Any blogger who comes across a newspaper article online that has 107 comments attached to it, they take notice. That’s just what happened when I stumbled across an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel dated March 10th. Hundreds of people packed a legislative hearing being held at Eau Claire in regards to a bill now being debated in the Wisconsin legislature. The proposal would allow the purchase of raw unpasteurized milk directly from farmers and would exempt them from liability if sickness occurs.
This wasn’t just any hearing. This was 450 people arriving from Wisconsin and surrounding states. This hearing ended up with 10 (yes 10) hours of testimony. And the participants included everyone from your local small operation farmer, to consumers, to scientist and of course state and even federal officials.
Let me introduce you to the clandestine world of underground, back room, milk smuggling operations. This is occurring everywhere from Minneapolis, to Minot to Mazzepa. Raw milk is being stored in backroom refrigerators in neighborhood grocery stores, or being "bartered" for eggs with local farmers, or being exchanged in area parking lots. Similar to a drug deal, only the character involved maybe Aunt Ruthie from the bridge club meeting Mr. Smith the school custodian.
In Minnesota the sale of raw milk has been banned since 1949. Some comments online indicate the legalities here is that the buyer is not the criminal, it is the seller who is held liable. And the liability gets even more intense if sickness or death may occur from the purchase. Just for information, legal raw milk sales are allowed in about 25 states and a typical 1 gallon bottle of raw milk goes for $6 to $8.
Now for the Pro’s of raw milk: many believe in the health benefits of raw milk with its good bacteria, enzymes, and nutrients which have not been wiped out by the heating done with pasteurization. Some believe it boosts the immune system and can prevent allergies. Many like its country “grassy” taste and think the government should stay out and let people make their own choices. Many of those testifying in Wisconsin stated they don’t know a single farmer in the state that goes out and purchases Pasturized milk, and that they have been drinking it for years. Some scientist say the health risk is small.
Now for the Con’s of raw milk: In Minnesota since 2000 there has been 5 reported cases of food borne illnesses traced to raw milk. In Wisconsin there have been 4 cases. The potential exists for bacteria such as e-coli, Listeria, and Samonella, some of these which can be harmful also to human fetuses. The milk industry says any illnesses linked to milk will give the entire industry a “black eye”. State regulators say protecting raw milk producers from liability would set a terrible precedent. And scientist say there is no evidence that pasteurization causes any “substantial” change to the milk product and the health benefits of the process outweigh any risk involved with raw milk.
In Wisconsin…27 legislators have co-sponsored the bill which is getting national attention in a state whose license plates say “American Dairyland”. So what’s your opinion on the benefits or risks of raw milk? I challenge you to ask around your place of work or worship to see how long it takes you to find someone who is currently drinking raw milk. I think you will be surprised how prevalent it is. Just remember, the next time you’re in the parking lot of the mall and see some sort of “deal” going down, it may not be meth or oxycontin….it maybe a ½ gallon of raw milk and 2 pints of yogurt.