Product Liability

Milk and Eggs Are Targeted by Health Officials


Ohio milk producers can now state on product labels their dairy products are free from synthetic growth hormones. A state rule that banned “hormone free” labels was found unconstitutional by a federal court.

Since 1993, the synthetic growth hormone rbST has been used to boost milk production in cows. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found no difference between milk from cows treated with the hormone and milk from untreated cows.

Because there was no apparent difference in the milk, an Ohio state labeling rule prohibited “hormone free” labels on milk from untreated cows. Regulators feared “hormone free” labels would mislead consumers into thinking milk from untreated cows was better than conventional milk.

However, an increasing number of consumers want milk from untreated cows. Two dairy processors that refuse milk from cows treated with rbST sued the Ohio Department of Agriculture for the right to label their milk as “rbST hormone free.”

A federal appeals court sided with the dairy processors. It struck down parts of the labeling rule as violating the First Amendment right to free commercial speech.

Looking at more recent evidence, the court found there were some differences between milk from hormone treated cows and milk from untreated cows. The court reasoned that labeling the milk as “rbST hormone free” wasn’t misleading, especially if the label included a disclaimer explaining the FDA found no significant differences in milk from hormone treated and untreated cows.


Over 380 million eggs from an Iowa farm were recalled in August 2010 due to salmonella poisoning. Discovery of the contamination may have been delayed by a communications gap between government inspectors.

According to the Wall Street Journal, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) egg inspectors noticed dirty conditions at the egg packing facility as early as May. There were problems with lots of dead bugs, overflowing trash, and egg yolk residue on equipment.

But the USDA inspectors failed to report the unsanitary conditions to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has overall responsibility for food safety. FDA officials didn’t discover the contamination until they inspected the farm in late August. By then, hundreds of people had been sickened by the eggs.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack defended the USDA inspectors. He explained their job focus was on grading the size and color of eggs, not food safety. However, members of Congress say the USDA missed an opportunity to provide an earlier warning about the health hazard.

Original Article

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) estimates that 76 million Americans get sick, 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die each year from consuming unsafe food. Some events in mid-2010 give examples of just how it happens.

Egg Recall

In mid-August, a massive, nearly nationwide egg-recall began. The recall was made after several cases of salmonella poisoning were reported and linked to eggs produced at a farm in Iowa.

The farm voluntarily recalled millions of its eggs beginning August 13. By August 20th, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and others identified a second farm in Iowa that produced and distributed contaminated eggs. By August 24th, the recall covered 550 million eggs.

The exact number of sicknesses linked to the egg-recall won't be known until mid-September - it takes weeks for someone to develop symptoms after eating a contaminated egg. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, estimates that the number could be in the thousands.

Legal Issues

It's almost certain the farms that produced and distributed the tainted eggs will face stiff civil (non-criminal) fines and penalties for violating federal and state health and food-safety laws. This won't be the first time for one of the farms involved. There are reports the farm and its owner has a history of violating these and other laws.

The egg-recall has caused many to call on Congress to pass a new law. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act would overhaul the nation's food-safety system and give the FDA greater power to inspect food processing facilities and to order companies to make recalls. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives but has stalled in the Senate.

Raw Milk

Raw or unpasteurized milk is milk straight from the cow to your lips. According to those who drink it, it's creamier and tastes better than "regular" milk. Normally, the milk you buy in a store is heated or "pasteurized" to kill bacteria, such as salmonella and E. coli. Both can cause serious and even deadly illnesses.

That's why the CDC and the FDA warn against drinking raw milk. It's also why there are federal laws regulating the production and sale of raw milk. For example, it's illegal to sell milk for human consumption across state lines. Many states have similar laws. Just ask the owners of Rawesome, a small organic food store in California.

In late June 2010, federal and state officials raided the store and confiscated gallons of raw milk and pounds of yogurt and cheese made with raw milk. Why? The store didn't have a permit to sell raw milk and other unpasteurized goods.

California isn't the only state with laws on raw milk. Wisconsin has laws about labeling and selling raw milk, and as of April 2010, Massachusetts was working on similar laws.

What You Can Do

As far as eggs are concerned:

  • Check the FDA and CDC web sites or call your local grocery store to find out if you have contaminated eggs. If you do, throw them away or return them to the store for a refund
  • Avoid eating raw or under-cooked eggs. Keep eggs refrigerated at 45 degrees Fahrenheit at all times, and dispose of cracked or dirty eggs
  • Learn the symptoms of salmonella and seek medical attention immediately if you or a family member develops symptoms
  • Contact your US Senators and urge them to pass the new FDA law

As far as raw milk is concerned:

  • Know and understand the risks you and your family take when consuming raw milk and cheese
  • Learn the symptoms of salmonella and E. Coli and seek medical attention immediately if you or family member develops symptoms
  • Know the laws in your state regarding the production and sale of raw milk, and talk to an attorney if you have any questions
  • Contact your elected officials in the US House of Representatives and Senate, as well as your state's governor and lawmakers, and urge them to make changes in the raw milk laws

Everyone wants to be and stay healthy. We can do it if we're careful about how and what we eat and food producers take their responsibility for safety seriously.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can I sue an egg or dairy farm if I get sick from eating its products, or is it up to a government agency to file a lawsuit?
  • Can I sell raw milk to neighbors and others directly from my farm?
  • If I can't buy raw milk in our state, can I cross the state line and buy it where it's legal to sell it?  
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