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Environmental Studies

US Food Safety Standards: The heated debate about pasteurization

    What is pasteurization?
    Pasteurization issues

Weighing the Benefits and Risks of Raw Milk

  What are the benefits?
  What are the risks?
  Reframing the

Local Economies, Small Farms, consumer choice

Who is doing the research and who gets to decide?

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 Cow in pastureFarm

US Food Safety Standards: 

The heated debate about pasteurization


     The politics of food complicate every bite we take.  Food politics grow out of consumer needs and interests, industry research, government regulation, the limits of nature, cultural norms, and the seemingly simple everyday decisions we make that influence the market.  Food legislation and policy dramatically impact consumer safety and freedom of choice, ultimately determining the success of different types of agriculture and local economies.  

     This website focuses on the politics of consumer choice within the realm of food safety.  Where is the line drawn between the government’s role as protector and the citizen’s right to choose?  What kinds of risks should be permissible, and when should access be eliminated completely? I will examine how regulations are impacting small farmers, democratic freedom of consumer choice, and public health. 

     The debate around pasteurization will ground my argument.  I will specifically focus on raw milk cheese, a controversial item stealthily lurking behind the closed doors of the market (it’s currently illegal in the US but is sold under pretenses such as “fish bait” to circumvent regulations).  Supporters fervently believe in its health benefits, and its critical links to small farmers, local economies, and cultural traditions.  Opponents of raw milk cheese fear health issues and food poisoning.  The latter group calls for the pasteurization of milk across the board, regardless of farm conditions. Legislation has banned raw milk cheese to “protect” the citizenry. Yet supporters of raw cheese say that these laws are approaching the issue from the wrong direction, punishing the small farms for the consequences of outbreaks associated with completely different issues. From their point of view, pasteurization is a major health concern in itself, as it can actually weaken human immune systems. 

      I will examine several features of this controversy to attempt to explain the importance of the debate. My central concerns are as follow:

   What is the purpose of pasteurization, and what might it be masking? 
   How should community and democratic choice fall into the debate?
   What has been the impact of the government in preventing raw milk cheese from entering the market?
   How has ‘science’ been used by both proponents and opponents in this discussion and in legislation? 
   What are the ethical implications of permitting raw milk cheese?

These concerns will explore how food safety legislation balances the control of our food system and economy and protects our citizenry, while trying to understand how it may be expanded to protect our freedom of choice.

Cow nose

Raw milk

Raw milk cheese

Last updated:  5/06/10


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