Grass To The Glass: Raw Milk and Informed Consumer Choice

This article was written by Dr. Joseph Heckman and we are sharing it with permission.

Grass to the Glass: Raw Milk and Informed Consumer Choice

by Dr. Joseph R. Heckman, Department of Plant Biology and Pathology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ

(originally published at http://a-c-s.confex.com/crops/2011asa/webprogram/Paper69539.html)

Demand for fresh whole fat unprocessed milk, commonly referred to as raw milk, has increased markedly.  By some estimates about ten million people in USA consume milk raw.  Public health officials teach that pasteurization of milk is a major public health victory of the last century.  However, since the inception of pasteurization there have also been major advances in hygiene.

What puzzles officials is that the more they warn against drinking raw milk, the more people demand it.  Public health pronouncements relentlessly warn of the dangers of raw milk without a full analysis of what is actually in the scientific record.

As a soil scientist, I became embroiled in the milk controversy as a result of hosting a university seminar series concerning raw milk and informed consumer choice.  A careful review shows that pasteurization does not guarantee food safety; any food, including milk (raw or pasteurized) can be linked to food borne illness.  Two notable examples of pasteurized milk outbreaks documented in JAMA: In 1985, >168,000 people were sickened with Salmonella from pasteurized milk and in 2007; Listeria from pasteurized milk was linked to 3 deaths.  Government agencies universally opposed to raw milk fail to draw a distinction between risks associated with carefully produced legitimate food-quality raw milk intended for direct human consumption, and poor quality milk that cannot be safely consumed by people in raw form.

Currently about half of the states in USA allow raw milk sales and legislation for expansion is pending in several.  In Pennsylvania, farms with raw milk permits increased from about 25 to 150 over the last decade.  Raw milk consumers want quality and strongly prefer milk from grass-fed cows with minimal grain feeding.  Agronomists are needed to help raw milk dairies with pasture feeding and organic cultural practices.