Despite warnings from U.S. health organizations like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that consuming raw (i.e., unpasteurized) milk is dangerous, the wholesome, natural food has a loyal and growing following.
You might remember that at one time all milk was “raw,” as pasteurization did not yet exist. This 19th century invention is touted as crucial in making milk safe, but what it’s actually done is allow the proliferation of the “dirty dairy” industry, aka milk that comes from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
On CAFOs, milk can be produced in filthy conditions, then heated until all the pathogens are gone.
Never mind that, along with killing “germs,” pasteurization kills off beneficial organisms in the milk and prevents natural souring (while naturally soured milk can still be consumed, pasteurized milk past its prime will quickly go bad).1
Rather than forcing dirty and dangerous CAFOs to clean up their acts, the FDA has waged a war against raw milk producers — those who are typically producing milk using far healthier, more humane and more sustainable methods than the industrial dairy industry ever could.
Under the guise of protecting public health, they’ve been slowly chipping away at Americans’ food freedom, including the choice to consume raw milk whenever and wherever they please. Fed up with the irony and blatant violation of human rights, the Tenth Amendment Center is calling on states to legalize raw milk.
FDA Raw Dairy Prohibition Favors Big Dairy, Squeezes Out Small Farmers
The Tenth Amendment Center is one of the latest NGOs to get involved in the raw milk legalization cause. The 10th Amendment reads:2
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
What this means, then, is that the FDA is in violation of the Constitution by trying to enforce raw milk bans within states.
Such bans tend to favor industrial dairy at the expense of small, family farms, according to Mike Maharrey, national communications director for the Tenth Amendment Center. He said in a position paper:3
“Constitutionally, food safety falls within the powers reserved to the states and the people … The feds have no authority to enforce food safety laws within the border of a state. Nevertheless, federal agencies still want more control over America’s food supply, and they go great lengths to get it.
For example, the FDA bans the interstate sale of raw milk. But, not only do they ban the transportation of raw milk across state lines, they also claim the authority to ban unpasteurized milk within the borders of a state.
FDA ultimately wants to maintain a complete prohibition on raw milk with a one-size-fits-all control over everything you eat and drink.
While FDA apologists claim the agency only wants to protect consumers, in truth, federal regulations tend to benefit big companies and squeeze out family farms. In the name of safety, FDA regulations limit your ability to access local, fresh food.”
3 States Introduce Bills to Legalize Raw Milk
As more Americans demand the right to purchase and consume locally sourced food of their own choosing, increasing numbers of states are introducing legislation to loosen restrictions regarding intrastate sales of raw milk. Raw milk, by the way, is the only food banned from interstate commerce.
Three states have also introduced bills to legalize raw milk sales within their borders. This includes:
House Bill 257 would make it legal for farmers to sell shares of cows or herds to those interested in purchasing raw milk. The raw milk could also be sold for animal consumption.
The bill would also legalize the sale of raw milk in retail stores, provided it contains a warning label about the “risks” of consuming unpasteurized milk.4 A provision in the bill would also require farmers to maintain records of everyone who purchases raw milk.
House Bill 1433, currently pending before the state Legislative Assembly’s Joint Agriculture Committee, would allow farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers.
As it stands, North Dakotans who wish to purchase raw milk must purchase a share of the cow or herd. The bill also bans attempts by state or local governments to require warning labels on the milk, although it does require that consumers be informed that the milk isn’t inspected.
House Bill 46 would make it legal for farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers. Currently, consumers must purchase a share of a cow or goat to obtain its raw milk. The milk would be required to carry a warning label.
Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, who introduced the bill, told ADN Alaska News “she decided to introduce the raw milk legislation after talking with farmers last year who said the restriction was burdensome.”
“Tarr said legalizing raw milk could help build the state’s small dairy industry, which has struggled historically,” ADN continued:
“But by making raw milk sales legal, Tarr said, it’s possible that small- and medium-size producers could form cooperatives or find other ways to sell their product by starting small.”5
The bill also includes an amendment to a state law to allow the state to purchase local agriculture products if they are no more than 15 percent more expensive than a similar product grown elsewhere in the U.S.
Currently, the limit is set at 7 percent, so the amendment stands to boost local food production. ADN reported:6
“Tarr said increasing percentage would make it easier for farmers to get their products purchased by the state. That would possibly increase agricultural opportunities in Alaska.
Tarr acknowledged that it might mean the state pays more for food, but she said it would be a marginal increase of only thousands of dollars — not millions — that would go directly back into local industry.”
Raw Milk Fear-Mongering Continues
It’s unfortunate that the media continues to spread inaccuracies and fear-based reporting related to raw milk. The food industry news website Food Dive is among the latest.
After reporting on Alaska’s bill to legalize raw milk, they brought up an old story about West Virginia legislators who consumed raw milk and then fell ill with a stomach bug, noting “perhaps some regulations are best left alone.”7
But it doesn’t take much digging to reveal that this is very misleading. In 2016, West Virginia, which has historically been one of the least open states to raw milk, legalized the distribution of raw milk in the state through herd-share agreements. To celebrate the bill’s passing, some delegates took a drink of raw milk.
Shortly after, a number of the delegates became sick with a stomach bug, which the media quickly picked up and blamed on the raw milk. What was not widely circulated, however, was that many delegates became sick, including some that did not drink the milk.
And, a stomach bug had reportedly been going around for weeks. An investigation launched by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) came back with inconclusive results, as no milk was available for testing. So, blaming the illness on raw milk isn’t accurate at all.
The bill’s sponsor, Scott Cadle, who shared the raw milk, even told the Charleston Gazette-Mail, “It ain’t because of the raw milk … With that many people around and that close quarters and in that air and environment, I just call it a big germ. All that Capitol is is a big germ.”8
What Foods Are Really Making People Sick?
The absurdity of targeting raw milk becomes even clearer when contrasted with the real culprits in many cases of food-borne illness: CAFOs. The majority of foods that are making people sick are coming not from small organic farms selling raw milk products. They’re coming from CAFOs and the mega-companies that use their products.
From 2009 to 2012, North Dakota, for instance, reported just 15 documented cases of bacterial infections among people who drank raw milk before they became ill.9 In contrast, in 2015 alone, ice cream from Blue Bell Creamery — the third-largest ice cream maker in the U.S. — sickened 10 people with listeria, three of whom died as a result.
Blue Bell, whose ice cream is now back on the market, was fined just $175,000 for the incident.10 Meanwhile, raw dairy farmers have been put out of business for mere suspicion of contamination. Even in the absence of a complaint of contamination, farmers and consumers are often harassed over the buying and selling of raw milk. Ultimately, the choice of what to eat should belong to the individual consumer, not the state or federal government.
As Alaska goat farmer Suzy Crosby with Cottonwood Creek Farm told KTUU in reaction to Alaska’s proposed raw milk bill, “Yes, while milk can have a risk … so can so many other fresh foods that you can pick up at the supermarket … Alaskans should have the right to choose what foods they eat.”11
In New Zealand, You Can Get Self-Serve Dairy Straight From the Vat
In New Zealand, farmers can sell raw milk directly to consumers, either at the farm or via home delivery. However, in some areas you can even get your own milk from the farm, straight from the vat — self-service style. At Dolly’s Milk in Stratford, local residents have been enjoying the milk for three years. Customers can dispense milk 24 hours a day, and the farm produces and sells an average of 5,000 liters (more than 1,300 gallons) of milk a month.
“The chances of getting sick through raw milk are quite remote,” co-owner Peter Dalziel told Stuff News.12 “If your cows are healthy and your standards are hygienic, the milk’s fine and most of Stratford has been brought up on raw milk in some point in their lives.” Margaret Dalziel, also an owner, added, “I went to boarding school with 160 girls, all farmers’ daughters, none of us got sick on milk.”
It’s important to note that high-quality raw milk is typically also grass-fed, in contrast to milk that comes from CAFOs (where cows are fed genetically engineered grains). Grass-fed raw milk contains:
- Healthy bacteria that are good for your gastrointestinal (GI) tract
- More than 60 digestive enzymes, growth factors and immunoglobulins (antibodies)
- Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
- Beneficial raw fats, amino acids and proteins in a highly bioavailable form, all 100 percent digestible
- Vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K in highly bioavailable forms, and a very balanced blend of minerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron), the absorption of which is enhanced by live lactobacilli
Not to mention, there are proven benefits to drinking high-quality raw milk. In one study, children who drank raw milk had a 30 percent lower risk of respiratory infections and fever compared to those who did not drink raw milk.13 In another study, raw milk exposure in early childhood was found to increase the number of regulatory T-cells (immunosuppressive cells that modulate your immune system), resulting in a lower risk of asthma and allergies.14
Do You Believe in Food Freedom?
Truth be told, many people should not consume dairy whether it is raw or pasteurized, as they are allergic to the milk proteins. Additionally, if you’re insulin resistant, you would likely be better off avoiding raw and pasteurized milk, as it contains the dairy sugar lactose, which can worsen insulin/leptin resistance.
However, if you are healthy and want to drink milk, grass-fed raw milk from a high-quality source is generally superior in nutrition and flavor. It will also help to decrease the likelihood of insulin spikes from the milk sugar, courtesy of the thick layer of cream on top.
But whether you’re a milk drinker or not, there’s no doubt that you should have the option of choosing what to eat and from what sources. This is why the fight over raw milk stands as a symbol of the much larger fight for food freedom. Who gets to decide what you eat? You or the FDA?
If the FDA and other government agencies are allowed to impose their view of “safe food” on consumers, raw milk won’t be the only thing lost — one day virtually all food could be pasteurized, irradiated and/or genetically engineered.
The effort to reclaim your right to buy and consume raw milk is leading the way for everyone who wants to be able to obtain the food of their choice from the source of their choice. So please, get involved! I urge you to get involved with the following action plan to protect your right to choose your own foods:
- Get informed: Visit www.farmtoconsumer.org or click here to sign up for action alerts. To review the raw milk laws in your state, see the Farm-to-Consumer.org’s Raw Milk Nation page.
- Join the fight for your rights: The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) is the only organization of its kind. This 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization provides a legal defense for farmers who are being pursued by the government for distributing foods directly to consumers. Your donations, although not tax deductible, will be used to support the litigation, legislative, and lobbying efforts of the FTCLDF.
- Support your local farmers: Getting your raw milk from a local organic farm or co-op is one of the best ways to ensure you’re getting high-quality milk. You can locate a raw milk source near you at the Campaign for Real Milk website. California residents can find raw milk retailers by using the store locator available at www.OrganicPastures.com.
As with all foods, the source matters, and this is just as true with raw milk as any other food. If you’re interested in raw milk, here are tips for finding high-quality raw milk sources.
- 1 Real Milk, January 1, 2000
- 2, 3 Tenth Amendment Center January 23, 2017
- 4 Food Safety News January 25, 2017
- 5, 6 ADN January 20, 2017
- 7 Food Dive January 19, 2017
- 8 Fortune March 10, 2016
- 9 Food Safety News January 24, 2017
- 10 Food Poisoning Bulletin July 30, 2016
- 11 KTUU January 16, 2017
- 12 Stuff January 24, 2017
- 13 The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology January 2015; 135(1): 56-62.e2
- 14 Journal of Allergy Clinical Immunology February 2014; 133(2):551-9