By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
John Langlois feels so strongly about the benefits of unpasteurized goat milk that he pays $19 a gallon to have it shipped from a South Carolina dairy to his home in Estillfork, Ala. He credits it with giving him more energy, curing his grandson’s chronic diarrhea when he was an infant and keeping the boy “steady” rather than “bouncing off the walls” now that he’s 5.
Elizabeth Benner of Rochester, N.Y., drives 45 minutes each way to a dairy to get a week’s worth of raw cow’s milk for nine families in the milk club she organized. She says she was “really struggling” on a low-fat, vegan diet but regained her strength when she added whole raw milk and cream to her diet.
Christina Trecaso of Copley, Ohio, is in a herd share program. She and 150 other families pay boarding costs for “their” cows and take their profits in milk, butter and cream. For her, it’s about “buying food that is minimally processed, food that is procured in a 100-mile radius. … It’s about relationships and shaking the hand that feeds you.”
Each of them is a strong believer in the importance of unpasteurized milk. Each of them is also breaking the law. Selling raw milk is illegal in 25 states and the District of Columbia. In New York, dairies providing raw must be state certified. Benner’s is not.
But each believes that the benefits outweigh the expense, inconvenience and illegality. They’ve got lots of company.
Advocates of raw milk are behind legislative efforts in Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky and Nebraska to legalize selling raw milk. Moves to introduce legislation have begun in North Carolina and Maryland.
Raw milk appeals to consumers who seek natural and unprocessed foods, to those with health concerns who believe it has curative powers, and most recently to a new wave of evangelical Christians who follow the teachings of Jordan Rubin’s The Maker’s Diet, a Bible-based diet of unprocessed foods.
But this is a dangerous game, public health officials say.
ïIn June, more than 58 people in Wisconsin became ill with Campylobacter jejuni from unpasteurized cheese curds.
ïIn January, five people became ill with campylobacteriosis after drinking raw milk from a dairy in Larimer County, Colo.
ïIn December 2005, six children in Washington state were infected with a potentially deadly form of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria from drinking unpasteurized milk.
No matter how clean the cows or the barn, all milk contains fecal material, says William Keene, senior epidemiologist in Oregon’s Acute and Communicable Disease Program. “This is what happens when you hose down a cow and then put a vacuum down at the south end of it.”
Sally Fallon disagrees. She is president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, which follows the teachings of a Cleveland dentist who wrote on the power of natural foods in the 1930s and ’40s. She believes cows raised on pasture grass, rather than in pens eating corn, are healthy and pathogen-free. A statement on the foundation’s website says pasteurized milk “is associated with allergies, increased tooth decay, colic in infants, growth problems in children, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and cancer.”
That’s simply not supported by science, says John Sheehan, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Division of Dairy and Egg Safety. Drinking raw milk is “like playing Russian roulette with your health,” he says.
Advocates are employing various strategies in states where they can’t legally buy the milk, including selling it as pet food, selling it frozen because it’s not in “final consumable form,” and selling cow shares, because in most states farmers can drink unpasteurized milk from their own cows.
For those who are convinced that pasteurized milk is unhealthy, there’s little that health workers can do to change their minds, says Michael Lynch, a food-borne-illness expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“But we want to get the word out to people who may not understand,” he says. “If you explained the dangers to them, they would probably not want to drink the raw milk. They’re confusing it with organic, and organic has positive connotations.”