Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Raw Milk in Maryland?

Those pesky raw milk advocates are at it again, trying to drum up support for legislation that would permit the sale of raw milk in Maryland.

Maryland currently is among the majority of states that ban the sale of raw milk. State laws are a real hodgepodge. Some states actually allow raw milk on the market, either through direct sales at the farm or in retail stores or both. In other states, humans technically can obtain raw milk because it is sold as animal feed. In 32 states, it is at least possible to buy raw milk through one of these means.

Then there are states like Maryland, where fans of unpasteurized milk slink around in the shadows, trading on the black market.

You may be wondering why anyone would want to purchase much less consume raw milk in the first place. Isn't that terribly unsafe? Turns out many people believe milk in its natural state is more nutritious and better for you than the industrial kind. And of course while federal and state laws restrict raw milk sales, they don't seem to have any problem with huge dairy conglomerates treating their cows with Monsanto growth hormones to increase production. (There's some evidence that those hormones could be a cancer agent.)

The push for uniform pasteurization of milk goes back to the turn of the 20th century when outbreaks of tuberculosis in the tenements of large cities such as New York became a major health concern. Tuberculosis is one of those diseases that occurs in animals but can be transmitted to humans. It thrives in unsanitary dairy and milk handling conditions.

You don't hear much about problems with disease in states where raw milk is permitted, as opposed to the recalls of thousands of tons of beef from meat handling operations supposedly operating under the strictest government standards. In fact, government officials and their agents--from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control all the way down to state inspectors--seem to take special delight in harassing farmers who deal in raw milk, or try every which way to drive them out of business.

Personally, I am not a consumer of raw milk although I would love to have a nearby source for it. Back in my youth, cycling around France, it was possible to stop by the side of the road and fill your drinking bottle with milk fresh from the cow. There are few things as creamy and delicious, and many of us know the delights of raw milk cheeses.

There is a passionate and growing movement of food enthusiasts who believe that individual local farmers--not corporatized agri-businesses--are our best bet for wholesome, flavorful foods. There is a growing belief that consenting adults ought to be able to trade in products such as raw milk and enjoy the benefits of foods produced the way Nature intended. Let's not forget that people were consuming raw milk for thousands of years before Louis Pasteur came on the scene.

Currently, raw milk is outlawed in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware and North Carolina. Sales of raw milk are permitted at farms and in retail stores in Pennsylvania.

There may be a small crack forming in Maryland's objection to raw milk. Holly Foster, a cheese maker on Maryland's Eastern Shore, has become the first and only cheese maker in the state chosen for a test study of raw milk cheese making. Until now, Foster has been and continues to make her cheese on a farm in Pennsylvania. (Her cheeses are available at Cowgirl Creamery in downtown D.C.) An article about Foster and her unique arrangement with the State of Maryland appears in the winter issues of Edible Chesapeake magazine.

Today, members of the Maryland Independent Farmers and Consumers Association are meeting with state legislators to push for legalizing sales of raw milk. Wish them luck. You can see what they are up to here. Click on the group's events calendar. For further information about raw milk, check the listing of resources on the lower right-hand side of this page.


Joanna said...

So interesting. It's similarly problematic in the UK, and the farmers that produce raw milk say it's probably safer than pasteurised because of the all the regulation and inspection. It's essential for making decent artisan cheese.

I was brought up on it, and, like you, have drunk it in France. Delicious. There's a farm a few villages away from here that produces raw milk in reusable bottles. But it seems like a palaver (you have to fetch it, not very green), and I get very good pasteurised organic milk from my vegetable box supplier.

It seems daft to stop people from buying it, so long as it's inspected - it's never going to be mainstream


Pattie said...

Ed: Ya' gotta' love a line of copy that goes, "Back in my youth, cycling around France . . ." Ahhhh. Paints a great picture. Thanks.

As for the raw milk, I just bought some yesterday! The pudding, ice cream and other delicious things will be coming out of my kitchen shortly!

maggie said...

The same issue has been going on in North Carolina. Of course, I live on the "crunchy" side of the state, so it's become quite an issue. South Carolina allows raw milk - so there's quite a bit of crossing state lines here in the west to buy milk. NC recently passed a law to add charcoal color to raw milk meant for animal consumption (which is allowed) to further restrict it's consumption by people who can't be allowed to make their own choice.

I'm not set one way or the other, I can get pasturized (not ultra pasturized) milk from the same SC organic dairy that sells unpasteurized and it's still more tasty than the supermarket variety.

It's an interesting food issue.

Ed Bruske said...

Joanna, interesting you'd say the raw milk is safer because of the extra attention paid. I guess we have skeptics who think that if you take away the extra science, the dairymen will just take advantage and flood the market with substandard product, spreading disease everywhere. But I tend to agree with you--I think the farmers who are interested in raw milk are the kind who pay more attention to details.

Pattie, you are so lucky to have a source for raw milk nearby. I would love to taste your puddings and ice cream. I lived on a collective farm with dairy cows in Israel once and we had clotted cream at every meal. Incredible

Maggie, there was a huge fuss recently with Georgia suggested tinting the raw milk grey so people wouldn't drink it. Supposedly it's sold as animal feed. I had no idea the same issue was in play in North Carolina. Again, I wish we had a source for local milk. Maybe we do and I just don't know about it.

Jenny said...

While the selling of raw milk is technically illegal in my state, farmers and consumers are able to get around it with cow shares.

A local farmer started her share program last summer and it has been wonderful for us. We ran out of the fresh milk one week and purchased organic from the grocery store--it tasted rancid and foul by comparison.

There really is nothing like fresh milk.

Ed Bruske said...

Jenny, I think cow shares is a brilliant idea. We're a little far from the nearest dairy. It would be hard on us, with a lot driving involved. I'm looking more into a milk delivery, but then it can't be raw milk.

Anonymous said...

I am lactose intolerant and was even allergic to milk as a baby. My personal experience eating cheese all across France without incident made me a believer in raw dairy products. It is the only dairy my body can process and I love it! I hope this movement catches on.

Ed Bruske said...

Anonymous, I'm a little confused by your comment. Raw milk should have every bit as much lactose in it as pasteurized milk. With cheese, on the other hand, the lactose in processed by the bacteria in the fermentation process. Whether from raw milk or pasteurized milk, I should think there would be no lactose reaction to any fermented cheese.

T_Rex said...

I haven't been able to find raw milk here in Saint Louis Missouri. If anyone knows where to get it please let me know.

Anonymous said...

I'm from southern Maryland, and thought receintly I may be able to get raw milk from the Amish. No luck as it's illegal. Amazing to think of what the government will allow, but raw milk is just wrong. Goes to show: be very carful of the laws you allow your lawyer representatives to make for you, once a bad law is passed, that's it. The reason a person with allergies can drink raw milk and not pasteurized and homogenized milk is because these processes kill most everything in the milk that makes it easily digestable. The processing also promotes pathogens associated with allergies. Has nothing to do with lactose. Some of us have a very strong digestive system which can handle dead milk products, others of us need it the natural way or not at all. Why do you think yogurts with live bacteria are so good for you - same reason raw milk is good for you. Processed milk is no more than a filler, to make you feel like you're doing something healthy. With the knowhow and technology we have to test foods and make sure they're safe for the public to consume, there is absolutly no reason for small local daries to be kept from producing a wholesome product. Damn the corporate dairy lobbies!