As I mentioned last week, when I tell people about my job they tend to have a question ready for me about food. My cousin that I haven’t seen in years wanted to discuss farm raised shrimp and salmon and my lawyer this morning asked my opinion about his decision to stop eating red meat… I will get back to both of those topics in later posts. However right now I want to talk about the question that I would ask someone that I believed knew a lot more about the dairy industry than I do. My question is why is the raw milk debate generating so much fuss. Granted it is not on the same scale as the national debt or gay rights, but it does seem to get a lot of people very upset.
Personally, I do not have a strong opinion on the matter. I grew up drinking pasteurized milk from the grocery store, my parents would have never considered any other options. I have consumed unpasteurized milk a few times, but not because I thought it was healthier. I was caring for a baby hippo in Africa. A local farmer donated raw milk to the hospital and I had to taste the milk before the hippo got it to make sure it wasn’t turning.
Here is what I know: raw milk is unpasteurized milk. There are laws in most states about the sale, consumption or distribution of raw milk. People like raw milk because they believe that the pasteurization process kills pathogens, but it also reduces the nutritional benefits of the milk. For this reason they want unpasteurized milk because they believe it is healthier.
Up until now there have been no proven medical or health benefits associated with raw milk. That’s not to say that the benefits of raw milk are not real. I don’t even know how much testing has been done. Raw milk laws have been on the books since the 1930s. Federal agencies like the FDA and CDC’s stance is that additional benefits from raw milk are unknown and that the risk from consuming the pathogens contained in milk are very real. Over the last 10 years there have been an average of 100 cases of food illness associated with raw milk, including hospitalizations and deaths. Therefore raw milk continues to be banned.
In roughly half of the US states the restrictions are raw milk are weakening. And people are using loop holes. In some states it is legal to consume raw milk but not buy it, so people are purchasing cows and then they are allowed to drink their own milk. Other states raw milk can be bought on a farm but not sold other places, so people travel to the farm.
I buy milk from local farms from time to time. I used to get it delivered to my apartment (because the glass bottles made me feel special) but it was never raw milk. I would not own a cow or join a private food club just to get raw milk, even if it was goat, sheep or camel milk. It’s just not that high on my priority list, so I am constantly wondering why these other people care so much- and do they care this much about all of their dietary choices or just raw milk?