Future Insurance Woes for Direct Farm Sales?

California Happy Cows at Organic Pastures Raw Milk Dairy

There has been a spate of illnesses and even deaths recently from the consumption of raw milk.  It is no surprise, then, that Food Safety News Reports that insurance carriers are dropping liability coverage for farms that sell raw milk.  Treating a single vulnerable patient, such as a child or an elderly consumer, for Listeria or E. coli can rack up $1 million in medical bills; a wrongful death lawsuit could cost even more.  Going uninsured could bankrupt a farm for even a single case, never mind a small cluster of cases.  Nor are these cases a result of poor farm practices; they happen at even the most careful and conscientious farms.

But one quote in the article really jumped out at me:

“Most of the entities we work with are larger commercial operations and are not engaged in the sale of raw milk,” explained Tami Griffin, deputy national director for Aon’s Food Systems, Agribusiness & Beverage Group.

“That said,” she told Food Safety News, “we do work with, and have relationships with, underwriters who are in the business of insuring farms, and I would say that they are increasingly concerned about what farmers are selling to consumers through farmers markets, farm stands, etc.”  [Emphasis mine.]

Any food item, from your backyard garden to apparently pristine produce in the largest grocery store, can be contaminated with something.  Much like the insurance companies who are dropping coverage for raw milk, savvy consumers practice risk management.  We wash produce (even that which says it is prewashed), and then we largely ignore the issue because the risks are fairly small for whole produce in this country.

Why, then, would farms who practice direct sales be called out for special attention?  Pessimistically, I can think of several reasons, none of which are worth sharing because I choose never to spread FUD.  But it may be a small piece in what is an increasingly hostile market environment for small producers, even as consumer demand for local produce and direct farm sales is going up.

In the meantime, if you are a purchaser of raw milk, you may find your supply drying up, or even find yourself signing a contract which waives liability.