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A petition being passed around West Virginia through the Change.org web site is pushing legislators to change Raw Milk laws in the state. “Consumers should have the right to eat and drink foods they believe will benefit them,” the petition reads. Not everyone agrees.
Farmer Says Sweet
Tinia Creamer is a young farmer in the Huntington area who is outspoken about the issue of milk.
Creamer raises dairy goats and miniature Derby cows, and she’s the Huntington area chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation an international non-profit food advocacy group and one of the most vocal promoters of raw, or “real” milk.
- “Real” Nutritious
The Weston Price Foundation is leading a global campaign, circulating information about the benefits of not just raw, but “real” milk. “Real” meaning raw milk produced by cows (or other lactating animals) fed green grass in Spring, Summer and Fall; stored dry hay, silage, and root vegetables in Winter.
Benefits of Raw/Real milk? Butterfat.
According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, raw milk is rich in unprocessed butterfat which contains vitamins A and D—necessary components to aid in the digestion and absorption the calcium and protein in the water fraction of the milk. According to their research, this butterfat is also rich in short- and medium chain fatty acids which protect against disease and stimulate the immune system, and it contains something called glyco-spingolipids which prevent intestinal distress. It also contains something called conjugated linoleic acid which has strong anticancer properties.
Creamer grew up in rural Lincoln County. Her father was a grocer who would sell a local woman’s milk and butter and with great demand. She thinks it’s unjust that today only those capable of keeping goats or cows are allowed to have access to their milk. She says the most important issue for her at hand is one of food freedom.
Creamer also says she’s aware of the risks just as she’s aware of the risks posed by eating raw oysters and sushi and steak tartare.
“We allow the public access to tobacco, alcohol, and pharmaceuticals that are over the counter with known side effects,” Creamer says. “And we say, ‘Use this at your risk.’ And then turn around and say, ‘But you can’t have milk. It’s too dangerous.’”
Creamer also extols the potential economic benefits raw milk sales could have in the state for small farms. She says there’s a place in the growing sustainable food movement for the product that sells for $8-$10/gallon.
She’s hopeful that the issue will be taken up in the upcoming legislative session.
DHHR Says Sour
Meanwhile, health officials at the Department of Health and Human Recourses aren’t buying the idea that health benefits of raw milk outweigh the risk to public health.
“West Virginia has been exceptionally proactive in protecting her citizens from raw milk sales,” says Dr. Letitia Tierney, Commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health and State Health Officer. She’s proud of West Virginia’s record as one of the states with the strictest regulations regarding the sale and distribution of raw milk. She says raw milk has been illegal since 1968 when the state adopted Section 9 of the Federal Pasteurized Milk Ordinance.
Not only is it illegal to buy or sell, since 2005 it’s also illegal to collectively own a cow and share the milk she produces, and just in case anyone would try to sell or buy raw milk under the guise that it’s for a pet or livestock—for the past three years that’s been illegal, too. Penalties for being caught exchanging money for milk include fines and misdemeanor charges. Tierney says it’s all in the name of public health.
- Foodborne Threats
“The reality is, raw milk contains bacteria and many of them can be harmful,” Tierney says.
Tierney lists bacteria found in raw milk such as Salmonella, E. Coli, Campylobacter, and Listeria which are responsible for causing a lot of foodborne illnesses.
“These bacteria can seriously affect the health of anyone who drinks raw milk or eats food made from raw milk, but it’s especially dangerous to people who have weakened immune systems like older adults, pregnant women, or kids—up through teenage years,” Tierney says.
Tierney sites a 2013 raw milk outbreak in Alaska sickened 24 people, adding that the outbreak was related to a cow sharing program. She says a second outbreak at the same farm was confirmed in May 2013. Then in November 2013, an outbreak sickened nine children in Tennessee was linked to a cow sharing program. Five of the nine children, all younger than seven, required hospitalization, and three developed a severe kidney problem known as hemolytic uremic syndrome
- Following Leaders
Tierney says the W.Va. DHHR, the Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Disease Control, and many other mainstream and well-respected organizations are like-minded when it comes to the issue of raw milk.
She says In July 2012, CDC issued a letter to all State and Territorial Epidemiologists and State Public Health Veterinarians regarding the ongoing public health hazard of consuming raw milk. The letter urges state regulators to continue to support pasteurization and consider restricting or prohibiting the sale or distribution of raw milk and other pasteurized dairy products in their states. In 2008, The American Academy of Pediatrics advised families against giving children unpasteurized milk in their December 2008 Newsletter.
A 13 year study of non-pasteurized dairy products recently published in the CDC journal “Emerging Infectious Diseases,” reviewed diary product outbreaks from 1993-2006 in the US. The report compared the amount of milk produced in the US during the study period, saying that states where the sale of raw milk was legal had more than twice the rate of outbreaks as states where it was illegal. The final conclusions was that federal and state regulators should continue to enforce existing regulations to prevent distribution of non-pasteurized dairy products to consumers.
Tierney says processing milk—pasteurization and homogenization—was borne out of a need to safe guard against commonly faced illness and that relaxing milk regulations would be a step backward.
“In the early 1900s mothers were boiling their milk because they had recognized that giving raw milk to their children was causing them to get sick,” Tierney says. “We’re fortunate to live when we live—in a time when we’re able to prevent diseases.”