Of Food and Freedom

A new state bill is up concerning raw milk sales. I first heard about this via MPR, so I went to the MPR website to find out more. Here is MPR’s coverage of the issue. But first I have to point out that when I searched “food law” and sorted by date, this gem of a news blip came up: Freedom to Eat.

The fact that these two articles (and proposed laws!) are so close together strikes me as kind of hilarious. The raw milk coverage heavily leans against having freedom to choose your own health risks, and the freedom to eat article is about a bill that proposes personal responsibility for obesity.  I just want to point out that the MPR article attributes to raw milk approximately 1,700 illnesses and 2 deaths(nationwide, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC)) between 1998 and 2008 (that is, for the record, 10 years). Even if this statistic is accurate, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal when compared with the full scope of foodborne illnesses (quoted from the CDC’s 2002 report on Foodborne Illnesses, bolding is mine): Foodborne diseases cause an estimated 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. The 2006 (the most recent full survey that I could find on the CDC site) report doesn’t even include dairy in the top offenders: the most common food commodities to which outbreak-related cases were attributed were poultry (21%), leafy vegetables (17%), and fruits/nuts (16%).

Now for the other article. How many illnesses and deaths are attributed to obesity?  Well, I couldn’t find a direct statistic (probably because obesity is related to so many different illnesses, it’s hard to nail down an exact number), but here’s the CDC’s most recent obesity report, and here’s how much obesity costs in this country. Funny that this obesity problem showed up in the U.S. right around that time that there was widespread food processing. Funny that milk pasteurization didn’t start until around the turn of the century, with the appearance of industrial feed lots, but is now  a must for all dairy farmers, big or small.  But, I digress…

I’m not going to go into some drawn out argument on why I think raw milk is good. I believe that the details of the raw milk argument are more or less beside the point. The point is personal liberty. People should have the right to choose what they purchase and eat. If the government wants to hold us responsible for choosing to eat foods that are known to make us obese (or cigarettes, or booze for that matter!), why shouldn’t we be granted the responsibility (AKA, freedom!) to choose foods that may carry some risk, but definitely carry some benefits (and, based on the info above, we legally choose foods that carry risk, anyhow!)? Why should the government regulate some choices, but not others? Think about it. It just doesn’t make any sense.

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