Welcome to the archives for NewsTalk, an IBJ blog published from November 2007 through December 2010.

Raw milk controversy foams again

March 29, 2010

If you want to start a fight, you’ll do as well to mention raw milk as health care reform.

The ongoing conflict between unpasteurized milk advocates and the government and medical establishment is back in the news with the dozen confirmed cases of people getting sick with campylobacteriosis—three in Indiana and nine in Michigan.

The bacteria, which causes diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain and cramping, is associated with people who drank raw milk from Forest Grove Dairy near the northern Indiana town of Middlebury.

Pasteurization, a heat treatment that kills bacteria, was adopted a century ago to sterilize milk produced by filthy dairies, and the Food and Drug Administration now dictates that all milk sold to the public undergo the process.

Raw milk enthusiasts complain pasteurization kills healthy bacteria and enzymes along with any bad stuff. The backers also point out that farms that produce raw milk sweeten its attraction by tending to avoid antibiotics and feeding animal byproducts.

Health officials counter that nutritional benefits of raw milk are negligible and the risk of getting sick is too high. Consumption of raw milk caused at least 187 hospitalizations, 1,614 illnesses and two deaths in the decade ended in 2008, the FDA says.

If it’s illegal to sell unpasteurized milk, how did all those people get it from Forest Grove Dairy? That’s under investigation by the FDA, and the agency isn’t discussing its findings for now.

People intent on getting raw milk often skirt the law by buying their own cows in arrangements call “cow-shares.” (Ownership of cows is shared because one cow would drown a typical family with too much milk.)

The Indiana State Board of Animal Health doesn’t track raw milk because the only people allowed to drink it are those who produce it themselves.

Spokeswoman Denise Derrer says some Amish families drink raw milk, but the board also is aware of Latino families using it to make “bathtub cheese.” As the name implies, lots of the traditional white soft cheese can be made in tubs. People in the Indianapolis area have gotten sick from eating the cheese, she says.

What’s your opinion about raw milk? Do you take the libertarian view of letting people follow their convictions? Or are you on the side of the officials who say it’s dangerous enough to ban?

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