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Raw-milk advocates hold seminar in Lebanon County

by MONICA VON DOBENECK, The Patriot-News

Saturday August 02, 2008, 5:34 PM

The raw-milk advocates who gathered at Cedar Crest High School Saturday say it's healthy. The state Department of Health says it's not. And state Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon County, says the government has no business telling people what to eat or drink. When Folmer scheduled the full-day session on raw milk, he called it the "Freedom and Liberty Seminar."

About 300 people attended Saturday's seminar, hearing from people who spoke about health, the state constitution and the legal avenues for fighting government regulation. About half the attendees were farmers, including many Amish and Mennonite.

Raw milk, which has not been pasteurized (heated) to remove harmful organisms, has been increasing in popularity, state Department of Agriculture spokesman Chris Ryder said Friday by telephone. He said his department inspects 113 farms in Pennsylvania that produce raw milk, double the number two years ago.

State law says that farmers selling raw milk need a permit and regular inspections. That's to help ensure the milk is not contaminated by organisms that can make people sick, Ryder said.

The Centers for Disease Control has documented 68 outbreaks of illness related to raw milk between 1993 and 2006. Pennsylvania had an outbreak in 2007 resulting in 29 illnesses and another in 2008 resulting in 70 illnesses, according to a health department spokeswoman.

Sally Morell, keynote speaker at Saturday's seminar, said those figures are nonsense. She said the government never proved the connection between illnesses and raw milk in those cases.

She said raw milk has more nutrients and vitamins than pasteurized, contains no artificial hormones, and comes from cows kept on pastures instead of factory farms.

Government inspections don't ensure safety, she said. "Other foods cause 2,000 times more illness than raw milk," she said.