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Raw Milk Doesn’t Define Dairy

The activist claims are unfounded. The proposed laws endanger public health. And raw milk does not define dairy.

Much like the anti-vaccination movement (with whom it shares many advocates), raw milk proponents make various claims that may seem at least somewhat plausible but fall apart on closer scrutiny. The arguments, and the suspect reasoning behind them, have popped up in state legislatures for years, and for the most part they may not seem to require that much scrutiny – until someone gets sick, which happens all too often.

But with new laws being considered in more states, the tiny niche of raw milk has the potential to disrupt the dairy industry far beyond its actual market. Long touted by its devotees as superior to pasteurized milk and the key to saving dairy farms, in practice it undoes generations of public health success that has won consumer trust and made commercially sold milk one of the safest products available.

To cite the science: Raw milk does not contain more or superior nutrition to pasteurized milk. Raw milk’s record on gut health shows how greater harm works against any perceived benefits. Raw milk does not “cure” lactose intolerance. And so on, and so on.

What raw milk does do is contain pathogens that make people sick. The current patchwork of local regulations has proven why raw milk is a public health threat: Places where raw milk sales are available to the public see much greater milk-related illness outbreaks than places where such sales are prohibited. That’s why pasteurization was invented in the first place – not as a conspiracy against consumers or farmers, but as a public health measure that has saved thousands of lives over  generations.

Those are just a few of the reasons why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration support raw milk restrictions. As with routine vaccinations, in which a decline has led to deadly, and absolutely unnecessary, illness outbreaks, pasteurization has been so effective, for so long, that many people no longer remember how  this technology improved lives in the first place.

Another popular raw-milk argument is that what consenting adults choose to buy and sell is their own business. With all due respect to absolutist libertarians, the world doesn’t work that way, as every consumer-safety regulation in the universe attests. The world especially doesn’t work that way when a product bought by consenting adults is then given to children. The vaccination comparison holds: Even though personal-conscience and religious belief exemptions exist, good luck enrolling children in a public school without a polio vaccine. There’s a reason for that. Ask your grandparents.

Another argument in raw milk’s favor is that it will “save the farm.” It’s certainly possible that revenues from small-scale sales may help a dairy farm here and there. But it’s even more certain that foodborne outbreaks that weaken consumer confidence in milk (and unfortunately, many consumers won’t distinguish between raw and pasteurized milk when hearing a radio news report on a highway) harm the tens of thousands of dairy farmers who sell in the commercial marketplace.

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