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Raw Milk Controversy: Raids and Regulations


A small but vocal and growing group of raw milk and raw milk product advocates would like the government to let them make their own informed food choices. Yet that appears to be a real problem for some agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), among others. Officials with these entities would like to see raw milk disappear permanently from the marketplace.

The controversy over whether people have the right to produce, sell, buy, and consume raw milk and raw milk products is a hot one. So hot that it incites raids, such as the ones that occurred recently in California at the end of June. One went down in Venice, California, in a store called Rawesome Foods. Without warning, the organic grocery store was invaded by members of the FDA, USDA, California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. The goal? Confiscate jugs of raw goat and cow milk, blocks of unpasteurized goat cheese, and yogurt.

The other raid happened at one of Rawsome’s suppliers, Healthy Family Farms in Ventura County. Agriculture officials claimed that the processing plant had not met standards for licensing.

Government regulators insist they are protecting the public against dangerous foods, while those who seek raw milk and other foods in their most pure forms say their way of eating is healthy. These individuals largely insist that much of the food distributed by the industrialized food machine in America is contaminated. Indeed, food recalls are a common occurrence in the United States, with millions of pounds of meat, dairy products, and other foods being pulled off shelves every year. These recalled foods are part of the supposedly “safe” and inspected food industry.

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Yet there is also evidence that raw milk and raw milk products can carry and transmit disease-causing bacteria, such as E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Listeria. In March 2010, for example, the FDA issued an alert regarding at least a dozen confirmed illnesses in Michigan associated with Campylobacter in raw milk.

While the demand for other types of raw foods, including nuts, meat, and honey, is growing, the controversy over raw milk is especially volatile, mostly because the dairy industry is raising its voice against it. Producing and buying raw milk is not illegal: licensed dairies can legally sell the product in retail outlets in eleven states. Twenty states allow consumers to buy unpasteurized milk directly from farms or to participate in programs in which people buy a part ownership of an animal and are entitled to the milk. Interstate sales of raw milk, however, are banned by the FDA.

To help ensure the safety of raw milk and raw milk products, advocates urge consumers to educate themselves and to always know the source of the products. Raw milk should come from organically raised cows. A diet of fresh green grass is vital in stopping harmful microbial growth. In Sweden, it’s reported that Salmonella has practically been eradicated from their dairy herds, and that at one dairy even the manure is free of pathogens.

Advocates of raw milk point out that pasteurization is not a guarantee milk and milk products will be safe, and there have been cases when pasteurization has failed. In fact, heating milk (pasteurization) makes the lactic acid and other heat-sensitive antimicrobial substances less effective at fighting bacteria.

Many people in the United States and around the world enjoy raw milk, but it is a case of buyer beware. Consumers should be educated about the pros and cons of these products before they put them on the table. Consumers should also investigate the source of any raw milk they plan to buy and the background of the seller.

Fahey T et al. Journal of Infection 1995; 31:137-43
Los Angeles Times, July 25, 2010