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Environmental Studies



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

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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 science-based system 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 without pasteurization. 

      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. 

     Raw 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 pasteurian-focused 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.

mmm milk

Allowing the consumers to choose their own milk products is critical, as long as their safety can be ensured.

Last updated:  5/06/10


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