Government and medical officials tell us not to consume raw milk because it is “inherently dangerous,” a soup of evil microbes that put everyone at risk, especially children, the elderly and the immune-compromised (the very population groups that need raw milk the most.) We’ve shown repeatedly that based on government data, raw milk is very safe—you are 35,000 times less likely to become ill from raw milk than from other foods.1
But the opposition continues; the question is why. A little bit of digging will reveal that the opposition to raw milk has nothing to do with safety—this is just a smokescreen.
THE FIRST PASTEURIZATION LAW
In 1910, the New York Milk Committee held a conference in order to reach a consensus on how to handle the city’s dairy products. Most of the participants were opposed to pasteurization and considered certified raw milk superior. But city officials did not think they could afford the necessary inspection force to safeguard raw milk.
As a result, the committee endorsed pasteurization because “Private companies, particularly larger companies, through their capital investment in pasteurizing technology, would enable the state to supply the guarantee of milk safety without imposing further public costs.”2
Thus the decision to mandate pasteurization had nothing to do with science, and everything to do with fiscal expediency.
In 2006 there were only six raw milk dairies in Washington State; today there are 39. Washington state’s Department of Agriculture is not happy about this “explosive growth,” even though it’s certainly good news for Washington’s small farms. That’s because regulations in the state of Washington call for frequent pathogen testing of raw milk in addition to the usual tests carried out on milk destined for pasteurization. The department is conducting more than five times the number of tests on raw milk than it did in 2006, and it has requested additional funds in its budget to hire two microbiologists. All dairies in the state pay a $250 license fee, but testing for raw dairies is estimated to cost over $6,000 for each raw milk dairy.3
Even in states that do not require such extensive testing, visits by inspectors represent costs to the department that handles milk inspection. As the head of dairy safety in the state of Maryland said to me, “Sally, we just can’t afford to inspect a lot of small dairies.”
CUTTING GOVERNMENT COSTS WITH REASONABLE REGULATIONS
There are a number of ways to reduce the costs of inspecting raw milk dairies. For one, very small dairies can be exempted from inspection. Dairy farms that milk less than, say, 10 cows, and that sell raw milk directly from the farm, do not need inspection, at least not frequent inspection. Instead, the state can require these dairy owners to take safety classes, or become a member of a trade group like the Raw Milk Institute.
Frequent testing for pathogens is also not necessary; occasional testing is a good idea, and the dairy itself should pay for these tests. In the state of Maryland, we are required to send in samples of our raw cheese once a year to be tested for five pathogens. The dairy pays the cost, not the state. Once a year the Maryland Department of Agriculture takes a sample of our unpasteurized pet milk and sends it in for pathogen testing. The state pays for these tests but could easily require the dairy to pay instead. Once-a-year testing for pathogens is a reasonable requirement, one that the dairy owner can easily pay for.
At the same time, new technologies allow individual dairy owners to carry out the standard tests—standard plate count, somatic cell count and coliform count—right on the farm. These tests are inexpensive, easy to use, and accurate. Regulations should require dairy farmers to do these tests frequently—on our farm, we do these tests for every batch of milk and cheese—and keep a record of the results. On-farm testing can ease the burden on the regulatory agency; it also provides frequent feedback to the farmer. If he gets results that are not satisfactory, he knows immediately that something has not been cleaned properly, or that there is a health problem with one or more cows. Frequent on-farm testing provides frequent feedback and is much more likely to result in best sanitary practices than a once-a-month visit from an inspector.
DAIRY INDUSTRY OPPOSITION
Of course the dairy industry is also opposed to raw milk, again for reasons having to do with finances. Milk processing companies typically pay farmers about $1.30 per gallon for their milk—about the same price that farmers got during World War II, and far less than the cost of production. It’s no wonder that conventional dairies are going out of business, by some estimates at the rate of 16 per day. Last year in California, 50 dairy farms, including a few very large farms, closed shop and sold their herds—that’s one per week. Only the raw milk dairies, selling milk for its true price of at least $10 per gallon, are doing well. When all farmers have the option of selling raw milk, the processing companies will be obligated to pay dairy farmers a higher price for their milk, and that would cut into their corporate profits and jeopardize the high salaries that these corporate officials receive.
THE SOLUTION: CONSUMER DEMAND
Ideally the citizens of a nation would band together and commit to the cost of making the most wholesome food possible available to their people, including Nature’s perfect food, whole raw milk from pasture-fed cows, to their growing children. Since neither government nor industry in the U.S. shares this vision, it’s left to the consumer to make it happen. And that’s exactly what has happened. Explosive demand and activism on many levels has made raw milk available in spite of government and industry opposition. As the benefits of raw milk become more and more obvious, more barriers will be lifted. New sanitation technologies and accumulated wisdom about hygienic dairy practices will bring down the costs of production and inspection. Very soon the day will come when the populace will recognize pasteurization for what it is: a rust belt technology based on 40-year-old science instituted for the sake of short-sighted budgetary concerns.
1. Raw Milk Safety Summary on RealMilk.com
2. Erna DuPuis, Nature’s Perfect Food: How Milk Became America’s Drink.
3. Cookson Beecher. “Raw milk’s ‘explosive growth’ comes with costs to the state.” January 12, 2016.
This article was first published in the Fall 2017 edition of Wise Traditions, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation.
About the Author
Sally Fallon Morell is the author of Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats (with Mary G. Enig, PhD), a well-researched, thought-provoking guide to traditional foods with a startling message: Animal fats and cholesterol are not villains but vital factors in the diet, necessary for normal growth, proper function of the brain and nervous system, protection from disease and optimum energy levels. She joined forces with Enig again to write Eat Fat, Lose Fat, and has authored numerous articles on the subject of diet and health. The President of the Weston A. Price Foundation and founder of A Campaign for Real Milk, Sally is also a journalist, chef, nutrition researcher, homemaker, and community activist. Her four healthy children were raised on whole foods including butter, cream, eggs and meat.