I Might Actually Agree With Republicans for Once…

Recently, I was treated to a fair bit of lefty schadenfreude when a story came out about how some Virginia lawmakers got sick after drinking raw, a.k.a. unpasteurized, milk. Many of the same people whom I follow seemed to have put this in the category of “stupid anti-science boneheadedness”, alongside creationists or flat-earthers. While I agree that drinking raw milk straight from the cow is going to be far more likely to give you the runs than pasteurized milk, I actually don’t think that it should be illegal.

Now I come from a very different perspective on this. While raw milk is heavily regulated in Italy, it is not illegal to drink or sell. I know many people, my grandmother and my boyfriend included, who were raised on raw milk, and simply prefer the taste. I can personally attest to the fact that unpasteurized milk tastes completely differently, and I can understand that if you have a certain taste from your childhood, drinking the pasteurized version just isn’t the same. Now they both of course boil the milk beforehand in order to kill the bacteria which can be found in it, but I don’t see why they shouldn’t be allowed to drink it.

At this point, some naturalists I have spoken to interject to tell me that boiling it is not the point of raw milk, and that the whole point is to drink it as it is, because it is more nutritious that way. First of all, I find it amusing and very anthropocentric that any food could have a point, but anyway even if there are silly people around who think it is better to drink raw, unboiled milk, I still don’t think it should be banned.

Imagine that these same people started spreading the idea that eating raw chicken is the healthiest, most nutritious way to go. That would be silly, of course, but how annoyed would you be if, in response to their silliness, the sale of raw chicken was banned, and all chicken was sold precooked. You don’t even need to go to a hypothetical scenario: there are people who eat raw eggs, raw fish that has not been previously frozen, and vegans who don’t wash their vegetables because they think they can meet their B12 needs by eating dirt. All of these things bring with them an increased risk of food poisoning and parasitic infection. However, I still believe that the correct response is education, not to pass laws banning the sale of any raw or unwashed food.

This does not mean that dairy farmers should be required to meet strict regulations and supply supermarkets with raw milk. If there are not enough people who want to purchase raw milk then by all means, don’t sell it. However, this is the sentence from the article that jumped out at me the most:

West Virginia governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed into law a bill that makes it legal to drink (but not sell) raw milk throughout the state

That means that was illegal to even drink the stuff. Really? If a farmer milks his cow and drinks it what, that’s a crime?

I’m now in the very uncomfortable position of finding myself siding with Republicans…. who would have thought


  1. Cuttlefish says

    Around here, it is legal to sell raw milk, but not for human consumption. So all the raw-milk lovers buy it for their imaginary pets.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      That’s funny! And also a little silly… are there animals commonly kept as pets which are best fed on raw cow’s milk that I am unaware of?

      • M'thew says

        Well, someone might keep a calf as a pet – you could think of cow’s milk having the point that it is needed to feed the calf. The silly thing with naturalists is that they seem to assume that it is natural for humans to consume milk from other animal species. I don’t think that habit is very widely found in nature.

  2. anat says

    The fact that the law states that it is legal to drink raw milk does not imply that previously it was illegal. Politicians, especially those riding on ‘freedom’ tickets, like making laws that claim to make legal things that were already legal (eg students praying at school). The important part is that the selling of raw milk is still illegal, but someone gets to cut some freedom coupons by claiming to have added to people’s liberties something whose banning (if ever) was almost unenforceable.

  3. says

    But as a child, my parents would often get raw milk for us…uh-oh, does that explain a lot?

    I think the problem now is mass production. You get one bacillus in the gigantic vat of milk from a thousand cows, and it all goes bad. In the old days of the small dairy farm, the risks of contamination were the same, but the probability of amplification was much lower.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      I get what you mean, and I can understand why, if the demand is not high, most dairy farms wouldn’t bother with it. In Italy many don’t sell it anymore, because the regulations for its transport are extremely strict. Those who do sell it do so at the farm itself mostly, and it comes in dispensers which don’t seem to be able to hold more than 20-30 liters at once. It might be that you can’t sell it if it comes from a gigantic vat, but either way, people treat it as if it is raw meat: consume it raw at your own risk if you really want to, but generally speaking cook it first

  4. says

    I agree one should be able to sell raw milk, at most being required to label with a warning that it is potentially hazardous if uncooked (in California such labels can be found on eggs and packaged raw meat), so no one assumes all milk is the same (a lot of people take for granted what “pasteurization” does, just as they take for granted all that we do to make sure the water they drink doesn’t poison or infect them with diseases).

    But ignorance of science doesn’t only loom there.

    This whole debate would be moot if people would just get over their irrational fear of the word “radiation.” Irradiated milk has none of the side effects on it of pasteurization. It does not alter the chemistry; it does not alter the temperature. It does nothing. Except kill all microbes. I suspect irradiated milk would be indistinguishable from raw milk and thus solve the taste issue. Irradiation should also be cheaper, thus reducing the cost of milk (I would think gamma ray emitters would be more thermodynamically efficient than heating; and a sealed package of irradiated milk would not need to be refrigerated until it was opened).

    But people are so scared of the word “radiation,” because they think that means the milk will be radioactive. They don’t understand the basic science, and thus don’t know that photon radiation does not make a material radioactive.

    So, few industries have been willing to implement the tech. Even though it would solve E. coli and Salmonella outbreak issues with meat, fruit, vegetables, everything.

    It’s similar to the irrational hostility directed at GMOs (and “non-organic farming,” as if there were such a thing; people can be duped into thinking organic farms don’t use “chemicals,” even though everything is chemicals, even the food itself).

  5. lorn says

    Milk, raw or not, is a perfect growth medium for a whole lot of nasty critters. Pasteurization can essentially zap any critters that make it into the container and correct for a multitude of sins, like bacteria in the milk that came from the cow, minor contaminations in hoses and containers, and whatever might be cultured from a sneezing farmer. In theory, what with the milk from thousands of cows being mixed and shipped by the thousand gallon lot a farm worker with tuberculosis could contaminate several truckloads with a single cough because the bacteria can multiply in raw milk.

    Pasteurization solves a lot of major issues. All in one quick and easy step. A step that hasn’t been shown to be detrimental to the milk or its nutritional components.

  6. smrnda says

    My view of raw milk and other unhealthy things are that adults have the right to damage their health provided the risks are made clear and not covered up. Perhaps a concern about raw milk is there’s a decent % of the US population who believes ” (natural || “raw” == good) and they might decide to give their kids something to make them sick. In the US we already have parents letting their kids die of totally curable illnesses because they use ‘home remedies’ that don’t work rather than medicine. I’m not really sure banning its sale would help. what is banned or legal in the US isn’t really based on anything sensible.

  7. kestrel says

    Hmm well… I have a few dairy goats. Because of this there are things I know about that are part of my daily life, that others may not know, such as that because of science and good laws concerning movement of livestock, the US is considered to be brucellosis free now. That used to be an issue with raw milk, but the risk is now really low. Other strides have been made in veterinary medicine: there are now good and accurate tests for diseases that animals might carry and now can be detected. Most people test their dairy animals once a year, it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind. Small operations, if run correctly, tend to have extremely low bacteria counts when the milk is tested by an inspector, as compared with large operations that have the thousand cows and huge bulk tanks. At least this is what the dairy inspector says.

    I’m not saying raw milk is risk-free – nothing is. I’m saying that strides have been made in medicine and science to improve safety and sometimes people who do not own livestock are not aware of it.

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