Access to slaughterhouses has been poor for small livestock producers in most of the country for many years now but has become considerably worse since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. USDA-inspected slaughterhouses have since last spring been booking customers as far out as 2022. Many custom slaughterhouses are now booking well into 2021.
Demand for locally raised meat is only going to increase. At a recent food safety conference, a high ranking official from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that the department was working to have low-dose ionizing radiation, known as irradiation, to be considered as a “processing aid”a which means there would be no labeling requirement to inform consumers that meat or poultry they were purchasing had been irradiated.
One possible answer for the slaughterhouse logjam is the personal use exemption codified in federal regulation at 9 CFR 303(a)(1). The regulation states:
The requirements of the [Federal Meat Inspection] Act and the regulations in this subchapter for the inspection of the preparation of products do not apply to:
(1) The slaughtering by any individual of livestock of his own raising and the preparation by him and transportation and commerce of the carcasses, parts thereof, meat and meat food products of such livestock exclusively for use by him and members of his household and his non-paying guests and employees.
On May 24, 2018, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) published a guidance document titled, “FSIS Guidelines for Determining Whether a Livestock Slaughter or Processing Firm Is Exempt from the Inspection Requirements of the Federal Meat Inspection Act.” In the guidance, FSIS explains what those under various exemptions from inspection, including the personal use exemption, can legally do. FSIS’s interpretation of the guidance provides a way for farmers to sell live meat animals while being under the personal use rather than the custom slaughter exemption.
The guidance states that under the personal use exemption,
A person may purchase livestock from a farm or ranch and then slaughter it onsite using the farm or ranch facilities or equipment. a. If a person purchases livestock, and uses the on-site facilities without assistance from the seller, then the activity remains personal use.
b. If the seller participates in the slaughter or processing activity, then the facility owner is subject to the custom [slaughter] exempt criteria….
The document goes on to state, ”the owners of the livestock may or may not reside at the same physical location as the animal”, establishing that there can be more than one owner under the personal use exemption. FSIS does not say how many owners there can be under the exemption, but it has stated that there can be unlimited owners under the custom slaughter exemption. FSIS has stated that all owners must obtain some portion of the custom animal but has not required that there be a specific minimum amount.
The only other requirements listed in the guidance for the personal use exemption have to do with adulteration. FSIS requires:
“No livestock are slaughtered which are unfit for human consumption.”
“Specified risk materials (SRMs) are inedible and prohibited for use as human food.”
“The carcasses and parts are not prepared, packed or held, under insanitary conditions.”
There are many more requirements for the custom slaughter and custom processing exemption than there are for the personal use exemption including requirements for the physical facility, water, labeling, recordkeeping, and ingredients used in the preparation of meat products. There are also state licensing requirements for custom facilities; usually there is no licensing requirement for a farmer operating under the personal use exemption.
Most, if not all, states have adopted the personal use exemption as part of their law, few of those states have imposed additional requirements beyond what the Feds’ mandate.
There is no limit on the number of livestock that an owner may slaughter and process for their personal use. Livestock slaughtered and processed under this exemption can be shipped across state lines. For the farmer shut out at inspected and custom slaughterhouses, it’s possible to sell live animals under the personal use exemption if one of the owners is experienced at meat processing, whether that individual is another farmer or someone specializing in the trade.
aProcessing aids: Ingredients that are present in a meat or poultry product in an insignificant amount and that have no functional or technical effects in the finished meat or poultry product are considered to be processing aids. Processing aids are not required to be listed in the ingredients statement for a meat or poultry product. [FSIS, “Compliance Guide on the Determination of Processing Aids”, PDF, April 8, 2008; weblink]
If anyone needed evidence on the importance of passing the PRIME Act (H.R.2859 / S.1620), the bill enables states to pass laws allowing the sale of meat from an animal slaughtered and processed at a custom facility), the logjam at slaughterhouses around the U.S. should provide it. Federally inspected slaughterhouses, state-inspected slaughterhouses, and custom facilities around the country are stretched beyond capacity. With the COVID-19 crisis triggering a shift in demand from industrial to locally produced meat and the concerns about food security leading to increased stocking, the market demand for local meat has never been greater. Compounding the strain on slaughterhouses is the demand from livestock farmers that previously sold to the major meat packers until they lost that business in the shutdown or slowdown of the country‘s biggest processing plants.
There are USDA slaughterhouses around the country now booking into 2022; many custom houses are taking reservations for well into 2021. It is not uncommon for livestock producers who were able to get a slaughter date two or three months out are now having to book eight months or more in advance. More farmers are considering whether to construct a custom facility on their own land. Under federal law, which states are required to follow, farmers can slaughter animals they have raised without regulation as long as the meat from the slaughter only goes to the farmer’s family, non-paying guests and employees. If anyone else obtains meat from an on-farm slaughtered animal, the farmer must comply with federal regulations governing custom slaughter and processing.
A number of states have taken steps during COVID-19 to increase the meat supply. In May, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce issued an emergency regulation lifting the restriction on the number of owners there could be for a custom processed animal.1 Prior to the emergency rule (which will be converted into a permanent rule sometime this summer), there was a limit of four owners per custom animal; now a farmer can distribute beef direct to the consumer without limitation on the number of individual owners. Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson said Mississippi residents wanting to buy local beef or pork “can buy a share in that animal whatever the farmer wants to sell” or however he wants to divide it up.2 The new rule is in line with USDA’s position that federal regulations do not set a limit on the number of owners there can be for a custom animal.
On April 28, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) announced that it had “invited ten qualifying custom exempt slaughter establishments in Utah” to come under state inspection which would allow the sale of meat from animals processed at those facilities in intrastate commerce. A UDAF press release stated that “if all the [invited] custom exempt plants take part in this emergency program it could increase Utah’s processing capacity by at least 10 percent.”3
USDA has a cooperative interstate shipments program (CIS) which allows meat from approved state-inspected slaughter and/or processing facilities—with no more than 25 employees—to be shipped in interstate commerce if the plant is located in a state that FSIS has approved to participate in a state meat inspection program. At the present time, FSIS has only approved seven of the 27 states with their own meat inspection programs to be part of the CIS.
In May, Maine and Wisconsin, two states participating in the CIS program, each sent waiver requests to FSIS asking that the Feds allow meat from all state-inspected plants to be shipped in interstate commerce.
In a May 7 letter to FSIS, Commissioner Amanda Bill of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (MDACF) said, “Given the current challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we ask that FSIS grant a temporary waiver to allow all state-inspected meat to be sold in interstate commerce or to be donated to food banks that require federally inspected products. This temporary waiver would lift usual restrictions on place of sale and allow for more processing and marketing opportunities for Maine producers and consumers during the unprecedented crisis. USDA processing facilities in Maine are under immense pressure to meet demand and are reportedly booked out over a year in advance in some locations. Allowing state-inspected meat to temporarily cross state lines will greatly support regional marketing opportunities, smooth out bottlenecks in the local food chain, reduce the need to cull healthy livestock and poultry, and support those who are food insecure during this extremely difficult time.”4
In his letter to FSIS, interim secretary Randy Romanski of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) also asked USDA to grant a temporary exception to allow state-inspected meat to be sold or donated across state lines. Romanski stated, “Our agricultural development staff have been working tirelessly to identify state-inspected Main Street meat processors who may be willing to slaughter and process even an extra dozen animals a week. Our state meat inspectors stand ready to provide additional slaughter inspection days as necessary. We feel that new partnerships between farmers, processors and consumers or food donation programs are vitally important in responding to this pandemic.”5
Oregon, earlier this month, passed a bill authorizing the start up of a state meat inspection program. North Carolina and Minnesota have both recently had bills introduced that would provide financial help to improve slaughterhouse infrastructure and capacity.
There is currently legislation before Congress, Senate Bill 1720 (S.1710) that would allow the sale of state inspected meat and poultry in interstate commerce. S.1720 is legislation that needs to pass with its potential to increase the supply of meat available to consumers that is outside the meat packers’ monopoly, but the bill won’t have the impact on improvising the slaughterhouse infrastructure in the U. S. that the PRIME Act would.
Custom slaughter and processing facilities are less expensive to construct then federal and state-inspected plants; they are also considerably less expensive to operate, with the custom facilities not having requirements such as HACCP plans. Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY), the lead sponsor of the PRIME Act, has said that he has been contacted by a number of people who owned buildings that were once slaughter facilities. They have told Massie that if the PRIME Act passes into law, they could have their slaughter plants up and running in five weeks. Many of those individuals would not be interested in operating a facility again if an on-site inspector had to be present–a requirement for state and federally inspected facilities but not for custom, Only a custom facility from which meat could be sold by the cut will get them back into business. The PRIME Act will increase the number of slaughterhouses more than S.1720. Currently, 27 states have their own meat inspection program; all states except South Carolina allow the operation of custom facilities. It has been many years since FSIS has approved the start up of a state meat inspection program.
The notion has been planted in the public mind that meat can’t be produced safely without an inspector being present for slaughtering and processing, but the truth is otherwise. Custom slaughtered and processed meat has an excellent track record for food safety. USDA recalls over 20 million pounds of meat in a typical year, little or none of that comes from custom facilities. It isn’t uncommon for hundreds of people to become ill from meat processed at the large USDA-inspected processing plants; few cases of foodborne illness have been blamed on meat processed at a custom house. Where is there a better quality control, an inspected plant slaughtering 300 to 400 cattle an hour or a custom facility slaughtering a few beeves a day? Fifty such plants account for nearly 98% of the meat production in this country according to a story posted by The New York Times referencing beef analyst Cassandra Fish.6
The PRIME Act has over 50 sponsors in the House; the support is there to pass the bill. The biggest weakness in the local food system is the lack of community slaughterhouses. The existing custom houses can’t keep up with the demand. Passage of the PRIME Act is the best way to get additional slaughterhouses online now.
How You Can Make a Difference
Please call your U.S. Representative and Senators asking them to cosponsor the PRIME Act. For more information on the PRIME Act see the previous post and view the latest WAPF action alert posted at www.westonaprice.org under “Get Involved”.
You can look up your two U.S. Senators by selecting your state at www,senate.gov in the “Find Your Senator” field near the top of the webpage and your U.S. Representative by entering your zip code at www.house.gov again at the top of the webpage; you may also call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121
“Due to issues related to the COVID-19 emergency and the impact the spread of the disease has had on the meat supply chain, the Department issues this temporary rule in an effort to increase meat availability to consumers. The temporary rule will increase the number of people that can own an animal (cattle, sheep, swine, and goats) from four to multiple owners for the purposes of the custom slaughter exemption of the meat inspection laws. The regulation will be effective for 120 days from May 7, 2020 through September 3, 2020.”
“After decades of consolidation, there are about 800 federally inspected slaughterhouses in the United States, processing billions of pounds of meat for food stores each year. But a relatively small number of them account for the vast majority of production. In the cattle industry, a little more than 50 plants are responsible for as much as 98 percent of slaughtering and processing in the United States, according to Cassandra Fish, a beef analyst.”
On June 15th Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed Senate Joint Resolution 841 (SJR 841), a resolution to commend and support the Weston A. Price Foundation’s “50% Pledge” campaign. State senator Frank Niceley sponsored SJR 841 which passed unanimously.
The resolution reads:
WHEREAS, this General Assembly finds that the family farmer is the backbone of the Tennessee economy; and
WHEREAS, Tennessee family farms produce some of the highest quality food in the country; and
WHEREAS, it is the policy of the General Assembly to support Tennessee residents in their endeavors to purchase as much of their food as possible from Tennessee producers; and
WHEREAS, prosperous family farms improve food security and the ability of our State to be self-sufficient in food production; and
WHEREAS, keeping more of the food dollar in the local community will strengthen Tennessee’s rural economy; and
WHEREAS, the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nutrition nonprofit organization, has launched a campaign called the “50% Pledge,” a campaign to encourage people to purchase at least half of their food directly from local farmers and artisans; now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SENATE OF THE ONE HUNDRED ELEVENTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES CONCURRING, that we hereby commend and support the Weston A. Price Foundation and its “50% Pledge” campaign.
Demand for food direct from the farm, especially meat, has skyrocketed since the onset of the covid-19 crisis in March. This has resulted in the single greatest shift away from the cheap-food, high-healthcare-cost paradigm the country has been mired in for decades. The highest quality food is mostly found from small farmers and local artisans. The more food that is purchased direct from small farms, the stronger individual health, consumer freedom of choice, rural economies, food security, food safety and the sense of community will become. WAPF’s “50% Pledge” campaign is an effort to help make that happen.
For more information, click here for the story on realmilk.com about the 50% Pledge Campaign. Those interested in supporting the campaign can order free “50% Pledge” postcards through this link on the westonaprice.org website.
In Ontario, a constitutional (charter) challenge to a national and provincial ban on the sale and distribution of raw milk is nearing the finish. In November, attorneys for the 19 consumers and 2 farmers (applicants) who filed the challenge, and attorneys for the Attorney General of Ontario, the Attorney General of Canada, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario and the Dairy Farmers of Canada will argue the case before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in what should be the final phase of the litigation. Among those challenging the ban in court is dairy farmer Elisa Vander Hout whose husband is Michael Schmidt, the one who has done more to promote and increase access to raw milk than anyone in Canada.
The main claim of the applicants is that the ban violates the provision in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing freedom of conscience and religion. A brief filed in the case states that the two farmers, Vander Hout and Paul Noble, “each believes as a matter of conscience in the health benefits of raw milk and that they have a duty to provide it to consumers who share their beliefs.” The 19 consumers have purchased raw milk, consumed it, and provided it to their families because “they believe as a matter of conscience in the health benefits of raw milk. They further believe that as a matter of conscience that they and their families need to consume raw milk because doing so protects their health.”
The case boils down to a battle of dueling experts over the safety and risks of raw milk consumption. Thanks to affidavits from microbiologist Peg Coleman and Dr. Nadine Ijaz, the record in the litigation establishes more strongly than ever that the Canadian raw milk ban is not about public health but rather about protecting the market share of the country’s powerful dairy cartel. Their testimony shows how the science on raw milk safety and benefits has strengthened considerably in recent years.
Applicants’ attorney, Queen’s counsel Ian Blue, points out in a court filing that calling raw milk a public health risk:
ignores the fact that raw milk has unique health benefits not possessed by pasteurized milk;
is based on dated and incomplete pathogen prevalence and outbreak reports;
ignores that in the western world illnesses from raw milk are a de minimis food safety and public health issue;
ignores the role of openness, scrutiny and food safety management programs in minimizing the health risk of raw milk; and
ignores that almost everywhere else and in the western world, the sale and distribution of raw milk is legal; and
misses that over the last 20 years, the legalization of the sale of raw milk [in the U.S. and elsewhere] has significantly increased while outbreaks of illnesses from raw milk have significantly decreased.
At issue in the case has been a 2018 study finding that “the rate of unpasteurized milk-associated outbreaks has been declining since 2010, despite increasing legal distribution. Controlling for growth in population and consumption, the outbreak rate has effectively decreased by 74% since 2005” (the study looked at outbreaks from 2005 to 2018). The government has not been able to discredit the study during the litigation.
The government’s position during the litigation has been that the prevalence of pathogens in raw milk is reason enough to maintain the ban; this is a double standard applied to raw milk–if it’s not perfect then sales should be illegal. The applicants’ response has been to show that pathogen prevalence alone is not a reliable indicator of risk because of risk-mitigating factors such as the dose of the pathogen (is there enough in the milk to make someone sick); the consumer’s immunological status; production, storage and transport conditions of the milk; and the mitigating presence of beneficial bacteria. In her affidavit, Ijaz noted, “The risk per serving of foodborne illness…associated with consumption of milk procured in its raw state –while not negligible–is significantly lower than that from other foods commonly implicated in foodborne outbreaks, i.e., leafy green vegetables, ground beef hamburger, home cooked chicken.”
The government has moved to exclude evidence provided by Coleman and Ijaz, among others, on the grounds that they are biased in favor of raw milk. In commenting on the motion in a court document, Blue observed that “the lawyer’s law is sometimes phrased as when the facts are against you, argue the law. When the law is against you, argue the facts. And when both the law and the facts are against you, call the other side names.” When asked by Blue during cross-examination, two of the government’s witnesses acknowledged that informed consumers should have the freedom to consume raw milk.
Blue, a litigator with 50 years’ experience in the courts, has estimated that there are over 30,000 pages of documents in the case. The dairy cartel has a strong influence in the country but, with a fair-minded judge, this is a winnable case. Kudos to Ian Blue and his law firm of Gardiner Roberts LLP for providing representation for applicants at a substantial discount.
Passage of the PRIME Act [H.R. 5859 / S. 1620] would give states the power to legalize the sale of custom processed meat in intrastate commerce (i.e., meat from an animal slaughtered and processed at a facility where an inspector is not required to be present to observe the slaughtering and conduct an ante mortem and post mortem inspection of the animal).
Currently, federal law prohibits the sale of custom processed meat; the prohibition went into effect with the passage of the Wholesome Meat Act of 1967. The Act mandated that meat could not be sold unless it was slaughtered and processed at a facility that was either federally inspected or one inspected in a state whose meat inspection laws were at least as strict as the federal requirements; meat slaughtered and processed at a state facility could only be sold within the state.
The Wholesome Meat Act has done tremendous damage to local slaughterhouse infrastructure around the country. In 1967 there were nearly 10,000 slaughterhouses in the country1; today there are less than 3,000.2*
The bottleneck caused by the lack of slaughterhouses has frustrated small livestock operations in getting their products to market and has led to an inability to meet the overall demand for locally produced meat. The 1967 Act has been one of the worst laws ever passed for local food; what’s more, it was known from the beginning that the Act would have the effect it did.
On September 16, 1971, the Small Business Administration (SBA) presented a paper to the United States Senate Select Committee on Small Business titled: “The Effects of the Wholesome Meat Act of 1967 upon Small Business – A Study of One Industry’s Economic Problems Resulting from Environmental-Consumer Legislation Prepared by the Small Business Administration.”3
The SBA paper3 discusses the cost of compliance (mainly, the costs of facility upgrades) with the requirements of the Act and the effects it could have on small-scale slaughterhouses and processing plants. The paper includes the following comments:
“[I]t could be argued that the Wholesome Meat Act was as much of a disaster for many small meat firms as a hurricane….” [p. 32]
During the Congressional deliberations in 1967 over the Wholesome Meat Act, there was little discussion of the effects that the Wholesome Meat Act would have upon those 15,000 or so firms who now would be subject to rigorous inspection of their product. [p.31]
Emphasis was upon “consumerism”, the American housewife and her family. And this was “consumerism” in a rather narrow sense. There was little or no consideration given to the costs, particularly in the first few years, that would have to be borne by the meat industries in order to comply with the Wholesome Meat Act. “…[I]t was likely that meat prices would increase for several years, because of the Act. Scant attention was paid to this highly important problem during the Congressional consideration of the Wholesome Meat Act.” [p. 31]
Nor was much attention paid to the potential effects of the new law upon competition within the meat industries. “[T]he meat industries are among the more competitive in the American economy. But the Wholesome Meat Act could lead to a significant diminution of competition. How many firms would have to shut down because they could no longer compete due to the new law? … Would the Wholesome Act lead, however unwittingly, to an undesirable increase in concentration in the meat industries? Questions such as these, highly fundamental questions, were barely raised during the legislative process.” [p. 31]
The SBA report notes that following passage of the Wholesome Meat Act, legislation was introduced in Congress that would have allowed SBA disaster loans for slaughterhouses attempting to become compliant with the Act if the slaughterhouse’s financial need could not be met “by private financial institutions or by regular Government credit programs.” As recorded in the report, “the SBA disaster fund ‘is based upon the legal principle that the emergency is created by the act of the sovereign U.S. Government which is beyond the control of the individual business. This may cause major losses to the businessman, particularly if the company is forced out of business. The sovereign act is thus similar to a natural disaster…’” [p.33]
“We find that the small business concerns affected by the Act need a substantial amount of financial assistance in effecting compliance with the Wholesome Meat Act. The establishments not in conformance with the Wholesome Meat Act say they need $278.6 million to make the improvements needed to conform to the law. Of this amount, the establishments surveyed say $132.2 million is unavailable. In addition, fully one-third of the establishments not in conformance with the Act report that financing is unavailable…. We find that the amount that may be forthcoming from private financial institutions is seriously deficient.” [p.84]
“The Wholesome Meat Act only directly affects strictly intrastate producers whose production at the most is 20-25 percent of the total national products of meat. Of this intrastate group, slightly less than half are not in conformance with the Wholesome Meat Act and probably about one-third or so of the group not in conformance will go out of business if some form of Federal loan program is not developed for their benefit.” [p. 86]
“The authors think the empirical evidence contained in this report points inevitably to the conclusion that many firms will suffer substantial economic injury without Federal assistance. In fact, many face terminal economic injury without some form of Government relief.” [p.87]
Much of what the SBA report questioned about the Wholesome Meat Act has come to pass. The Act did contribute significantly to the consolidation of the meat industry; today four companies control over 80% of beef processing in the U.S. and four companies control over 60% of pork processing.4
The inability to comply with costly federal requirements has led to thousands of slaughter and processing facilities going out of business; many of these were small facilities processing only for commerce within the state. These facilities might have been accountable for only 20-25 percent of national meat products but they gave the small livestock farmer much better access to slaughterhouses at a better price than is the case today. The local abattoirs that dotted the country are mostly gone. Passage of the PRIME Act can begin the process of bringing them back.
The Wholesome Meat Act has not led to the production of safer meat today; there are more recalls than ever for positive pathogen tests in meat products. The 1967 Act has also contributed to higher meat prices as the writers of the SBA report predicted; the higher costs with expanded federal regulation have been passed on to the consumer. The Wholesome Meat Act has failed small-scale slaughterhouses, family farms, consumers and communities on numerous levels.
It’s time to start the process of rolling it back by passing the PRIME Act. Call you representative and ask that they sign on as a cosponsor of HR 2859 / S 1620.
———- REFERENCES 1 Denny, R.C.H. (2012). Between the Farm and the Farmer’s Market: Slaughterhouses, Regulations, and Alternative Food Networks (Master’s thesis). Retrieved from Auburn University AUETD database, https://etd.auburn.edu/handle/10415/3247*
2 United States Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service. Livestock Slaughter 2019 Summary. April 2020. p. 62. Posted at http://www.usda.gov/nass/PUBS/TODAYRPT/lsan0415.pdf [View PDF – http://bit.ly/1i6sxS9]
3 United States. Small Business Administration, and United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Small Business. The Effects of the Wholesome Meat Act of 1967 Upon Small Business: A Study of One Industry’s Economic Problems Resulting from Environmental-Consumer Legislation. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1971.
Reprinted by permission of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund from article originally posted September 10, 2015, titled “The Wholesome Meat Act of 1967: Disaster for Small Slaughterhouses from the Start“. Republished here with minor edits.
On March 25, Governor Gary Hebert signed House Bill 134 (HB 134) into law. The bill legalizes the sale of raw butter and raw cream in Utah; HB 134 took effect immediately. Representative Kim Coleman (R) was the lead sponsor for the legislation.
With the Utah law taking effect, there are now around twenty states that allow the sale or distribution of raw cream for human consumption; around a dozen states allow the sale or distribution of raw butter. There are at least two other states considering the legalization of raw butter sales.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) remains the greatest roadblock to the legalization of raw dairy products in the U.S. On February 27, FDA rejected a petition to lift the interstate ban on raw butter filed by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and Mark McAfee, the biggest producer of raw butter and cream in the country. In its rejection letter, one of the agency’s justifications for maintaining the prohibition was that raw butter was responsible for a foodborne illness outbreak occurring on average every 7 or 8 years; a standard that, if applied consistently across our food supply, would make many foods illegal in interstate commerce. As time goes on, an increasing number of states will no longer side with FDA, taking matters into their own hands by legalizing sales of raw dairy products in intrastate commerce.
HB 134 marks the third time in the last five years that a Utah raw milk bill has passed into law. In 2015, the mother-daughter team of Symbria and Sara Patterson were mainly responsible for the passage of a law legalizing the distribution of raw milk and raw milk products through micro-dairy herd share agreements. In 2018, Red Acre Center, a nonprofit formed by the Pattersons, was the driver in passing a law allowing the unlicensed on-farm sale of raw milk and the delivery of raw milk by licensed dairies. A bill similar to HB 134 nearly passed in the 2019 session; under the new law, licensed dairies can sell raw butter and raw cream on the farm, through delivery, and at a retail store if the dairy has a majority ownership interest in the store.
The passage of HB 134 comes at a time when, with the Covid-19 situation, demand for food direct from the farm is soaring. Legal raw butter and cream will move more of the food dollar to where it belongs–at the farms producing some of the safest, most nitrient-dense foods available.
As expected, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has denied a citizen petition from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) and Organic Pastures Dairy Company (OPDC) to lift a ban on the interstate distribution and sale of raw butter.
In a February 27 letter to FTCLDF and OPDC, Mark Moorman, Director of FDA’s Office of Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, stated: “Your Petition does not contain facts demonstrating reasonable grounds…to allow the interstate delivery or sale or distribution of raw cream butter. Further, your petition does not substantially show that your proposal is in the public interest and will promote the public health objectives of FDA and the statutes we administer….”
Allowing access to a nutritious raw dairy product like butter is not a “public health objective” of FDA.
While FDA’s decision wasn’t a surprise, the weakness of its response to the petition was. At the end of the FDA letter was a five-page table on “Illnesses and deaths associated with butter not known to be pasteurized, (1908 to 2003).” There were 13 outbreaks during that 95-year timeframe attributed to raw butter consumption, with one of the outbreaks occurring in England.
Of those 13 outbreaks, all but one described the butter as “Not Specified but commonly unpasteurized” or “Not Specified.” The one entry listed as “Unpasteurized” is a 2001-2002 outbreak where 202 people in North Carolina allegedly became ill from butter. This entry is different from the CDC’s foodborne illness outbreak database, which attributes the illnesses to “other milk, unpasteurized”. According to published articles, homemade butter was served to elementary school students as part of a demonstration.
Seven of the 13 outbreaks fail to specify the “Total Number of Illnesses”; one shows “reports of consumer injuries” while six show “NA” (meaning, “Not Available / Not Reported”). One of the entries, a 1991 outbreak where 265 people became ill in California and Nevada, lists the implicated food as “blended butter and margarine products”. How often has raw butter been blended with margarine — ever?
Two of the 13 outbreaks indicate that someone was hospitalized — one person in one case, four in the other. The remainder indicate that no data is available. Only one of the 13 outbreaks specified whether there were any deaths (i.e., six in a 1913 Minnesota outbreak). Again, the remainder indicated that no data is available.
If a petitioner had submitted a graphic to FDA with data this incomplete, the agency would have rejected it out of hand. Even if FDA is correct on the number of outbreaks attributed to raw butter consumption, the total amounts to one outbreak every seven or eight years. If that is the standard for banning a food in interstate commerce, many foods would be illegal.
Much of FDA’s response consisted of disagreeing with the petitioners’ interpretation of various studies regarding butter and pathogenic bacteria, as well as citing challenge tests (such as studies in which butter is inoculated with pathogens, then observed to monitor what happens). Shouldn’t the ultimate determining factor be, from a scientific standpoint, how many people have gotten sick from consuming a food?
The CDC database on foodborne illness outbreaks from 1998-2016 that FTCLDF and OPDC used in their petition to FDA doesn’t blame a single outbreak on commercially produced raw butter, and only one outbreak is blamed on homemade raw butter [Utah in 2007].
FDA tried to downplay raw butter’s impressive safety track record by pointing to the 1987 interstate ban as the reason there have been almost no outbreaks. However, raw butter sales have been legal in California since the state’s inception. Mark McAfee, OPDC’s president, stated that his company has sold well over 2 million lbs. of raw butter the past 20 years without illness. About 10 other states allow the sale or distribution of raw butter.
Aside from the small number of foodborne illness outbreaks attributed legitimately or otherwise to raw butter consumption over the past 112 years, the FDA denial of the petition could be vulnerable to a court challenge in other areas.
The butter ban is illegal according to a statute (21 USC 341) in the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act that governs “standard of identity” for food which are requirements prescribing what a food product must contain to be marketed under a certain product name in interstate commerce. For instance, the standard of identity for milk requires that it be pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized and that it contain not less than 3-¼ percent milkfat [21 CFR 131.110]. The citizen petition notes that FDA addressed the question of requiring pasteurization as part of a standard of identity regarding milk and found that such health-based requirements were properly addressed as standards of identity stating: “The Commissioner rejects the contention that section 401 of the act does not permit provisions of a standard of identity to be promulgated for health reasons. [39 Fed. Reg. 42,351 (Dec. 5, 1974)]”
Congress has given FDA power to establish standard of identity requirements for most foods but specifically prohibits the agency from doing so for butter. In its response FDA justified its violation of the standard of identity by claiming the Public Health Service Act gives it authority to require pasteurization for butter as part of its power to regulate communicable disease, a stretch given the food safety track record of raw butter. FDA, in its response, argued that standard of identity was about protecting consumers against economic adulteration and reflecting consumer expectations about food, contradicting its earlier statement that health reasons can also be a factor in these regulations.
A second area where FDA is on weak ground is that, in the lawsuit that resulted in the court order to FDA to impose the ban [Public Citizen v. Heckler, 653 F. Supp. 1229 (D.C. District, 1987)], butter is not mentioned at all in the court record of the case. Butter, like cheese, is considered a manufactured milk product. The lawsuit sought the ban of all raw milk and raw milk products in interstate commerce. The definition of “milk products” in the FDA Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO)–the governing document for the production and distribution of milk and milk products in interstate commerce–does not include butter or cheese.
The court record only discussed dairy products that were listed in the PMO definition of “milk product.” When the court ordered FDA to ban “raw milk’ and ‘raw milk products’, it was only those products under that definition. In its response, FDA claimed the court order banned all products made from raw milk but, if the agency is correct in its interpretation, aged raw milk cheeses wouldn’t be legal in the U.S. as they have always been. The impetus for the litigation that resulted in the court order was the lack of FDA enforcement on standard of identity regulations requiring pasteurization for milk and various milk products–because of the statutory prohibition, there is no standard of identity regulation for butter.
Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) is appealing the FDA denial to the federal district in court in the District of Columbia. The appeal to challenge FDA is likely to be costly as it will require paying scientific experts as well as attorneys. FTCLDF could really use your financial support. Overturning the butter ban is a big step toward a day when all raw dairy products will be legal in interstate commerce.
To donate specifically to support the case to overturn the FDA decision, you may donate online or call 703-208-3276.
Spend at least 50% of your food dollars on direct purchases from local farmers and artisans; with the remainder of your food dollars, you can celebrate how small the world has become!
This commitment to supporting local farms crowns the 20th year of the ongoing crusade by the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) to disseminate accurate information on diet and health.
There is every reason to take the 50% Pledge, a campaign of WAPF to have its members spend at least half their food dollar purchasing food from local farmers and artisans.
By taking and making good on the pledge, you will be improving your own health and the health of your families. The highest quality food is mostly found from small farmers and artisans in the local food system. The likelihood is that you will be spending less money on doctors and medication. If you are currently spending little or nothing on medical services taking the 50% pledge is a great way to maintain that lifestyle.
Taking the pledge contributes towards small farm prosperity and increases the chances of your local food source remaining in business. There are still too many one-size-fits-all food safety regulations that squeeze regenerative family farms; they need all the business they can take on. The quality of the industrial food supply continues to deteriorate; by helping to keep quality local producers in business through your patronage, you will be better able to avoid health-robbing foods in the industrial system. The medical system currently accounts for 17% of our gross national product (GNP); reducing demand for medical services leads to a more productive use of resources. Small farmers are the true frontline healers in our healthcare system.
Taking the pledge will benefit the local economy by keeping more of your food dollar in the community. In many states, less than 10% of the food residents consume is produced in that state. The industrialization of agriculture has drained rural America.
Stronger local food systems lead to better food safety. At an international food safety conference in July 2019, a high-ranking FDA official stated that traceability was the Achilles heel of the food system; nothing is more traceable than food locally produced and consumed.
A country’s ability to be self-sufficient in quality food production is its first line of national defense. A strong small-farm sector marketing most of its production direct to the final consumer is the path towards making that happen.
There are other steps you can take beyond the 50% Pledge; you can pass word of the campaign on to non-WAPF members and convince them to take the pledge. Educate them on how important it is for their own health and the health of their families to have a prosperous local food system. The enemy is convenience; explain to them why it’s worth it to go the extra mile and purchase direct from local farms and artisans.
WAPF has created postcards explaining the 50% Pledge that are free for the asking to make people think more about where they are spending their food dollar. Request a free set of postcards through the online store at westonaprice.org or email a request postcards to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 703-820-3333.
The conventional food system is changing rapidly. The expansion of home delivery systems for industrial food, the growth of industrial organic, and the targeting of the traditional livestock business through plant-based and cell-cultured “meat” and “dairy” products threaten to weaken local food systems. Mass participation in the 50% Pledge campaign is a way to stem the threat, creating more demand for the raw dairy products, meat, poultry, eggs, produce and other nutrient-dense foods that small farmers and local artisans produce.