116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A bill (SF 2309) that stalled in the Iowa House could have made it legal for Iowans to buy raw milk from their local farms. The Federal Food and Drug Administration is decidedly anti raw milk. But, unlike FDA warnings about cookie dough, people generally follow the agency’s guidance and don’t buy raw milk. It’s also usually a bit more expensive than pasteurized milk from store brands, so it makes sense that raw milk isn’t in the typical American’s refrigerator.
Only 11 states allow for retailers to sell raw milk and 17 states allow for direct farm-to consumer sales. All of our bordering states allow for direct farmer to consumer sales and plenty of Iowa farmers probably consume raw milk from their cows regularly without a second thought. Iowans’ deviation from FDA guidance raises an important question: when do agency rules matter, and when do they not? It seems to follow that if some FDA rules shouldn’t be taken seriously, then all rules should be examined for effectiveness and sound science.
In 2020 a significant amount of FDA testing requirements were waved to produce the COVID vaccine, hand sanitizer and a variety of other products to manage the virus. This suspension of rules called into question the necessity of the rules in the first place, after all, if it’s safe enough to suspend some rules in an emergency, then shouldn't it be safe to eliminate them permanently?
Further calling attention to FDA’s rule enforcement is our present baby formula crisis. About three months ago the FDA shut down a formula plant in Michigan, one of three factories in the country. Four babies became sick with a bacterial infection and two tragically passed away. After testing formula samples the FDA wasn't able to prove that the infection occurred at the plant. However other violations were apparently discovered.
Now, parents are seeing formula shortages and demanding that the government help as babies start to go hungry.
Almost 100 percent of consumed baby formula in the United States is also produced here. The FDA has extremely stringent requirements about the vitamin content, formula packaging and labeling that is inconvenient for foreign producers who also have to account for a 17.5 percent tariff. This created market dominance for America’s three largest producers who, until now, have been able to more or less keep up with demand.
In this moment of formula crisis, like with the pandemic, the FDA is forced to suspend regulations and acknowledge that some rules are not absolutely necessary for consumer safety. FDA is expanding the importation of foreign-made formula. The agency has arrived at some sort of agreement with the factory to reopen. President Joe Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act to boost supplies.
Inspecting food processing plants, labs and drug manufacturers is an essential job that certainly saves many lives. The FDA is majorly important, but not infallible and their regulatory bloat is genuinely causing problems for families. Allowing raw milk sales and requiring the agency to conduct a little cost benefit analysis on their regulatory actions would save our nation from similar headaches in the future.
Patricia Patnode is a Waterloo native, Loras College graduate and can be found on Twitter at @IdealPatricia