Raw Milk Farmer Bucks Regulatory Attempts

As reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on May 5,

On a quiet, 100-acre farm in Cumberland County, Mennonite farmer Mark Nolt, his wife and his 10 children have for three years operated a dairy whose best-selling product is one the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture considers contraband: raw milk.

Pennsylvania requires its raw milk producers to obtain a permit, but Mr. Nolt stopped applying for the permit in 2005 and has continued to sell raw milk and dairy products in the face of multiple citations, a court injunction and two raids that resulted in $50,000 of product and equipment being seized from his farm in Newville.

Raw milk has been a hot button topic in Southwestern Pennsylvania for at least a couple of years, and the advocates for access to raw milk are extremely vocal about their perceived right to get unpasteurized milk. They have also been somewhat militant in their insistence that it is the best choice for everyone.

I am willing to concede that there are enzymatic changes in milk as a result of pasteurization. I am not, however, willing to accept every piece of information distributed by the Weston A. Price Foundation (the main proponent of raw milk rights) as God’s honest truth.

In promoting the health benefits of raw milk and the consumption of high fat diets, they rely on photographic evidence reminiscent of eugenics and, whilst complaining that pasteurization advocates rely on studies from the 1930s, distribute pamphlets boasting that “Galen, Hippocrates, Pliny, Varro, Marcellus Empiris, Bacchis, and Antithimus, leading physicians of their day, all used raw milk in treatment of disease.” Well, we’ve had some remarkable discoveries since their day: including the fact that the earth revolves around the sun.

That’s not to say that I agree with the Health Department that raw milk is inherently unsafe and should never be drunk, but it is to say that I don’t trust the WAP’s scientific guidance and I view them with the same skepticism I viewed the Atkins craze during its heyday.

On this subject in particular, my standpoint would be more akin to the recomendations offered by the PA Dept. of Agriculture, which issues permits for distribution and monitors bacterial levels in milk samples and advises consumers to be extremely careful about the source of their raw milk should they choose to procure it.

Which is exactly the system that Mr. Nolt is refuting, with the assistance of the WAP:

the Weston A. Price Foundation, an organization that promotes “nutrient-dense diets” and touts the health benefits of raw milk. Its members say that the PDA makes it difficult for dairies to get raw milk permits and that PDA inspectors “harass” raw milk producers. The regulations are unfair, they maintain, and the state laboratory that tests milk samples for pathogens is inaccurate.

I have spoken with several dairy farmers about the bacterial tests that are a part of the permitting process for raw milk distribution, including Adam Dean of Dean Farms, who described the tests as more of an assurance policy than anything else: evidence that can be presented to consumers that the product being sold is safe to be consumed because lab tests demonstrate that the bacterial content is significantly below the threshold even for pasteurized milk. Mr. dean makes the results of his bacterial tests available to his customers.
The truth of the matter is that improperly produced/ handled raw milk can be quite dangerous, and the permitting process is a boon to farmers who maintain a clean and healthy herd: evidence that they are doing their job correctly.

It aggravates me that Mr. Nolt and the Weston A. Price Foundation would advocate elimination of a system based on empirical data that is designed to protect the customers he serves. What is even more amazing to me is that

Ms. Kipe [one of Mr. Not's customers] and Mr. Nolt both said they had never heard of anyone getting sick from drinking raw milk and that pasteurized milk causes just as many problems.

Just yesterday I was conversing with a woman whose family lives very close to a dairy farm. She described to me how her children grew up drinking raw milk, but once they left home for college and became accustomed to pasteurized milk, drinking the unpasteurized equivalent wreaked havoc on their immune systems. Her son, for instance, was brought down by campylobacteriosis so severe that he couldn’t even walk to the bathroom, but had to crawl.

If you would like some more empirical evidence of the fact that people are sickened by drinking raw milk, read this release from the FDA.

If people are educated on the range of issues surrounding the consumption of raw milk, recognize that there is an increased risk of contracting a food-borne illness associated with consumption of improperly produced or stored raw milk, recognize that persons with weakened immune systems most certainly shouldn’t consume the product, and still choose to drink it themselves, that is their choice.

But I refuse to sit idly by and allow the Weston A. Price Foundation to make unsubstantiated claims about it being the best choice for everyone, that it poses no risk, and that its bacterial levels shouldn’t be tested (even pasteurized milk is tested for bacterial counts!). Disasters are built on decisions made based on misinformation.

2 Responses to “Raw Milk Farmer Bucks Regulatory Attempts”

  1. Chandra Says:

    My boss’s boss’s boss (the Director of the Bureau of Epidemiology for the Pennsylvania Department of Health) has this to say about illnesses associated with raw milk:

    http://lancasterfarming.com/node/1248

  2. Rebecca Pollak Says:

    I agree that dairies selling raw milk should be inspected but don’t think they should be held to higher standards than commercial dairies.

    My father loves milk but suffered from lactose intolerance his whole life, had to take medication for it, even butter and yogurt caused his stomach to get upset. Since my parents began drinking raw milk his “lactose intolerance” has totally gone away, so I guess he needed some of those enzymes to aid in the digestion.

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