I recently read a fascinating news article that got me to thinking about the interrelationships food, government, and health. Normally I take the safety of the food I purchase and consume for granted. Sure, I've had the occasional bout of food poisoning, but in general, I don't worry about getting sick from what I eat.
But now a new debate is raging between people who produce and use raw milk and milk products. Raw milk is unpastureized and purported to taste better, have more nutrients, vitamins and "good" bacteria as compared to pastureized milk.
Two governmental powerhouses that regulate and make recommendations about the food supply, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), both strongly recommend against raw milk consumption. There are concerns that unpasteurized milk may increase risk of E.coli and Salmonella infections. Until now the FDA has not greatly interfered with the small-scale production of raw milk.
There are new regulations under consideration at the FDA that would require that cheese be aged for longer than the currently mandated 60 days. If approved, this new regulation could effectively halt raw milk cheese production.
And if the FDA can do that, why stop there? It is clear that the agency has an anti-raw-milk stance. In the name of public health it could conceivably wipe out the entire raw milk industry by implementing a few strategic regulations.
So although it is great not to have to regularly worry about the safety of the food I consume largely due to federal and state regulation of the production, processing, and distribution of food, I wonder how much the government can and should interfere. When does regulation in the name of safety become invasive and limiting of free choice?
People were consuming raw milk centuries before the FDA or CDC even existed. Somehow, huamns survived. Going forward, which will we as a society value - increasing regulation in the hope that it will make life completely safe, or acceptance of a certain level of risk in exchange for freedom of choice?
And the question goes beyond raw milk. What about natural and alternative health products, services, supplements, and medicines? What is the government role in keeping consumers safe while still allowing consumers to elect to use this type of products and services?
For now, if you are a raw milk user, you can still enjoy this product in accordance with state regulations. And, the FDA claims that it will never regulate raw milk use in individual homes.
Let's hope so.