The Legalization of Raw Milk
Should Interstate Bans on Raw Milk Sales Be Lifted?
A heated debate is being brought to the table in both many different states, as well as to the attention of the federal government. It is the question of whether raw milk should be made legal to purchase and whether or not the bans on the interstate sales of raw milk should be removed. Raw milk is a product which has been consumed since the beginning of mankind, but was exchanged for pasteurized milk just over a century and a half ago. Opponents of these bills argue it is not safe for human consumption, thus giving the FDA the right to ban interstate sales and punish those who continue to sell raw milk against the law. Those who support the movement to remove these bans argue that, setting aside the issue of whether or not the milk poses a health threat (which they argue that it does not), the federal government does not have the right to set a law in place to make the selling of raw milk illegal, especially considering when so many other products are made available to the public which are detrimental to the health and safety of citizens, such as cigarettes or alcohol.
First, what exactly is the difference between raw and pasteurized milk? Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized. This is the form of milk which was consumed exclusively by society until the pasteurization process was developed in 1864. Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to an extremely high temperature in order to kill the bacteria and delay how fast the milk turns sour.
In 1987, raw milk became banned from interstate commerce (with the exception of cheese made from raw milk, so long as it had aged 60 days) and pasteurization of all milk and products from milks was required by the FDA. Michigan was the first state to ban the sales of raw milk and as of today, only certain states allow the sale of raw milk to the public.
Those who support the legislation to legalize interstate sales of raw milk argue that, above all else, it is not the place of the government to step in when the raw milk poses such a smaller health risk than, for example, tobacco, which is not illegal. They argue that raw milk is better than pasteurized milk and contains a much greater level of nutrition. Reportedly, when milk undergoes pasteurization, specific and beneficial enzymes are reduced or eliminated altogether. Manganese, copper, and iron have been shown to be reduced after undergoing pasteurization, as well as the amount of vitamin C (Kresser, 2013). According to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, raw milk is associated with lower incidents of hay fever and asthma in children (AAAA, 2011). Among many other findings from multiple studies and research, pasteurized milk has also been shown to damage the calcium contained in raw milk. According to Dr. Mercola, “this frequently leads to rickets, bad teeth and nervous troubles, for sufficient calcium content is vital to children; and with the loss of phosphorus also associated with calcium, bone and brain formation suffer serious setbacks. (Mercola, 2003)
Those who oppose raw milk argue that it is dangerous to the health of those consume it and especially to the elderly, children, and those with a compromised immune system. They claim that, “although it’s possible to get “food poisoning” or food borne illnesses from many foods, raw milk is one of the riskiest of all” (Behravesh, 2011). It is only due to these dangers that the sales of raw milk remain banned in nearly half of the country and the sale of these products not allowed to take place between the other states, where it is legal.
Currently there are many bills being introduced across the country which would legalize milk sales. Among these bills, there are two which are attracting a lot of the attention. Congressman Massie of Kentucky introduced the Milk Freedom Act of 2014 and the Interstate Milk Freedom Act of 2014. The former would prohibit the federal government from interfering with the interstate traffic of raw milk products and the latter would keep the federal government out of the trade of raw milk and products from raw milk between states where the sale of raw milk is legal.
Proponents behind these bills argue the point that the selling of raw milk is taking place regardless of the law which is set in place. Citizens that are law-abiding otherwise, do not have a choice, but to break the law only in order to make personal health choices regarding their food consumption. Twenty-eight states allow some form of raw milk sales, whether through buying a share or purchasing from someone through word of mouth. The other half of the country does not allow any sales of raw milk whatsoever. According to the Washington Post, “40 bills have been introduced in 23 state capitals, all seeking to legalize unpasteurized milk within state borders” (Kindy, 2014). It has even gotten to the point where stores sell the raw milk with the label of, “for pet consumption only”, to people who may not even have a pet, but purchase it through these means in order to bypass what Representative Massie refers to as “stupid laws” (Koren, 2014).
One of the biggest arguments opponents have against raw milk legalization is that they consider it to be too dangerous and thus, the federal government must step in to withhold it from the market. They argue that the risks from raw milk consumption outweigh an individual’s right to choose what to consume and put in their body. They throw around statistics of health related illnesses and diseases which they attribute to the consumption of raw milk that would make even the regular raw milk drinker a bit concerned. However, once the facts are broken down, one real fact remains: the danger is of a minuscule level. In fact, an individual has a 0.00106% chance of getting sick from drinking raw milk or consuming products made from it (Kresser, 2012). In a detailed and thorough article, Chris Kresser dives into the subject of whether raw milk is truly dangerous or not. He determined that “you have a 750 times greater chance of dying in a car crash than becoming hospitalized from drinking raw milk. (Kresser, 2012).
Finally, a third argument for the legalization of raw milk would be the fact that despite the major health risks associated with other products such as cigarettes, alcohol, and tanning beds, these are all legal and made available throughout the country. The minute amount of illnesses associated with the consumption of raw milk is nothing compared to the dangerous and, many times, fatal results of the use of these other legal products. Delegate Nic Kipke (R-Anne Arundel), agrees with this argument and believes that since these products are widely available, so should raw milk as well (Flynn, 2014).
In conclusion, the debate over the selling of raw milk and products from raw milk is a heated one which is currently on the table, possibly to be changed. While there are a risks associated with the consumption of raw milk, these negative consequences are rare and small. They are especially so when compared with the consequences of freely available products which are detrimental and destructive to the health of the individual, such as cigarettes or tanning beds. Ultimately, it is not just about what you are allowed to consume or not. “The ability to grow one’s own food allows for independence and self-sufficiency, and the destruction of the family farm will make people dependent on centralized food supplies. The fight over raw milk and agricultural freedom is a fundamentally important one to the US “(Cook, 2013).
Behravesh, Casey Barton. (2011, February 15). Drinking Raw Milk: It’s Not Worth The Risk. Retrieved from http://www.foodsafety.gov/blog/raw_milk.htmlFlynn, Dan. (2014, March 26). Sponsor of Maryland Raw-Milk Cow-Share Bill Gives Up. Retrieved from http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2014/03/sponsor-of-raw-milk-cow-shares-bill-gives-up-in-maryland-assembly/#.U0dJLqhdWAMKindy, Kimberly. (2014, April 4). Political Push For Raw Unpasteurized Milk Is Increasing Access But Illnesses Are Up Too. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/political-push-for-raw-unpasteurized-milk-is-increasing-access-but-illnesses-are-up-too/2014/04/04/e62bc884-b443-11e3-8020-b2d790b3c9e1_story.html
Koren, Marina. (2014, April 8). What Your Pets Have To Do With Illegal Raw Milk. Retrieved from www.nationaljournal.com/health-care/what-your-pets-have-to-do-with-illegal-raw-milk-20140408
Cook, Joshua. (2013, August 28). FDA ’s Secret War on Raw Milk and Organic Farming Retrieved from http://benswann.com/fda-s-secret-war-on-raw-milk-and-organic-farming/
Kresser, Chris. (2012, May 9). Raw Milk Reality: Is Raw Milk Dangerous. Retrieved from http://chriskresser.com/raw-milk-reality-is-raw-milk-dangerous
Mercola, David. (2003, March 26). Why You Don’t Want To Drink Pasteurized Milk. Retrieved from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2003/03/26/pasteurized-milk-part-one.aspx
AAAA, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. (2011, August 29). Can childhood asthma be prevented by farm milk consumption? Retrieved from https://www.aaaai.org/global/latest-research-summaries/Current-JACI-Research/childhood-asthma-prevented-by-farm-milk.aspx