To sell or not to sell raw milk: Regulatory agencies state their case

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SALEM, Ohio – A recent court case in Wisconsin where two farms tried to get around state laws regarding raw milk sales sparked interest in Ohio and Pennsylvania’s stance on the subject.

Raw milk activists say pasteurization, the heating process intended to kill germs, also kills essential vitamins, destroys enzymes and promotes pathogens, and therefore, pasteurized milk is not as healthy as raw milk.

On the other hand, government officials say laws limiting the sale of raw milk are in place because raw milk has the potential to carry diseases such as tuberculosis.

To this, raw milk activists counterclaim that these diseases are due to poor animal nutrition and unsanitary farm practices rather than the raw milk itself.

Last farm standing. Ohio’s laws prohibit farms from selling raw milk to the ultimate consumer. There is a clause, however, that if a farm was already selling raw milk prior to the law, it could continue.

The only farm still falling under this grandfather clause today is Young’s Jersey Dairy in southwest Ohio. This means that Young’s is the only farm in Ohio legally permitted to sell raw milk.

Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania’s laws are less restrictive than its neighbor to the west.

Producers can apply for a permit to sell raw milk from their farms. Pending testing by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Bureau of Food Safety, producers receive a permit to sell raw milk from the farm, according to the bureau’s chief of milk sanitation, Jim Dell.

This testing includes a test two times each month for standard plate count and coliform; a monthly test for somatic cell count; a test of the water supply at the time of the permit and every six months thereafter; a standard farm inspection every three months; and a test on milk handling every three months.

The standard plate count must be less than 20,000 per milliliter; the standard for coliform is less than 10 per milliliter.

Dell said the farms with permits routinely meet the standards, and these standards are the same that must be met for pasteurized milk. However, there may be pathogenic organisms present in raw milk that aren’t found in pasteurized milk, he said.

Liability issue. There are approximately 30 farms in Pennsylvania that have a permit, Dell said, and he would like to keep the number near this level.

He said this isn’t a popular permit to give out because of the producer’s liability if anything should be wrong with the milk.

In the eight and a half years that Dell has been with the division, there has been one outbreak of illness linked back to raw milk. Two people were ill in this incident.

But also in the same eight and a half years, Dell said there has also been one illness outbreak that was “possibly” linked to pasteurized milk.

Wisconsin case. In the Wisconsin case of Clearview Acres LLC and MidValleyVu Farms vs. the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, it was determined that “cow-share agreements” are illegal.

Producers were using these agreements as a means to sell raw milk.

Under these agreements, consumers were able to buy part ownership of a dairy cow. The producer then leased the cow from the owner and produced raw milk. The owners could then pick up the raw milk from the farm.

Wisconsin laws say dairy producers may consume their own raw milk from the farm but it is illegal to sell it unless it is an “incidental sale.” The agreements violated “incidental sales.”

Nevertheless, the court acknowledged that owners of a milk-producing license were able to consume raw milk. Therefore, a legal means for people in the state to obtain raw milk is to set up a corporate entity.

In this situation, consumers would become shareholders of the operation, and as a co-owner of the license, they would be able to consume raw milk from the farm.

Uncompromising. Neither of these situations sit well with Ohio law.

Shares bought in a cow for the purpose of being able to take milk for personal use violates Ohio law regulating milk sales to the ultimate consumer, according to Charles Twining, assistant chief of the dairy division at Ohio Department of Agriculture.

A cow-sharing agreement in Ohio would not entitle a person to take milk from the farm’s milk supply, Twining said.

He said the only way for people who want raw milk to legally obtain it in Ohio, other than at Young’s Jersey Dairy, is to set up their own dairy farm or travel to a state where it is legal.

Keeping up with demand. The demand for raw milk is an ongoing issue and raw milk activists regularly contact ODA with their opinions on why the milk should be available. Twining said the milk is illegal because of the potential for disease and the “harmful bacteria” caused by raw milk.

Despite these warnings, Young’s Jersey Dairy, 6880 Springfield-Xenia Road, Yellow Springs, sells approximately 2,600 gallons of raw milk each month. Each gallon sells for $2.90, according to the Ben Young, of the dairy.

“Pasteurization is the heating of milk to 160 degrees for about 16 seconds,” he said. “Its primary purpose is to kill bacteria that may be harmful. The problem is that during this process, other elements of the milk are altered or destroyed.

“There are many enzymes present in milk that aid in digestion and absorption of fats, calcium and sugars. Nearly all these enzymes are destroyed during pasteurization.”

The dairy has been selling raw milk for more than 44 years without any health problems, Young said.

Far and wide. Most raw milk customers live within 10 miles of the farm, however there are also regular customers from Dayton, Cincinnati and Indiana. Some people drive up to 60 miles for the raw milk, Young said.

Young said some customers say that they have trouble digesting pasteurized milk and they are better able to digest raw milk.

Young also said that producing quality milk requires “clean, healthy, properly fed cows; clean, dry and well-ventilated barns; and clean, sanitized utensils.”

“Other bacteria in milk can be minimized by properly cleaning the udders before milking and sound milking practices,” Young said. “Milk produced under these conditions will be low in bacteria and therefore pasteurization is not necessary.”

Young’s Jersey Dairy can be reached at 937-325-0629.

(You can contact Kristy Alger at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at kalger@farmanddairy.com.)

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