Weighing the Risks and Benefits of Raw Milk
What are the Benefits?
What are the Risks?
Reframing the issue
Local Economies, Small Farms, Consumer Choice
Who is doing the research and who gets to decide?
References & Links
Comments & questions to:
Moving from eradication to prevention and promoting consumer choice
While safety standards are critical to prevent
against contamination, many producers argue that we have been
approaching the issue in the wrong way. The current school of thought
exercised by large-scale farms is that of eradication; pasteurization
(and ultra-pasteurization, when the bacteria have developed too much of
a resistance) is a scientific approach that assumes contamination is
inevitable (Paxon, 2008).
A new perspective is being fought for by many
small farmers as a means for food safety: Hazard Analysis and Critical
Control Point guides (HACCP).
These guidelines, mandated by the
USDA, are currently being utilized for seafood and meat
industries. Originally implemented for NASA, these standards are
being promoted by raw
milk cheese producers as a potential way to reduce
risk and allow these products to enter the market. This kind of
analysis takes a
preventative approach to contamination, stopping any issues before they
even arise by pinpointing the specific areas that face potential
threats and testing them frequently in the processes, rather than in
the completed product. According to the FDA, HACCP is a
used to ensure that food safety hazards are controlled to prevent
unsafe food from reaching the consumer. It is different from
traditional food systems because it places more ownership of the
responsibility on the food processor to identify and control hazards
and to document the effectiveness of the system. In addition, it
requires constant verification that the system is working rather than
reacting to contamination. (FDA, 2007).
While raw milk has
a slightly higher chance of contamination than pasteurized milk, it is
almost completely avoidable in clean facilities, and its many
attributes actually are thought to strengthen its defenses against
contamination. Many farmers see
HACCP as a way to allow small farms to monitor themselves to guarantee
safe products within a realm of certification. Small farmers with
good sanitation policies should not be punished for poor sanitation of
others who lack good practices. HACCP would allow these farmers a
system to ensure the cleanliness of their own procedures and facilities
Consumers must be able to opt out from
raw milk products as long as unpasteurized milk is still considered
higher risk than pasteurized milk. I would suggest a labeling
system, following FDA warning, cautioning against consumption by
pregnant women, such as what exists on wine bottles, or warnings about raw fish for sushi eaters. This system
would explain what it means for milk to be raw, allowing for consumers
to make purchasing decisions on their own.
Those who are passionate about raw
milk must be allowed to sell and consume raw milk products as they
please—despite the precautions of government science—to invest
themselves in its production and consumption. The issue runs
quite deep for many consumers; the cultural, historical, regional, health,
and personal values that come along with its traditions must be allowed to flourish.
milk cheese may in this way serve to assert a
democratic right in decision-making, offering citizens and small
farmers an ability to invest in local communities and flavors. Rather
than selling out to large-scale farms and the mainstream
culture, legislation must focus on updating out-of-date laws that
ignore our present capabilities to protect our foods by those who care.
In this way, we can stress the importance of community and local
investment and once again allow raw milk to be legal.
Allowing the consumers to choose their own milk products is critical, as long as their safety can be ensured.
Last updated: 5/06/10