Raw Milk Debate Is White Hot


Written by Steve Holt, TakePart

The fight over the type of milk Americans can drink is getting raw. Earlier this week, supporters of unpasteurized milk rallied outside a Minneapolis courthouse where farmer Alvin Schlangen was scheduled to face trial. His crime? Delivering raw milk to more than 100 consumers who requested it.

The protestors, many of them moms whose homes serve as “drop sites” for food-buying clubs that distribute raw milk, say limitations on the sale and interstate transportation of the beverage trample on the rights of consumers to do business with their neighbors and buy what they want. At the Minneapolis rally, supporters signed a “Declaration of Food Independence” to demonstrate their “non-compliance against what they deem ‘unjust’ regulations,” according to the organization.

Schlangen’s is the latest case in an ongoing battle between advocates for unpasteurized milk and state and federal health officials. One side says it only wants the freedom to consume milk free of “adulteration,” contending that raw milk is actually healthier than pasteurized milk. Dairy farmers, proponents say, should be able to sell directly to consumers without going through another level of processing.

Opponents, including state and national public health officials, say raw milk is unsafe, evidenced by more than 2,000 reported illnesses in the last decade that were linked to the controversial drink. (E. coli, which is killed when milk is heated up during the pasteurization process, is often the presumed culprit.)


Reports of S.W.A.T.-style raids on dairy farms and distributors like Schlangen thought to be peddling raw milk have sent the raw milk market underground, with proponents fearing criminal charges. It has resulted in the creation of an odd criminal industry, profiled by writer Dana Goodyear in the April 30 issue of The New Yorker. “Raw milk,” she wrote, “is the new pot—only harder to get.”

Here’s a roundup of a few other recent happenings in the raw milk debate:

Raw Milk Gaining Traction in the Granite State

A bill currently on the New Hampshire governor’s desk stands to raise the cap on the amount of raw milk backyard dairies can sell from five gallons a day to 20, according to New England Cable News. This would be good news for Kathie Nunley of Amherst, N.H., whose jersey cow Dixie produces up to seven gallons of milk a day. “So we had to offer the extra to our community,” Nunley told NECN. “What we didn’t know is everyone wanted it.”

“The health halo of a nostalgic, if apocryphal, place”

That’s how Peter Smith described the raw milk movement in a post last week for the Smithsonian’s Food and Think blog. He criticized Goodyear and The New Yorker for mentioning only one scientific study of the health benefit of raw milk, which he writes “remains speculative” while “its risks remain high.”

More Sick People in Oregon, Missouri

In Oregon, as many as 21 cases of foodborne illnesses have been linked to a farm outside of Wilsonville, according to OPB News. Included among the ill is a two-year-old who has been hospitalized for more than a month after drinking unpasteurized milk. In Missouri, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that six of 13 people who were sickened by E. coli last month drank raw milk from the same farm.

The Legal Situation

The sale of raw milk is still legal in 28 states, though restrictions on the amount and method of procurement varies from state to state. The FDA has said that “raw milk, no matter how carefully produced, may be unsafe,” and a federal law prohibits the interstate transport of raw milk. In late March, a federal district judge in Falls Church, VA, dismissed a lawsuit challenging that federal ban. Litigation in other states, including California, has had similarly disappointing outcomes for raw milk advocates.

While the U.S. is fairly strict about raw milk, though, Canada and Australia are even stricter, completely banning the sale of milk directly to the consumer. In contrast, the European Union has no regulations on raw milk sales or consumption, and goes as far as to declare it “safe for human consumption.”

To review the raw milk laws in your state, look at this interactive map.


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Marilyn M.
Marilyn M.1 years ago

Thank you.

Abby J.
Abby J.2 years ago

The notion that raw milk causes disease and death is extremely exaggerated. There are just as many cases of food borne illnesses and deaths related to other products, like spinach and asparagus, that do not get as much negative media attention and do not get demonized by the United States government.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

i love my milk. my child loves milk. my great grandmother drank a half gallon every two days or so and she led a very healthy life and lived to 90.. and wouldn't have passed then if she hadn't gotten hurt. also, people who say humans are the only animals that drink milk from other animals are ignorant. Cats and dogs LOVE milk, and I'd be willing to bet you could give many species cows milk, goats milk, or even human milk, and they would love it. They just don't have fingers to milk other animals.

char l.
Past Member 3 years ago

Animal activists point out that man is the only species that drinks the milk of another species.
Not true! Lots of animals will enthusiastically drink the milk of other species if they can get it. The thing is, only humans have the hands to milk cows, goats, camels, horses, etc. If cats had hands, I guarantee you they would milk cows. ;o)

Shawn O' Malley
Shawn O' Malley3 years ago

The problem being of course is the cows are injected with hormones, steroids, and fed antibiotics and crops with unsafe levels pesticide and antibacterial agents. So the mlk follows suit.

Massimo N.
Massimo N.3 years ago

"Even a most carefully supervised milk supply is open to the danger of grave infection from carrier or unrecognized cases of disease. The only real safeguard against such catastrophes lies in pasteurization, carried out by the holding system and preferably in the final packages"


Anyway, why should humans drink a fluid that nature conceived for such a completely different mammal as a calf?

Deborah F.
Deborah F.3 years ago

There are some things that I need raw milk in order to create properly. Now that I don't live near a farm, I can't find any. "We must be protected from ourselves!" ugh.

Kristen H.
Kristen H.3 years ago

It's not pasteurization that makes milk horrifying. It's the antibiotics and hormones that the farmers inject into their cows that makes milk horrifying. How many little 7 year old girls with precocious puberty does this nation have to deal with, before that horrifying practice ends? Oh, wait. There's a drug for that. Never mind. If we can fix one drug's side effects by selling another drug, then all is well in this crazy society.

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson3 years ago


Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson3 years ago