Today’s post comes from Illinois Farm Bureau Livestock Program Director, Jim Fraley. Jim is discussing one of agriculture’s hot topics today: raw milk. Some consumers back raw milk whole-heartedly, but there are health concerns associated, making it a delicate topic for dairy farmers and the dairy industry.
It has been said that the first human to drink milk from a cow was also probably the world’s bravest human! One thing is for certain; as soon as we humans domesticated mammals and started to care for them to supplement our nutrition, good things started to happen. Our bones got stronger, our immune system improved, our bodies and brains became larger, and we didn’t have to be that hunter-gatherer any longer. In fact, when a country’s economy improves to the point they can start buying more “things,” the first investment people make is in their food. They improve their diet by eating more meat and milk. It’s one of nature’s most perfect foods. Today, there is strong demand for dairy products worldwide. In fact, U.S. dairy farm families are now exporting about 15.5 percent of our products to other nations.
Back here at home, a growing trend has been brewing. Families have been seeking out dairy farmers to buy milk directly from the cow. This is milk that has been drawn from the cow, cooled down, and, well… that’s it. The back-to-the-farm movement has become more and more popular. It has been estimated as many as 60 Illinois dairy farms are now selling milk to consumers who are willing to bring their own container to the farm, and dispense it right out of the bulk tank. It’s good, I must admit. I’ve shared a glass of raw milk with committed-to-the-cause dairymen, and I have eaten my share of raw milk ice cream over the years. People who regularly consume unpasteurized milk purport to have a stronger immune system, fewer allergies, and a healthier gut.
Scientists are quick to point out that we require all milk to be pasteurized at retail sale for a reason. It makes for a safer product. Pasteurizing is a process that heats milk to a specific temperature, for a specific time, thereby killing much of the bacteria that are found in raw milk. Pasteurization was mandated in the early 1900s to stem the tide of brucellosis, E. coli, and tuberculosis infections. This process was incredibly successful, and resulted in saving the lives of countless people – perhaps in the millions. Today, with modern microbial testing, incorporating best management practices into our daily milking routines, and the elimination of most of the aforementioned diseases, people are seeking out raw milk in growing numbers. These folks see it as a first amendment right for them to have the freedom to choose what is put in their bodies.
My organization, the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB), believes all milk should be pasteurized. However, we also recognize there is a segment of the population that prefers to drink unpasteurized milk. We support their right to choose, provided the dairy farmers that are producing this food product are subject to some oversight, and the milk is picked up at the farm in the consumer’s container. IFB is working as an active member of the Illinois Department of Public Health’s committee that is working to develop practical solutions. The divide between the two factions is closing up. I am confident we will come to an agreement soon. After all, we are some of the bravest humans on the planet!