Food consumed by the public, both in grocery stores and in restaurants, is subject to federal regulations. As food providers, modern farms are inspected under laws governed generally by the FDA. Those regulations are nothing new. In fact in some way or form, milk has been regulated for over 100 years. This includes laws regarding pasteurization and homogenization in addition to laws regarding the transport of milk. These regulations were put in place for the health and safety of the consumers. How they came to be is an interesting part of our food history.
The following excerpt is taken from Harvest, an Anthology of Farm Writing by Wheeler McMillen.
“Creamery Journal, 1907”
Inspector Under the Act
“Where are you going, my pretty maid?”
I’m going a-milking, sir,” she said.
“Dear maiden, I’d like to disclose the fact,
That I’m an inspector under the Act.
So pray remain, for I want to know
A thing or two before you go.
Nay, pretty maiden, you must not weep;
How far away are the pigs you keep?
And what percentage of butter-fat
Does your moo-cow yield? Pray tell me that.
And how is the health of your pretty pet;
Has it anthrax, cancer, blackleg, garget?
Has your sister measles or whopping cough;
Is the water clean in the drinking trough?
I pray thee answer these questions of fact,
For I’m an inspector under the Act.
With the fierce bacilli also I cope
By means of my powerful microscope.
Excuse me, I must examine your hand,
Purely official, you understand.”
The poem may have been written in reference to the Pure Food and Drug Act passed the year previous (1906). Writers such as Upton Sinclair who wrote of the sordid conditions of the Chicago meatpacking industry in The Jungle (published in 1906) exposed the rapidly growing American Industry of the turn of the century. This fictional story was based on research Sinclair conducted in Chicago in 1904 and talked of the poor conditions and corruption of a rapidly-growing American industry. The public outcry about food safety stemmed from this type of journalism and led to federal regulations such as meat inspections, federal work hours, and a closer look at work conditions, especially for children.
The U.S. Bureau of Chemistry had started to look into and published documents regarding the branding of food at the turn of the century, but it had no power to regulate. The Pure Food and Drug Act was one of the first of many standards that now govern our food supply for our safety. One example of it’s effect came in the labeling of habit-forming drugs. The Bureau of Chemistry was renamed in 1927 to the Food and Drug Administration under the USDA. The Pure Food Act of 1906 is largely replaced by the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. From these humble beginnings come the regulations that exist today on everything from food labeling, to meat inspection, and regulation of high-risk foods like eggs and dairy.
The regulations from the FDA are in place for the safety of all. Scientists study particular products and set standards for things like facilities and animal feed. On the farm in 1900, that was not the case. The farmers would consume raw milk from the cow, usually after separating the cream to make butter. Raw milk refers to non-pasteurized.
Pasteurization is the name of the process discovered in part by the French microbiologist Louis Pasteur. This process was first used in 1862 and involves heating milk to a particular temperature for a set amount of time in order to remove microorganisms. There are a couple of different methods of Pasteurization. One is heating the milk to a temperature of 161° for 15-20 seconds. While they may have know about Pasteurization on the farm, it is unlikely that they would have practiced it.
Today, there is much debate over the concept of raw milk. Right now, regulations at a state by state level. In Iowa, raw milk sales are illegal. There was a bill presented to the Iowa Legislature in 2011 but no movement was made on the bill. HF 394 was voted out of the Economic Growth/Rebuild Iowa Committee with recommendation for passage to the Legislature. To read the text of this bill from the website of the Iowa State Legislature, click here. On April 1st, 2011, the bill was referred back to the committee, ending it’s stint in the 2011 General Assembly. To see the history of the bill, click here.
Raw milk sales are allowed in other states to some extent, but there are strict rules that govern these sales. For example, in our neighbor state of Illinois, you can buy raw milk as long as you bring your own container to the farm for collection. In other words, you can buy it, but you have to bring your own bucket.
Upton Sinclair did not intend to create such effects as long lasting as the FDA and regulation of milk, but those kinds of reforms were enacted by the writings of the “muckrakers.”