Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

For Republicans, raw milk is the new masking

Ever vigilant about stoking fears among their constituents regarding the threat of governmental overreach, Republican leaders, as a form of political strategy, frequently crow about all the things liberals allegedly want to take away from working Americans. The White House is coming for their guns, they say, or perhaps their gas stoves — or even pints of raw milk that have potentially been contaminated with bird flu. 

In early December, Sonoma County, California, declared an agricultural disaster when two poultry farms had to kill their entire flocks to try to stop “highly pathogenic avian influenza” — or bird flu — from spreading. This particular strain of bird flu, H5N1, had first been reported in the United States in early 2022 and since then, tens of millions of turkey and chickens at commercial farms have since been killed to try to suppress the outbreak. 

While the transmission of bird flu to other mammals is rare, it is occurring currently. 

As of June 9, ten states, including North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan and Texas, have reported outbreaks among dairy cattle and an estimated 85 dairy herds nationwide have been infected; however, there isn’t a federal requirement for dairy farms to test their herds outside interstate movements of milking cows, so many farmers are opting out. This opened the door for human exposure and as of now, there have been three documented cases of H5N1 in humans. As Kay Russo, a dairy-poultry veterinarian, wrote for Scientific American on Tuesday, one of the cases presented with respiratory issues, which means there’s potential for human-to-human spread through coughing. 

“With the virus crossing species barriers, the specter of human exposure and emergence of a human-adapted strain is rapidly intensifying,” Russo, along with co-authors Michelle Kromm and Carol Cardona, continued. “This outbreak in dairy cows has the potential to spiral into a human epidemic or even a catastrophic pandemic — the signals of which we may already be seeing.” 

Many experts, including Dr. Scott Roberts, a Yale New Haven Hospital Infectious Disease specialist and assistant professor in infectious diseases at Yale School of Medicine, believe the milk available at supermarkets is largely safe to drink because the pasteurization process it undergoes would kill any lingering traces of infection. Conversely, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn that consuming raw, unpasteurized milk could come with big health risks. 

“There is concern that consumption of unpasteurized milk and products made from unpasteurized milk contaminated with HPAI A(H5N1) virus could transmit HPAI A(H5N1) virus to people; however, the risk of human infection is unknown at this time,” the agency writes

However, in recent weeks, as the number of bird flu cases have climbed, so have sales of raw milk. This is because numerous Republican public figures have decried what they perceive to be attempts from the government and “Big Milk” to infringe on their right to consume the beverage, regardless of whether it contributes to the human-to-human spread of bird flu. It’s an attitude that closely mimics the party’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ways in which their members refused to participate in even basic public health and safety measures. 

Essentially, for Republicans, it seems like avoiding raw milk is the new masking — and they’re just not going to do it in order to prove a point. 

For instance, in April, Infowars host Owen Shroyer called the Food and Drug Administration a “gangster mafia” who wanted to “make raw milk illegal.” 

“So, now that more people are going to local farms and farmers markets and consuming raw milk, this angers the FDA,” Shroyer said. “This angers Big Milk. Say, ‘No, you need to pasteurize milk, it’s a lot less healthy for you.’ See, eventually, they’ll just make it illegal. They’ll just make raw milk illegal. That’s what this is all about.” 

That same month, as Media Matters reported, right-wing media outlet TheBlaze published an article titled “Blaze News Investigates: The truth about raw milk the government doesn’t want you to know: ‘Close to a perfect food,’” which told readers that “the so-called ‘experts’ are not telling you the full story” and that “unfortunately, the potential benefits of raw dairy are a secret to most Americans.” 

Now, the conservative youth organization Turning Point USA is selling a plain white t-shirt emblazoned with a line illustration of a dairy cow. The caption reads: “got raw milk?” 

“See, eventually, they’ll just make it illegal. They’ll just make raw milk illegal. That’s what this is all about.”

However, raw milk hasn’t just been drafted into the culture wars; it is the subject of several new policies under consideration, notably a bill in Louisiana which would legalize the sale of raw milk in the state. HB467, which is set to become law, “passed unanimously in the House to a chorus of mooing lawmakers last month,” reported, though the bill was watered down in the Senate after the Louisiana Department of Health estimated it would take roughly $900,000 a year and seven employees to regulate raw milk for human consumption.

“Eventually, legislators agreed raw milk could be sold, but only with labels that say “not for human consumption” and warn of the potential for ‘harmful bacteria,’” the report continued. “Lawmakers acknowledged that the label likely would not prevent people from drinking it, which is legal.” 

“I don’t care what you do with it after you get it,” said Sen. Stewart Cathey, R-Monroe, during a Senate Agriculture meeting. 

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