There has always been something cloak and daggerish about the raw milk movement, with its tales of clandestine supply networks, supporters buying shares of cows, and farmers selling on the side.
Recent events are bringing this group of consumers into the mainstream. First, the Food and Drug Administration countered rumors that the new Food Safety Modernization Act had given it authority to shutter raw milk dairies. The agency issued a written statement this autumn reassuring skittish consumers that FDA has no intention of taking enforcement action against them.
This was followed quickly by the creation of the Raw Milk Institute, started by Mark McAfee, the vocal CEO of Organic Pastures, a Caifornia-based raw product dairy. The intent of the group is to set national standards and serve as an educational resource for farmers and raw milk drinkers.
Demand for raw milk has increased over the years in spite of laws that prohibit its sale in 20 states. An exact number is elusive, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that just under 1% of consumers drink unpasteurized milk. Federal authorities continue to warn consumers not to drink raw milk, pointing to 86 outbreaks of foodborne illness between 1998 and 2008.
Despite the apparent thaw, tensions remain. In August, authorities raided a 2,000-member buying cooperative in southern California for selling raw milk without a license. Earlier this month, the state's Department of Public Health announced it was investigating an outbreak of E. coli in connection with milk from none other than Organic Pastures.