While many of us work diligently toward finding solutions where Pennsylvania’s dairy industry could thrive, it would be exciting to see trusted publications do the same rather than refer to sensationalized reports on the RB51 situation.
In reality, since the early 1960s, there are only three recorded cases of RB51 vaccine-related illnesses connected to raw dairy. The real story related to the recent RB51 vaccine-related illness is that agencies, farmers and organizations came together to quickly uncover unknowns and work toward solutions for an even safer raw milk product being offered to consumers.
In fact, while an unfortunate incident, it has led to remarkable teamwork among the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, raw milk producers, consumers and nonprofits, all dedicated to supporting small farms with an emphasis on consumer safety.
Publications such as this have the opportunity to support and strengthen relationships between raw dairy farmers and the Ag Department. These relationships have the power to shift a growing black market of raw milk sales into safe, transparent practices. The depth of the crisis in the dairy industry determines the level of risk farmers are willing to take to protect their families financially. By supporting farmers who wish to transition to raw milk or raw cheese products, the Ag Department offers farmers an option to get out of crisis while finding a legal and safe way to produce a product people desperately want and will go to great lengths to obtain.
Rather than dismiss raw milk as a fad for a fringe population, it would serve our farming communities well to recognize the power of raw milk and raw milk cheeses — when produced safely and supported by the Ag Department processes — to bring farmers out of crisis and provide a desirable product to Pennsylvania residents and visitors alike.
Lancaster County is uniquely positioned as a dairy community. With this comes added challenges and benefits to Lancaster County farmers. With conventional dairy in crisis, farmers are exploring other options for milk sales. Demand for raw milk increases daily. Consumers turn to this food for as many reasons as there are people — taste, supporting local farms, allergies to pasteurized milk, creative cooking, individual cheese making experiments, and so much more.
Lancaster County dairy farmers are perfectly suited to meet the growing demand for raw milk products with their rich soils, proximity to urban areas, and draw as a tourist attraction. However, this can and must be done with human safety firmly in mind.
Pennsylvania has pledged to help farmers succeed. One such indication of this is the Ag Department’s permitting of raw milk and raw milk cheeses and their active support in educating farmers who wish to produce these products. In fact, just this past week, members of the Ag Department participated in “A Day About Pennsylvania Dairy” workshop held by the Real Food Consumer Coalition. Farmers learned the importance of food safety from Penn State scientists.
They learned about the permitting process from the Ag Department’s Lydia Johnson and her team. They learned about herd health from Dr. Wolfgang, recently retired state veterinarian. And they learned the ins-and-outs of business plans, marketing and state financial support from Ag Department Deputy Secretary Cheryl Cook, Penn State contributors, Team PA and independent marketers.
This meeting was a first of its kind, an opportunity for the Ag Department and raw dairy farmers to work toward the noble goal of clean, safe, permitted raw milk for all who want it while empowering a dairy industry in crisis to learn the science and safety of producing raw milk for a thirsty population hungry for direct-to-farmer connections.
There is no greater way to highlight the role of Lancaster County’s importance in agriculture than to empower and support dairy farmers in producing clean, safe raw milk for human consumption. This publication could do a huge service to all by working to promote the strengthening relationship between raw dairy farmers and the agencies that teach and monitor safety, and not continuing to dismiss raw milk farmers and the millions of consumers who depend on them.
Liz Reitzig, Founder, Real Food Consumer Coalition
Liz Reitzig, RFCC Founder
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