Raw Milk, Raw Nerves

Raw Milk, Raw Nerves

About a year ago we had the opportunity to cover the building tension between government regulators and raw milk drinkers. We spoke to Mark McAfee, who operates perhaps the largest raw-milk dairy in the country (in California). One of the first points he made concerned the term "raw." He prefers "living whole foods" in describing unpasteurized dairy: "The word 'raw' has too much of a roadkill connotation to it," he told me.

rawmilk.jpgWe also checked in with Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, which runs the national Campaign for Real Milk She described the lengths some people will go to in order to get raw milk. They've developed some pretty interesting ways of skirting state and federal law. Some farmers allow people to buy "shares" of an actual cow, and as a part owner, these folks are entitled to the, er, proceeds.

Practices like this may be coming to an end. The Associated Press picked up the story this week, noting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating whether McAfee's dairy illegally shipped raw milk over state lines. In Pennsylvania, authorities raided two farms allegedly selling raw milk, the AP update noted.

Raw milk fans say pasteurization of dairy products kills the nutrients that humans need to build healthy immune systems, and that raw milk is a powerful health beverage that cures a number of conditions. Government regulators say raw milk can contain dangerous bacteria, including E. coli.

Some 22 states ban raw milk sales, while the rest allow sales and consumption. California is one of the latter, and Whole Foods Market has gone on record as supporting raw milk, and even sells it in some stores.

Good for them. Education is a foundation of the entire wellness movement, which prides itself on its vigilant self-policing. Unscrupulous suppliers are rooted out and exposed. It's no different in this case. Consumers of raw milk very likely understand the potential risks when they make their first purchase, because retailers selling legal product in their stores have signs and pamphlets and their own quality control protocols (note that 2 deaths have been attributed to raw milk consumption between 1998 and 2005). Along with farmers themselves, retailers are ideally suited to perform the role of educator and gatekeeper. It's a role no one relishes, but it's the only way if you're going to sell raw milk.

The government's role here should be confined to creating educational materials and setting up a mechanism for quality control. Instead, it's yet again stifling consumer choice.