Skim, 1 percent, 2 percent, whole, rice, soy — these are the culprits of milk mustaches everywhere. Milk is one of the most commonly consumed beverages in the United States. It’s in cheese, ice cream and yogurt. You put it in your cereal, warm it up to make hot chocolate, and it’s the best partner for a stack of cookies. In the words of America’s Dairy Farmers, “It does the body good.”
And then there’s raw milk — wholesome goodness straight from Bessie’s teats. It’s not pasteurized, homogenized, frozen, altered with additives, chemicals or light. To put it simply, it’s milk in its purest form.
Just last Friday the state Assembly approved of a bill that would allow dairy farmers with grade A dairy farms to sell directly to consumers raw dairy products on a one-year trial basis. So long as each farmer has a raw milk permit from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, prepares and fills containers in a sanitary manner, and completes the package with a sign that states the milk does not have the protection of pasteurization, then the milk is legal to sell. This bill, if signed by Gov. Doyle, will allow these dairy farmers to enter the competitive market and provide another choice for consumers that most don’t even know exists.
But as with any new product, there are the pros and cons. Supporters of raw milk say there are many potential health benefits from its consumption. According to Organic Pastures Dairy Company, raw milk has “beneficial bacteria, enzymes, lactase forming bacteria and many enzyme based pathogen killing systems.” For people who are against adding chemicals and additives to their food, raw milk is the way to go.
However, there is real and proven evidence that raw milk can be dangerous. The milk from cows that are fed a heavy grain diet, and not the organic grass diet that raw milk supporters prefer, undergoes a change in chemical composition and loses its natural ability to protect itself. The FDA has gone as far as to say that raw milk is “a dangerous choice” and contains many bacteria-causing diseases. Add in the possibility that the cows are munching on grass from a manure-laden field and you have a recipe for disaster.
This risk doesn’t just apply to milk. Every piece of food you put in your mouth carries with it a long history of production, handling and shipping. There is always the possibility the food you put in your mouth is carrying some sort of bacteria that might not be the best for your health. Anyone remember the salmonella breakout in tomatoes a few years ago? Not a pretty situation.
For most average Americans, the food we eat has been grown and produced under FDA regulations that try to eliminate all forms of bacteria and pathogens that could be harmful to the human body. Consequently, our immune systems have grown accustomed to not handling bacteria-rich foods. In short, drinking raw milk might not be the best idea for some people, but for others it’s a way of life that dates back to times when there were not extensive pasteurizing processes and FDA regulations. As long as it doesn’t pose a threat to public health — and it shouldn’t if the rules are followed — then the government should allow the public to make their own decisions on personal preference.
The beauty of living in a society where food is abundant gives consumers the room to be selective. However, with this privilege comes responsibility. Know where your food comes from. If you’re satisfied with your milk selection, then stick with it, but it wouldn’t be fair to deny others who are not.
If Gov. Doyle passes this bill, farmers across the state of Wisconsin will have the option to sell raw milk that has been tested and, if all rules are followed, produced in optimal sanitary conditions. It could increase profits for raw milk dairy farmers and offer an alternative to the already available milk options. It would be udderly wrong to deny consumers this option.
Chelsea Lawliss ([email protected]) is a sophomore intending to major in journalism and political science.