I read, in your Feb. 16 edition, a report by Phil Gruber on “Raw Milk Illness Concern Spreads to 19 States.” I’d like to comment.
Dairy farmers all across Pennsylvania and the northeast U.S. should no longer support the sale of raw milk direct to consumers. At what point will someone stand up and state the practice is not good for the dairy production and processing industries, and more importantly for the consumer? Every time a report comes out and is plastered all across the news media for days and weeks that someone became sick because of consuming raw milk, it is very bad for our dairy industry.
Food safety for our consumers should be our industry’s highest priority, but it isn’t in the case of raw milk sales. Government legislators, regulators and some members of our farming community are mute and continue to stick their heads in the sand on the issue. The sale of raw milk across state lines is against the law, so why isn’t it enforced? Our association of milk processors and dairy manufacturers opposes the sale of raw milk direct to consumers for the very reason people can become sick, and in rare instances can die, from consuming raw milk. Just about every week, somewhere in the U.S., there is a raw milk sickness outbreak report. When someone becomes ill from consuming raw milk, it is at the very least bad PR and at worst contributes to decreased sales and consumption.
The arguments allowing raw milk sales are weak at best. I hear them all the time, such as “I grew up drinking raw milk and I was never sick” or “raw milk is better for you.” It doesn’t matter if you grew up drinking raw milk, the fact is that at any time every batch of raw milk could contain some type of dangerous pathogen. And raw milk is not better for you; it has no mystical properties that cure anything.
Consumers don’t know about the danger, and signage and infrequent farm inspections are not enough to protect them. Everyday milk consumers, the ones we rely on for our sales, have come to know milk and dairy products are safe to consume because they have been pasteurized. They take it for granted, and they don’t know the dangers raw milk can pose. But when they read news stories of milk making someone sick and our government agencies warning against consuming milk, they don’t make the correlation between raw and pasteurized. Any negative news story about our product erodes consumer confidence in all our milk and dairy products.
If a milk processing plant were to accidentally not pasteurize the milk they package, allow it to get to a store and then be uncovered by an inspection, a recall would be mandated and potentially the plant would be shut down. At best, it is hypocritical to allow the sale of raw milk to unsuspecting consumers while at the same time outlawing packaged raw milk sales from a milk plant.
State farm bureaus continue to support the sale of raw milk while saying something needs to be done to reverse the continuing decline of milk consumption. These are opposing policies; it should be one or the other. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, numerous health organizations like the Mayo Clinic and prestigious universities warn about the dangers of consuming raw milk. Why aren’t we listening to them?
If you want to drink raw milk and play Russian roulette, fine, go ahead, buy a cow and milk her. But we should call on our state legislatures to support an outright ban on the sale of raw milk to the general public.
It is time to help increase milk consumption, and we can all start here with the truth and acknowledge that selling raw milk from a farm (or in a store, which is allowed in Pennsylvania) to a consumer is bad policy. And, most importantly, it is not safe.
— Bruce W. Krupke
Executive Vice President
Northeast Dairy Foods Association, Inc.