- Associated Press - Thursday, November 20, 2014

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov. 18

Illnesses linked to raw milk in Wisconsin argue against wider sales

Advocates for food rights who seem to want to take Wisconsin back to the 1920s should pay special attention to a developing story in western Wisconsin, where 38 people were sickened after a potluck dinner for the high school football team in September.

The cause: consumption of raw milk, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Wisconsin has been at the heart of a renewed debate over raw milk. The state now allows limited, incidental sales but generally prohibits the sale of unpasteurized milk, which may carry bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses.

But some advocates want broader access to unprocessed milk, arguing that raw milk contains beneficial bacteria that they claim are killed by pasteurization - when milk is heated to kill pathogens.

It’s a matter of freedom, they argue.

Nonsense. It’s a matter of public health.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said, there are no health benefits from drinking raw milk that cannot be derived from drinking pasteurized milk. Pasteurized milk is safer and just as good for you.

Raw-milk advocates are pursuing changes to state law through the courts. For the public’s good, we hope they are not successful. Wisconsin should not allow wider sales of raw milk.

Pasteurization of milk became routine in the United States in the 1920s, and by the 1950s was widespread, the CDC says. The advent of pasteurization resulted in huge drops in the numbers of people becoming sick from diseases that in the past had been transmitted by raw milk. Pasteurization is among the most important and effective public health moves ever put in place.

Yet there are still those who argue that the science is wrong.

They should study what happened in Durand.

Laboratory tests show the illnesses of 26 who were sickened in Durand stemmed from Campylobacter jejuni, a bacteria sometimes found in unpasteurized milk or undercooked meat and poultry. It was one of the largest outbreaks state officials have seen. About 10 people had to be hospitalized.

The Journal Sentinel’s Rick Barrett reported that officials with the State Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection took milk and manure samples at the farm that supplied the milk a few days after the potluck to identify the bacteria strain. Using genetic fingerprinting, the state Laboratory of Hygiene found that the bacteria that caused the illnesses was the same strain as the bacteria found on the farm, Barrett reported.

Among those who fell ill were members of the Durand High School football team, which had to cancel a Sept. 27 game against Amery High School because too many players were sick, according to a report in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.

So far, officials have not named the supplier of the milk, arguing there is no further threat. The name of the farm should be made public immediately. The public should have that information now and not later when a report is issued, as state officials have promised. Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney who specializes in such cases, told Barrett there has been a trend lately around the country of not releasing the names of businesses tied to food-borne outbreaks of illnesses.

We don’t doubt the sincerity of the advocates for raw milk. They believe what they believe. But we do doubt their goals. We oppose broader sale of the product, and the recent illnesses in Durand should be all the proof that is needed.


Wisconsin State Journal, Nov. 19

Wisconsin’s dear season

With Wisconsin’s nine-day gun deer hunt set to begin Saturday, here’s a chance to test your knowledge of hunting in Wisconsin.

Which of the following statements is/are true?

1. The number of hunters in Wisconsin increased by 36 percent in the past decade.

2. Chronic wasting disease continues to increase in the state’s deer herd.

3. More Wisconsin hunters died in hunting accidents in the past two years than in the previous five years.

Give yourself an “A” if you knew the first two statements are true and the last one is false. Whether you love to hunt, despise the killing of wildlife or simply consider hunting a curiosity amid football season, you should understand its importance in Wisconsin.

Perhaps the best evidence of hunting’s significance is its impact on politics. Consider that this year’s gun season is the first following rule changes that came from an independent review of the state’s deer management. That review was a response to controversies that became an issue in the 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Gov. Scott Walker ordered the review after he took office. To read about the changes, go to dnr.wi.gov and search “deer.”

Hunting’s political impact makes sense. Wisconsin has more residents who hunt than any other state except Texas. And more non-residents hunt in Wisconsin than in any other state except South Dakota. Seven out of every eight of those hunters is a deer hunter.

Those numbers come from a once-every-five-years survey by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Fish and Wildlife Service. That survey, for 2011, also indicated that hunting is a large and growing contributor to Wisconsin’s economy. It showed the number of hunters of all types in Wisconsin was 895,000, up from 660,000 10 years earlier. Wisconsin hunters spent $2.5 billion in 2011 - more than twice the revenue of Epic Systems Inc. for that same year - on firearms, ammunition, lodging and other items, up from $1 billion in 2001.

But some trends are troubling. The number of licensed hunters in the nine-day gun deer hunt last year totaled 635,000, down from more than 699,000 in 1990. Furthermore, the number of hunters 65 to 74 years old exceeds the number who are 25 to 34 years old.

Chronic wasting disease remains a threat. In the past 12 years the percentage of deer with the disease has doubled in the state’s former CWD monitoring zone.

Of all the trends in hunting, the brightest may be its growing safety. If this year’s gun deer season is fatality-free, the state will have recorded just one hunting fatality in the past five gun seasons, down from nine deaths in the previous five years.

Hunters should emphasize gun safety and responsible behavior. All of Wisconsin should understand the role hunting plays in our state.


Green Bay Press-Gazette, Nov. 20

Don’t reduce funding for rural hospitals

A group of 27 U.S. senators has written to President Barack Obama urging him to keep in mind the valuable role of the Critical Access Hospital program as he prepares his fiscal year 2016 budget.

In particular, the senators, including Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, are worried about reducing payment to these facilities and removing from the program some that are within a certain distance of other hospitals.

“Proposals to reduce Medicare reimbursements for CAHs and to arbitrarily rescind CAH designation for some hospitals would be detrimental to the access and delivery of high quality care in rural America,” they wrote.

We agree with the senators’ sentiment because we believe these rural hospitals play an important role in their communities, both medically and economically. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Just over a year ago we urged Congress to defeat a similar proposal.

There are 58 critical access hospitals in Wisconsin. Each one has 25 or fewer beds and serves a rural community. In Northeastern Wisconsin, these facilities include St. Clare Memorial Hospital (formerly Community Memorial Hospital) in Oconto Falls and Bellin Health Oconto Hospital and Clinic in Oconto.

Each faces challenges in accessibility, lack of health care providers, and a growing number of underinsured residents, according to the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health

These hospitals rely on federal aid, as it accounts for 60 percent of their revenue. Meanwhile, the money saved by changing the Critical Access Hospital designation would be a pittance - “about 100th of 1 percent of 10-year Medicare spending,” according to the senator’s letter.

We’re all for saving money in Medicare, but not at the expense of health care for those who live outside of urban areas.

Closing a rural hospital would force patients to travel farther for care. These rural hospitals, though small, focus on primary care and treating chronic diseases. They can handle 80 percent of the health care needs of their patients, said Steven Brenton, president of the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

But funding cutbacks would result in the closure of about a third of the state’s rural hospitals, he said.

Not only do the hospitals provide needed care, but they are an important part of their communities, often providing the best jobs in town. Each critical access hospital contributes 265 jobs to the local economy, the WHA says.

Thursday is National Rural Health Day and it should serve as a reminder of the funding threat these valuable facilities face with each budget.

More importantly, though, it should serve as a reminder to the valuable service they provide.

Let’s hope the president and Congress get the message.

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