The debate rages on, as usual, with no shortage of passion on both sides.  Sometimes, however, sheer lunacy prevails over reasoned and fact-based argument.  It used to come most frequently from Weston A Price and devotees who long denied that raw milk presented any risks at all, or that it had ever caused any outbreaks.  But WAP has been quiet lately, likely due in no small part to the rash of Salmonella, campylobacter, and E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks that have ocurred thus far in 2010.

Lunacy prevails again, however, as characterized in Sara Burrows Carolina Journal article this morning about the raw milk underground.  Discussing North Carolina’s ban on the sale of raw milk, and the lengths that some people go to to get their milk nonetheless, Burrows states:

The ban leaves Laura only one legal option for obtaining raw milk — purchasing it under the moniker “pet milk.” Farmers can sell raw milk for pet consumption, as long as it is labeled as such and includes the warning “Not for human consumption” in half-inch lettering.

The farmers know their customers are not buying several gallons of milk — at $10 to $15 a gallon — for their cats, but they operate on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” basis, handing over the goods with a wink and a nod.

Even though they are within their legal rights to sell “pet milk,” farmers who do so constantly are harassed and sometimes raided.

The state Department of Agriculture adopted a rule in 2007 that would have forced farmers to dye raw milk grey, so families wouldn’t mix up the “cat’s milk” with the “people’s milk.” Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, wrote a bill that overturned the rule before it went into effect.

Also, the Ag Department has tried to force pet-milk producers to register as feed manufacturers, even though there is no law requiring it. The process adds costs and regulatory burdens many small dairy operations can’t afford. Most choose to operate under the radar to avoid the hassle.

There is so much wrong, and dangerous, with this that it is hard to know where to start, and harder still to understand any desires to paint the pet-food-milk-for-human-consumption issue in a sympathetic light.  Again Ms. Burrows:

Many pet-milk producers are small dairy farmers, who supplement their income from pasteurized milk by selling raw milk on the side. Others aren’t commercial farmers but simply rural homeowners who have a cow or goat in their backyards.

Most don’t advertise their product and often won’t admit they sell it at all. Those who do are targeted, Foster said.

Unlicensed and unregulated.  Sounds like exactly the kind of establishments you can have faith in with regard to sanitation and food safety. 

So what.  What’s the harm in allowing unlicensed, unregulated producers to sell raw milk completely under the radar to families who feed it to their kids?  The harmful, life-changing effects of E. coli O157:H7 and hemolytic uremic syndrome ("HUS") have been addressed many times before.  They kill and destroy lives.  

But there are financial issues that need to be considered by those who sell pet food milk for human consumption.  One is medical costs.  Most of the HUS victims we represent have medical costs topping $250,000 for hospitalization, dialysis, and other treatment that typically lasts one or two months.  Many of these victims face future medical costs that will run into the tens of millions of dollars, once all the costs and effects of advancing kidney failure, end stage kidney disease, and multiple transplantations are taken into account.

So from where do these large sums of money come?  The first possibility is the liability insurance carrier for the defendant milk producer/farmer.  From first hand experience, I can tell you that the kind of milk-farmer we’re talking about here (i.e. the underground farmer that Ms. Burrows describes) is not going to have business insurance, and his homeowners insurance is going to exclude personal injuries arising from a business pursuit.  Thus, the farmer’s insurance is not going to be a viable source to cover the often monumental costs discussed above; and even if he has homeowners that doesn’t exclude coverage, it’s not going to be even close to enough to cover these costs in many HUS cases.

The second source is the farmer’s assets.  Very likely the farmer who is trying to supplement his pet-food milk income by selling it for human consumption is not going to have anything close to enough to cover the cost of past medical treatment, not to mention future medical costs, in virtually any HUS case.  

The final sources–the injured party’s personal insurance, if the family is lucky enough to have it, or taxpayer money in the form of state medicaid.   

So the upshot is, in the best case scenario, you’ve got life-altering injuries–ones that will rob kids of the ability, in many cases, to pursue a career, raise a family, or do anything that they have a natural right to do in this country–suffered by somebody lucky enough to have insurance (maybe Obamacare isn’t such a bad thing?).  And in the worst case scenario, you’ve got a grievously injured person with absolutely zero realistic recourse, all because an unlicensed and unregulated pet food farmer wanted to supplement his income by selling pet food for human consumption.  

A couple of other thoughts taken from an article I wrote several months ago

Many states have confronted cow and herd-share agreements head-on, and most have closed the legislative loophole by specifically outlawing the practice. But not even that has deterred proponents of raw milk; it has, in fact, forced some into ever-more-dangerous, and highly illegal, distributive schemes, including placing a “pet food only” label on raw milk that they know, or have reason to know, will or may be consumed by human beings. Alaska, Colorado, and North Carolina require raw milk to be dyed before being marketed as pet food in order to address this problem specifically.

But, clearly, this type of despicable mislabeling would be illegal in more than just those three states, regardless of the dye requirement. In most states, it would violate consumer protection laws; and additionally would make the job of trial lawyers representing kids who have been sickened by the product a lot easier, as the “pet food only” label is more than an implicit admission that the product is not fit for human consumption and is, as a result, unreasonably dangerous and defective. Punitive damages, in states where they are available, would be sought with gusto.

Is there no thought whatsoever preceding the actions of people who would engage in this sort of conduct?  How dumb do you have to be to believe that labeling something as "pet food" is going to insulate you from liability?  Or better yet, how dumb do you think the rest of the populace is to allow such conduct to occur, and go on, unchecked?  Regardless of where you sit in the wide-ranging, and often annoyingly passionate debate over raw milk, you should not be in favor of measures like this.