST people was food creation, preparation, and storage.

  8. Sebastian says:

    Yeah, I wouldn’t want to go back to being a food consumer in the 18th or 19th century. Typhoid outbreaks used to be common and quite deadly, and food improperly prepared was a vector for the disease. Botulism, which is almost certainly fatal, is almost unheard of today, but far more common back before government regulations on canning.

    The Progressives weren’t wrong about everything; they just took it way way too far. I think the problem has been that many of the four letter agencies achieved their primary mission, and got out of hand when you had a bunch of bureaucrats sitting around thinking what other good they could do to justify their budgets and head counts.

  9. NUGUN says:

    Having read up on raw milk a while back. I’m of the opinion a large portion of the illnesses were due to the conditions of the time. I am of the opinion that raw milk should be allowed. But with a warning label expressly stating to the consumer “This product contains raw unpasteurized milk.”

    Seriously. In some parts of the world raw milk is treated as if it was a narcotic. Only difference. You’ll probably get a heavier sentence for selling raw milk.

  10. A Critic says:

    “When you’re selling your product at Whole Foods, it’s time to accept you’re in the big time and buy a friggin pasteurizer.”

    So when you attain a certain level of success, then it is time to sell out one’s principles, standards, and customers and destroy the quality of ones product to assure conformity with the god-awful shoddy imitations that dominate the mass market?

    “And this is actual public health, not the fake public health that gets authorities involved in gun control and health insurance.”

    Um, no it’s the same “public health”. My consumption of raw milk and raw milk products will not make you sick. Hasn’t yet, won’t ever. There is no such thing as public health, never has been, never will be.

  11. Sebastian says:

    If folks want to participate in an underground market in raw milk, I don’t much care if the authorities look the other way as long as people aren’t getting sick. A small group is no threat because they’ll benefit from the fact that everyone else is pasteurizing their dairy products, similar to herd immunity for vaccinations.

    But there are communicable diseases that can be spread through unsanitary foods. I’m not so much concerned if an individual gets sick, so much if they get sick with a food borne illness that can be passed along to others, like typhoid fever, and hepatitis. Those diseases are rare these days, and they are rare because of sanitary food requirements like pasteurization.

  12. A Critic says:

    “But there are communicable diseases that can be spread through unsanitary foods.”

    True, but pasteurization is used as a means to make up for foods that are unsanitary. It became necessary to pasteurize milk because of the unsanitary, unnatural, and disgusting conditions that produced it. This remains true to this day. If you put thousands of cows into a very small space confined in their own waste feeding them an unnatural diet of grain, bubble gum with the wrapper on it, chicken feathers, chicken manure, etc, then yeah you will probably want to pasteurize that. Milk from grass fed cows that are stocked at a reasonable ratio for the health of the land, milk that is produced by someone who knows and cares about the cows the milk and the land – probably not.

    “Those diseases are rare these days, and they are rare because of sanitary food requirements like pasteurization.”

    Pasteurization doesn’t make food sanitary. It just kills the good along with the bad. Those diseases are rare these days primarily because of the removal of human waste and garbage as well as the vast improvement in the knowledge and practice of safe food handling practices.

    There is no good reason to use government guns to coerce everyone into eating cooked milk products. Raw milk is commonly consumed in this country, and most countries, and there is no problem with it killing people. It’s not that dangerous.

  13. Rob K says:

    I’ve kept diary cows. The reason for pasteurization is that the big producers can’t keep the manure and mastitis puss out of the milk and maintain production volume. It only takes a tiny bit of manure on a teat to contaminate the milk, so the teats must be thoroughly washed. Dairy cows are also extremely susceptible to mastitis (google it and see for yourself). It’s very common for one teat to become infected, and it’s not immediately obvious to the the eye. Small producers are able keep the manure and mastitis puss out of the milk. But when you’re milking hundreds of cows a day with automated machines, there’s no way to maintain those cleanliness standards. In many cases, no human ever even sees the teats. They’re milked by a robot. You just can’t properly clean and examine each teat for cleanliness and health while keeping production volume up. So the big producers don’t even really try. They just demand that everyone pasteurize their milk.

    If you keep the mastitis puss and manure out of the milk, and keep it well refrigerated, which is really very easy, you will never have a problem.

  14. Ian Argent says:

    “It’s bit that dangerous” to people with uncompromised immune systems. At non-industrial levels of production. & c.

    Much like skipping vaccinations…

  15. Alpheus says:

    I have no problem with the selling–or drinking–of raw milk, so long as you know that the product you are getting is raw. As Rob K described the issues with puss and manure, I would also add that you’d have to trust the source of the raw milk *extremely* well before you drink it, or you’d be stupid.

    But why should the State care, one way or the other, whether or not I choose to drink raw milk? I don’t think I’d do it personally, unless I know the cow I’m getting it from and can trust it–but shouldn’t it be up to me to decide?

    It shouldn’t be up to the State to protect us from ourselves. Indeed, after reading “Everything I Want to Do is Illegal” by Joel Salatin, I have little to no confidence that food inspectors or regulators can make our food “safe”. Regulations, in particular, may be *based* on safe food-handling practices–but they are so focused on the forms that they ignore the underlying goals.

    For example: Salatin talked about a study done by a student that demonstrated that the inspected chicken meat sold at the supermarket had three times more bacteria than the chicken he sold from his farm.

  16. Sebastian says:

    But why should the State care, one way or the other, whether or not I choose to drink raw milk?

    Because there are many communicable diseases for which food is a possible vector. Well known ones are typhoid fever and lysteria. But noroviruses and other diseases can be spread both through food and person-to-person contact. If you, say, get Hepatitis A from eating or drinking contaminated food or liquid, that’s your problem, but when you start giving other people Hepatitis A, that becomes everyone’s problem.

    Like I said, the number of people who do it is small, and for the most part they should be able to successfully free ride on the rest of the public health system, in terms of not spreading the disease around so much if a few individuals were to become sick, but public health measures were one of those things the progressives got right, I think.

  17. A Critic says:

    “Because there are many communicable diseases for which food is a possible vector. ”

    All communicable diseases have human bodies as a possible vector. Water is also a possible vector. So are all surfaces. The potential for disease does not create a reason for the government to usurp the power of prohibition. If your principle is valid then the government can prohibit anything.

    “public health measures were one of those things the progressives got right, I think.”

    There is no such thing as public health. People are dying of cancer and AIDS. Are we all dying of cancer and AIDS? Nope. Some people are in perfect health. Are we all in perfect health? Nope. There is no such thing as public health.

    Also – if “public health” measures have worked – why is it that cancer and heart disease have skyrocketed in the last century?

  18. Ian Argent says:

    Because heart disease and cancer are the Grim Reaper’s backup when everything else had failed.

  19. Rob K says:

    “Because heart disease and cancer are the Grim Reaper’s backup when everything else had failed.”

    Sort of off topic, but… Not so at all. There are plenty of non-industrialized societies where the average life expectancy for a 45 year-old is every bit as long as in the west and they don’t get diabetes, heart disease, or stroke. Cf. Kitava. Only with the introduction of western industrial processed foods do these diseases begin to appear.

  20. A Critic says:

    “Only with the introduction of western industrial processed foods do these diseases begin to appear.”

    And who introduced western industrial processed foods? The unholy trifecta of state bureaucrats (aka “public health progressives”) and academics working to advance the interests of the corporate food industry.

    The fundamental problems of poor sanitation weren’t ever addressed. Rather than producing clean milk they just have to cook it, and now milk is a filthier more disgusting more wretched horrid product than ever. Of course, it lasts even longer on the shelf due to “ultra-pasteurization” – but the fundamental problems have only increased, not decreased.

    The solution to poor quality control is not using technology to lower the quality to an ever more abysmal level.

  21. Sebastian says:

    Without the “corporate food industry” this planet starves. We can’t go back to 19th century agricultural production methods and still feed the entire planet.

  22. A Critic says:

    “Without the “corporate food industry” this planet starves. We can’t go back to 19th century agricultural production methods and still feed the entire planet.”

    1. There is no reason to recreate the problems of the past in an attempt to avoid the problems of today. Why used antiquated technology and science when there is a tremendous wealth of new technology and science waiting to be used that can eliminate the problems of the past and the present without creating new problems? For example, why use barbed wire fences or stone walls to avoid using confinement feeding operations when there are now inexpensive lightweight movable electric fences?

    2. The planet is going to starve WITH the corporate food industry. We continue to grow the population while decreasing the fertility of the soil, destroying the quantity of the topsoil, and making the plants and livestock ever weaker and more prone to disease and failure.

    From “An Agricultural Testament” by Sir Albert Howard (the grandfather of “organic”):

    “Mother earth never attempts to farm without live stock; she always raises mixed crops; great pains are taken to preserve the soil and to prevent erosion; the mixed vegetable and animal wastes are converted into humus; there is no waste; the processes of growth and the processes of decay balance one another; ample provision is made to maintain large reserves of fertility; the greatest care is taken to store the rainfall; both plaints and animals are left to protect themselves against disease.”

    Go through this most incredible sentence that explains exactly and precisely why nature has succeeded for billions of years and compare it to nature – you will find it to be completely and perfectly true and accurate. Then compare each part to the corporate-academic-state food leviathan. You will find that the leviathan does not do one single thing at all as nature does.

    You can use steroids, all forms of supplements, and lift weights six hours a day, and yes you will achieve what appears to be the most incredible body – and yes you may very well be quite strong – but you are going to be in very poor health by the time you are eighty – if you live that long. The exact same thing is true of the food leviathan.

    One thing that Sir Albert Howard did not address – nature also always increases the genetic diversity and strength of plants and animals. That’s like putting your eggs in an ever larger number of baskets. Compare that to the food leviathan – most especially compare it to the genetically engineered portions of the food leviathan.

    You are a smart fellow, but you’ve fallen under the spell of the technocrats. A handful of white coat wearing adherents of the Church of Science in only a few decades can not create a brand new way of life that contradicts every single operating principle of the old way of life and reasonably expect to succeed in the long run. You can defend your beliefs and the technocracy to the grave if you wish – but it will be an early grave.

  23. Ian Argent says:

    I think we were having 2 separate conversations here – I was (essentially) observing that everyone dies of something, and that once you eliminate the curable or avoidable), heart disease and cancer (and Alzheimer’s too, I suppose) remain.

    I’m not going to have an argument about dietary contributions towards heart disease, cancer, et al. That’s a religious war in the end.

    Finally, whether or not we use future farming techniques, the past ones cannot feed the number of people on the planet. Whether we continue with the current practices or develop new ones, we have to keep going or peopel starve. Possibly Americans.

  24. A Critic says:

    “Whether we continue with the current practices or develop new ones, we have to keep going or peopel starve. Possibly Americans.”

    If we keep using the current practices Americans are going to starve. Topsoil takes tens of thousands of years to build and only a few short decades to erode using current practices. It took the Romans and other ancient cultures hundreds of years to turn the Middle East and North Africa into the desolate wastelands we know today. Our science and technology will get us to the same end but in a far shorter time frame – assuming that the GMO monocrops don’t create a new pestilence or massive crop failures first.

  25. Ian Argent says:

    Irrelevant argument. We know, to a pretty high degree of accuracy, what the capacity of pre-industrial-methods farming is, and it’s not enough to feed the planet. Not even close.

    Today’s industrial farm methods are so productive, we pay landowners to not farm, essentially. (By “we” I mean the us government.) And they get more productive on both a manpower basis and a per-acre basis every year. Whether or not we are desertifying the farmlands the above remains true. I don’t believe the upward curve can be maintained, but Malthus has yet to be right.

  26. A Critic says:

    “Irrelevant argument. We know, to a pretty high degree of accuracy, what the capacity of pre-industrial-methods farming is, and it’s not enough to feed the planet. Not even close. ”

    The industrial system also fails to produce and distribute enough food – hence we have more hungry people now than the entire world population from not too long ago.

    “Whether or not we are desertifying the farmlands the above remains true. I don’t believe the upward curve can be maintained, but Malthus has yet to be right.”

    Check out “Topsoil and Civilization” if you want some interesting reading: http://www.soilandhealth.org/copyform.aspx?bookcode=010113

    While production continues to grow – there are many reasons to believe that the game will be up shortly. The USDA estimates that half of all farmers in this country are going to retire in the next decade. The whole system relies upon cheap oil and cheap immigrant labor, which is an unsustainable system. And the topsoil continues to be destroyed and eroded. GMO continues to weaken the genetic strength and destroy the genetic diversity of the major crops.

  27. A Critic says:

    ““Irrelevant argument. We know, to a pretty high degree of accuracy, what the capacity of pre-industrial-methods farming is, and it’s not enough to feed the planet. Not even close. ””

    Also – aside from the incredibly small fringe group of anarcho-primativists, is anyone arguing that we should return to using pre-industrial methods?

  28. Ian Argent says:

    You, for one. Note, I didn’t say pre-Industrial-Revolution methods. I meant intensive chemical fertilization, factory farming, Green Revolution stuff when I said “industrial” methods.

  29. A Critic says:

    “You, for one. Note, I didn’t say pre-Industrial-Revolution methods. I meant intensive chemical fertilization, factory farming, Green Revolution stuff when I said “industrial” methods.”

    I do not wish to return to the methods of yesteryear. I advocate, and practice, making use of the most advanced methods available. They are sustainable, produce higher yields, greatly reduce or eliminate the dependence on expensive inputs, increase quality, and don’t require treating animals in a manner that would appeal to a sociopath.

  30. Ian Argent says:

    FWIW – I happen to prefer less industrial methods for my food, I find it tastes a bit better. It’s also (currently) much more expensive and also rather more subject to contamination. I’m also in favor of more “advanced” techniques, such as gamma irradiation for sterilization. But I also think that there are GMO foodstuffs that ought to be rather more widespread than they are, such as vitamin-enriched rice and wheat.

    So take that for whatever it’s worth.

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