A West Virginia lawmaker who passed out cups of raw milk to celebrate passage of a raw milk-related bill says the unpasteurized beverage had nothing to do with an intestinal virus that plagued a number of House of Delegates members and staffers last weekend.
During announcements in the House chamber Thursday, Delegate Scott Cadle, R-Mason, invited lawmakers — and anyone else who wanted to “live dangerously” — to sample raw milk that he had brought from a Mason County dairy. A handful of lawmakers who drank the raw milk later got sick, though there’s been no evidence that Cadle’s milk was the cause.
“There’s nobody up there that got sick off that milk,” said Cadle, who was home sick with a stomach bug Monday but returned to work at the state Capitol on Tuesday. “It’s just bad timing, I guess.”
The state Bureau of Public Health started an investigation Tuesday after receiving a complaint that the raw milk might have caused a disease outbreak.
Discussions of the raw milk, and ailing legislators and staff, dominated Capitol hallways this week.
After Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed the raw milk bill into law last week, Cadle walked up and down the Capitol’s East Wing, which houses delegates’ offices, offering up milk samples to anyone wanting a taste. Some people took just a sip, while others drank a glassful.
“A lot of people haven’t tasted raw milk … and they find out it’s got a little better flavor than store-bought milk,” Cadle said. “Most of them people just tasted it. That’s all they did.”
By then, a stomach virus already had been circulating through the House, Cadle said. Staffers and fellow lawmakers complained about flu-like symptoms — fever, vomiting, diarrhea, he said.
“It ain’t because of the raw milk,” Cadle said. “With that many people around and that close quarters and in that air and environment, I just call it a big germ. All that Capitol is is a big germ.”
Officials with the Bureau for Public Health and Kanawha-Charleston Health Department said Tuesday they hadn’t received any recent reports about illnesses caused by raw milk.
Several legislators who’ve been sick with stomach viruses did not sample the raw milk.
“A lot of people get sick every year we go down there,” Cadle said. “They call it the Capitol crud.”
The raw milk bill doesn’t legalize the sale of raw milk. Instead, the legislation allows “herd-sharing” agreements, where people buy a share in a cow or other milk-producing animal and use that animal’s raw milk. Anyone who enters such an agreement must sign a statement acknowledging the risks of raw milk, specifically that it may contain bacteria like Listeria, salmonella and E. coli.
Tomblin vetoed a similar raw milk bill last year over public health concerns, but signed this year’s bill because it allows the state Department of Health and Human Resources to make rules for herd-sharing and raw milk.
State law and DHHR rules forbid the sale or distribution of raw milk.
“Offering or selling raw milk to the public is prohibited,” according to the rules. Violators face a $50 to $500 fine, but DHHR officials said they were unaware of the law ever being enforced.
“I might have been breaking the law,” Cadle said. “Hell, I don’t know. I gave it away.”
Cadle, who is running for Mason County Commission instead of re-election to the House, would not say where he got the raw milk — only that it came from a neighbor’s dairy.
“I got a place to get it, and I’m not going to tell where I got it,” Cadle said. “It was free.”
A DHHR official declined to release the name of the person who filed the complaint Tuesday, citing state public health laws that allows complainants to remain anonymous.
Cadle said he never pressured anyone to drink his raw milk.
“If someone wanted to drink it, fine. If they didn’t fine,” he said. “They didn’t get sick by that milk, I can tell you that, because I drink it all the time.”
Reach Eric Eyre at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-4869 or follow @ericeyre on Twitter.