WASHINGTON — The Department of Health and Human Services has decided to take no action regarding the marketing of raw milk and raw milk products, despite strong recommendations from scientists within the Food and Drug Administration that those unpasteurized items be banned.
Dr. Frank E. Young, FDA commissioner, acknowledged Friday that "a public health problem exists" and said there is a "strong association between the consumption of raw milk and the outbreak of disease." Nevertheless, he said he believes that federal regulation of raw milk "would be neither effective nor appropriate."
State Regulation Urged
Young's comments, contained in a letter sent Friday to Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the public interest Health Research Group, added that "effective state regulation would solve the problem" and "the states are far better situated to bring about a more complete solution. . . ."
Young's letter represented the department's response to a federal judge's Jan. 14 order, in which HHS was given 60 days to act on the consumer group's request to ban all sales of raw, or unpasteurized, milk and its products. Consumption of raw milk products has been blamed for outbreaks of bacterial disease, and the federal Centers for Disease Control has said "abundant evidence" exists that raw milk is "a vehicle for disease in humans."
Alta-Dena Dairy in City of Industry, Calif., and Mathis Dairy in Decatur, Ga., are the only two producers of certified raw milk in the country.
Boyd Clarke, general manager of Alta-Dena, said he was pleased with the department's decision. "We sell over 200,000 glasses of certified raw milk every day," he said. "We have always maintained that people should always have the freedom to choose."
Advocates of raw milk maintain that the pasteurization process destroys important nutrients and enzymes beneficial to health.
Recall of Raw Milk
Officials at Alta-Dena also stress that their raw milk products are "certified"--that is, they must adhere to certain standards established by an industry organization to assure clean, hygienic practices. Nevertheless, California health authorities have recalled Alta-Dena certified raw milk from sale on more than 20 occasions in the last 10 years because laboratory tests revealed the presence of the contaminant Salmonella dublin.
"I feel very strongly that the evidence establishes an increased risk to individuals consuming raw milk--and there are no established health benefits to consuming it," Young said in an interview Friday. "A public health problems exists."
But, he added: "The question was, what was the best way to solve it? We really wrestled with it. The interstate sale of raw milk is only 3%--we were dealing with a 3% problem and didn't feel it required federal action. Does the federal government come in and solve a two-state problem?"
California Allows Sale
Young said the FDA will send letters to all states making them aware of the health hazard. California is one of about 20 states that permit the sale of raw milk.
One HHS official, who requested anonymity, described this response as "a classic confrontation between a regulatory agency and a freedom-of-choice Administration--tell everyone what the problem is and let them solve it themselves."