Can raw milk be safe?
The debate over raw, or unpasteurized, milk is heating up as advocates claim it's safe and state governments weight the risks.
This story was originally covered by PRI's Living on Earth. For more, listen to the audio above.
The vast majority of milk sold in the United States is pasteurized -- it's heated to 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds to kill bacteria such as Salmonella and E. Coli. Now, a small, but increasingly vocal, group of people advocate eschewing the pasteurization process, in favor of raw, unpasturized milk.
"It all seems very straightforward to me, of course," raw milk advocate and farmer Edgar Plees told PRI's Living on Earth, "you drink the milk that comes out of the cow is going to be better than having it processed, or refined. It comes out of the cow, it's chilled and that's it."
Public Health officials, however, see raw milk as a threat. The Center for Disease Control and the Food and Drug administration believe that pasteurized milk is much safer. Raw milk is illegal in 21 states, and transporting it across state lines is illegal, too. And in Wisconsin, America's 'dairyland state,' the Governor recently vetoed a pro-raw milk bill citing public safety concerns.
"Pasteurization allows you to have all of the benefits of raw milk, but without the risk," Isabel Maples, a spokesperson for the National Dairy Council, told Living on Earth.
Raw milk advocates disagree. David Gumpert, author of The Raw Milk Revolution, reported to In These Times that regulation is "not about safety -- it's about protecting markets." Large dairies may feel threatened by the growing market for raw milk, and are pressuring governments to protect their investments.
"I'm not suggesting that all dairies should be selling unpasteurized milk," Gumpert told Living on Earth, "but as an economic option for farmers, raw milk does offer an economic opportunity."
"Bacteria are not our problem," according to raw milk advocate Abby Rockefeller, "bad farming practices are our problem." Industrial dairies operate on huge scales with much greater change of contamination, while raw milk often comes from small farms. Winton Pitcoff, raw milk coordinator for North East Organic Farming Association in Massachusetts, told In These Times that "small, raw dairies are simply better suited to keep pathogens out of the milk in the first place."
Industry advocates believe the risk surrounding raw milk is simply too great, but Gumpert points out that there are risks in all foods. And according to Gumpert, the risk in hamburgers and other foods is far greater than the risks in raw milk.
"You know people can get sick from raw milk, they can get sick from pasteurized milk and they can get sick from any food," he told Living on Earth. "We take a lot of risks in all aspects of our life, and the question is how much risk are we willing to take to get the food we want?"
Hosted by Steve Curwood, "Living on Earth" is an award-winning environmental news program that delves into the leading issues affecting the world we inhabit. More "Living on Earth."