Raw milk: the ongoing story
I’m not sure what first got me into the idea of writing about raw milk and its devoted followers. The beverage, legal in some states, not so much in others, seemed to be the centerpiece of so many debates about our food system: Whole fats or low fat? Should government be able to tell people what is and isn’t safe to consume? What if the FDA takes something that was once status quo, straight-from-the-cow milk and deems it unsafe and illegal to deliver across state lines? Should that be a sign that it isn’t worth the risk or should it galvanize people to stand up and fight for their “rights to food?”
I wrote a story about raw milk drinkers and the legal debate in the Washington, D.C., area for The Post’s Food section, which ran last Wednesday. I heard from people who have gone out of their way to get raw milk by bending across-state-lines laws or moving across the state to buy their own cows. I also heard from FDA officials and farmers of local pasteurized milk about their fears that a few disease outbreaks from raw milk could ruin the beverage’s broader reputation, not to mention make people really sick.
I found the fervor about raw milk — on both sides — fascinating (and, no, I’m not taking sides). There was little to-do about it when we lived in Washington State, where raw milk sales are legal. For some reason, its tenuous legal standing in the DC area seems to make raw milk more desirable for some, or at least makes those who want it heartily devoted to to the cause.
Since the story ran, raw milk drinkers in Maryland — where state law heavily frowns on raw milk consumption, let alone sales — this week are working to turn the tide in favor of their favorite beverage. A bill that would legalize cow shares as a way for consumers to access raw milk in the state is scheduled for a hearing at 1 p.m. Tuesday. You can watch a live stream of the hearing here.
Here’s a snippet from the Farm Food Freedom Coalition’s press release on the hearing, which provides some insight into the pro-raw milk arguments that have helped loosen state laws elsewhere:
Since the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) instituted a ban on cow shares in 2006, Maryland has lost over 10% of its dairies. A 2010 report from the Maryland Dairy Industry Oversight and Advisory Council paints a bleak picture of the dairy industry in the state. Farmers are hopeful this measure will pass and the growing consumer interest in local foods will revitalize dairy farms and stimulate rural economies.
Sally Fallon Morell, a dairy farmer in Brandywine, Maryland and proponent of widening consumer access to farm fresh dairy, says, “Currently tens of thousands of Marylanders obtain fresh milk from Virginia and Pennsylvania, along with pasture-raised meat and eggs from the farms, representing a loss to Maryland farmers of over one hundred million dollars per year”
Numerous times over the past seven years, the General Assembly killed raw milk legislation in committee. Meanwhile demand for fresh milk is growing steadily. Hundreds of Maryland and District residents want the right to own a family cow. Cow-boarding typically involves multiple families owning shares in a dairy animal.
DHMH opposes the measure saying that raw milk is ‘inherently dangerous’ and that no one should have access to the beverage. However, cow owners do have access to fresh milk that goes without question.
Local mother and former cow share owner, Liz Reitzig states that “It is absurd that a few bureaucrats want to micromanage what my family drinks by banning a natural, wholesome food like fresh milk. We are being denied our right to contract with farmers for legal access to fresh dairy.”
The argument about raw milk is very much ongoing, and it will be interesting to see who shows up to fight for and against the bill in Maryland. Sally Fallon Morell, author of Nourishing Traditions, would certainly like to see the state where she lives and raises dairy cows on the side welcome raw milk sales, as she told me during interviews.
Check out the Post story and sidebar and let me know your thoughts about raw milk. And if you want to see other reactions to the story, some of the most heated can be found over at the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Facebook page.