Raw milk debate simmers as states, FDA mull rules

Wed Feb 23, 2011 5:25pm EST
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By Zach Howard

GILL, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Clifford Hatch cares for about 20 cows at his family-run farm, producing fresh raw milk that is at the center of controversy over its sale and safety.

Hatch sells raw, or unpasteurized, milk products from a retail shop at his dairy farm, which state regulations allow him to do because the business is located on the same property where his Ayrshire cattle are milked.

He said he might sell 40 to 50 gallons a day at his Upinngill Farm, which started producing raw milk and cheese years ago when local residents began seeking an alternative to dairy from big, industrialized producers whose use of artificial bovine growth hormones was widespread then.

"The system is pretty sensible and reasonably well-enforced," Hatch said.

But debate is swirling over raw milk in many U.S. states, and the thought of tighter federal rules on its production and sale makes independent producers such as Hatch uneasy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both strongly warn the public against drinking raw milk. They see potential health risks from pathogens like E. coli bacteria, which in some instances can get into milk from an animal's manure.

But raw dairy advocates say unpasteurized milk is at least as safe as the "superheated" varieties because of the dedication small-batch farmers have to maintaining hygienic facilities.

Some people prefer raw milk, saying it is sweeter and has more vitamins and minerals, "healthy" bacteria and digestive enzymes. They say pasteurizing milk, or heating it to above 160 degrees Fahrenheit, destroys most of those features.   Continued...

<p>A bottle of milk in a refrigerator bears a label showing that it is from cows not treated with artificial growth hormones, in Washington in this November 9, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Jim Bourg</p>