Debate Grows Over Raw Milk
A national battle is heating up between proponents of drinking raw milk for health benefits and food safety advocates such as the Food and Drug Administration.
Drinkers of raw, or unpasteurized, milk say it tastes better, helps with digestive problems and boosts immunity. The FDA warns the milk is "inherently dangerous." It can be a host for potentially harmful germs, FDA spokesman Michael Herndon says.
The sale of raw milk is legal, with varying restrictions, in 28 states, with five additional states allowing it to be sold as pet food, according to the Weston A. Price Foundation, a Washington-based non-profit that advocates raw milk.
Efforts to tighten or loosen sales restrictions on raw milk have been underway this year in several states, including:
• Maryland. A bill to legalize raw milk sales has been under consideration since February.
• Texas. The state health department recently lost a bid to tighten raw milk sales regulations.
• Connecticut. After the state health department traced an E. coli outbreak to raw milk in 2008, a bill was introduced to rescind farmers' rights to sell raw milk in stores. The bill died in committee after a February hearing.
• Wisconsin. Raw milk supporters recently hired a lobbyist to try to amend state law to allow raw milk sales, according to a state report.
Although no official industry statistics are kept on sales of raw milk, advocates of raw milk, such as the Weston A. Price Foundation, say more consumers want the choice.
Demand for raw milk "is rapidly growing," says Sally Fallon Morell, president of the foundation.
Mark McAfee, owner of the Organic Pastures raw milk dairy in Fresno, Calif., calls the raw milk campaign an "out-of-control grass-roots movement." In less than 10 years he says, he has expanded to serve 50,000 to 60,000 people a week.
The FDA has not seen appreciable growth in the production of raw milk, Herndon says. He warns consumers, "Do not compromise your health and safety by subscribing to the raw milk fad."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says raw milk can host germs such as E. coli and salmonella. A joint CDC and FDA statement implicated raw milk in 45 outbreaks from 1998 to 2005 in which people became sick from various bacteria.
Drinkers of raw milk pay many times the cost of pasteurized milk, said McAfee, who charges $10 per gallon — compared with a national average of $3.17 for pasteurized milk, according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture.