Michele Jay-Russell of the Western Institute for Food Safety at the University of California, DavisGradually, ever so gradually, public health and medical professionals are moderating their tone against raw milk. There is nothing en masse going on, no official policy change by organizations like the Intnernational Association for Food Protection (IAFP) or the American Medical Association (AMA). 


But a case in point is Michele Jay-Russell, a research microbiologist at the Western Center for Food Safety and Security at the University of California, Davis. She has over the last half dozen years been outspoken against raw milk, in media articles and via her editing of the Real Raw Milk Facts web site


But in an interview on an online radio program last week, Real Food Real Talk, Jay-Russell stated her newly evolving position on raw milk as clearly as she ever has. “I do support informed consumer choice. I am not supporting a ban.” (Also interviewed during the program were Wisconsin farmer Vernon Hershberger, Weston A. Price Foundation president Sally Fallon, food safety lawyer Bill Marler, and Organic Pastures owner Mark McAfee.) 

Now, this wasn’t a case of some major life change or suddenly seeing the light, as Jay-Russell made clear in other statements. “The risks (of raw milk) outweigh the benefits,” she insisted at another point during the program. “I do recommend not getting too romantic about it. It is a high-risk food.”


But it was highly significant nonetheless. because Jay-Russell had begun to answer differently than she might have a few years ago this key question: Is raw milk inherently unsafe? 


Until recently, most regulators and public health experts would have answered that question affirmatively, arguing that raw milk can’t be produced safely, no way, no how. 


But over the last year or so, we’ve begun to hear some disagreement. Even the food safety profs I quoted in my previous post, condescending as they seem to be in their acceptance of raw milk, appeared inclined to answer the question in the affirmative. Thanks in part to the efforts of the Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI), some in public health are beginning to suggest that raw milk can be produced in a way that reduces risks of illness substantially….that raw milk isn’t inherently unsafe. Once you acknowledge that raw milk isn’t inherently unsafe, well, all kinds of things become possible.


Jay-Russell actually acknowledged what has been considered heresy by the American public health community– that there might be something to the research out of Europe indicating health benefits for raw milk in reducing allergies and asthma in children. European researchers “have come up with some interesting correlations,” she said during the podcast. 


Moreover, she added. “We have looked a lot at pathogens,” in raw milk. Increasingly worthy of attention, she noted, is to “look at the biome in the milk and how other bacteria might be reacting with the pathogens.” 


As I said, this kind of even tepid acknowledgment about possible health benefits of raw milk is the equivalent of an earthquake in the world of raw milk. We saw the first indications of the shift in publication of an article 15 months ago favorably assessing the European research by the International Milk Genomics Consortium at the University of California, Davis, 


I’ll be asking my litmus-test question when I am on the podcast of food safety professors Don Schaffner and Ben Chapman (the podcast recording has been put off until Jan. 29). I’ll be curious what their answer is. 


We know what the answer to my litmus-test question would be among many lawmakers, judges, and regulators in Maryland. The home of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is hard-core anti-raw-milk, and is now seeing a lively campaign on behalf of legalizing herdshares (which were declared illegal about eight years ago). 

Raw milk supporters have scheduled a number of hearings and gatherings over the next week, beginning on Wednesday at the state house. See Liz Reitzig’s blog for updates and press releases: 



I’ll be giving a couple of talks this week on food rights, with a little different slant than past talks. On Wednesday evening at 6, I’ll be at Groton Wellness in Groton, MA. It’s the home of an impressive holistic dental practice run by Jean Nordin-Evans. 


And on Sunday at 2:30 p.m., I’ll be speaking at the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA-NJ) Winter Conference at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, NJ. (Joseph Heckman, professor at Rutgers University, will be speaking that same afternoon.)

At both the MA and NJ sessions, I’ll also be showing a gripping preview of a documentary about food rights currently in production.