There’s an interesting phenomenon going on now around raw milk. It is gradually, but very definitely, moving more toward the mainstream. Increasingly, the media are writing more objectively, the latest example being Jill Richardson’s even-handed assessment of the politics of raw milk on Alternet.

One of the things that tends to happen as you move from the fringes to the mainstream, though, is that you tend to come under increasing public scrutiny. We’ve seen one example in the intense focus on the outsourcing practices of Organic Pastures Dairy Co., which Jill Richardson’s article highlighted (and continues to be a subject of intense debate on my most recent couple of postings).

We see another example in the four-part series comparing raw and pasteurized milk that has unfolded on the blog of food poisoning lawyer Bill Marler, who is close to many state and federal regulators, and has been notable for his anti-raw-milk stance in the past.

I have commented previously about two other  parts, since they have been notable for the depth and detail of their assessments, and for their acknowledgments of a number of arguments made by raw milk advocates—for example, that milk intended to be sold unpasteurized is invariably handled differently than, the conventional supply intended for pasteurization (even if they are, overall, less than supportive of raw milk).

Now, Part 4 of the series was just posted, and it is similarly notable for its depth of analysis. It assesses data about illnesses according to pathogens from raw and pasteurized milk, and concludes that while raw milk is implicated in more cases of campylobacter and E.coli O157:H7, there hasn’t been a single case of listeriosis from raw milk between 2001 and 2007 (which makes me wonder even further why the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets has been so tough in going after a handful of permitted raw dairies about supposed findings of listeria monocytogenes).

More significant, it goes even further in its acceptance of raw milk than the other sections. In certain respects, it seems another slam, as it heavily criticizes the Weston A. Price Foundation for promoting health claims about raw milk and for challenging public health findings about raw milk outbreaks.

But a careful reading of the piece reveals a new level of scrutiny, suggesting a previously unknown level of acceptance. For example, it explores milk labeling in California, pointing out that labels of raw milk show no significant differences in key vitamins compared to pasteurized milk. (Maybe Mark McAfee, or another raw dairy producer, can help educate us on why the similarities.) This is something I hadn’t been aware of before, given all the emphasis by proponents on raw milk’s nutritional value. (I’m sure part of the issue here is that key nutrients contained in raw milk, like enzymes and good bacteria, aren’t accounted for in the standard ingredients and vitamin labels.)

It also explores such issues as taste and value. Indeed, it comes across as something of a consumer guide to assessing different kinds of milk.

Finally, and perhaps most important, it conveys an assumption that raw milk is here to stay, as a mainstay of our dairy options. Some of this may have to do with the fact that the piece focuses on the California market, where raw dairy products are sold at retail, but it represents a much different tone coming from sources like the Marler Blog than existed even a year ago.

It concludes with a warning to consumers to avoid black market milk. That’s an interesting warning, since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in pushing so hard to stamp out all sales and other distribution of raw milk, in effectis doing its best to make it primarily a black market item.


Jill Richardson of Lavidalocavore blog, during a tour of Tierra Miguel Farm, near San Diego, as part of Symposium on Food Systems and Public Health. Raw milk wasn’t a scheduled topic of discussion at a food safety symposium I attended in San Diego for several days this week, but it came up anyway, and in a surprising way. (I guess at this point, I shouldn’t be surprised at anything involving raw milk.) The occasion was a keynote address by Michael Taylor, a senior adviser on food safety at the FDA. 

I found intriguing his effort to link food and health in assessing safety and the importance of food. “Abundance is not enough, but people need access to foods that can contribute to healthy diets,” he said. “It’s important to prevent food-borne illness, but also to maintain public confidence. The last thing you want is for people to stop buying fruits and vegetables.”

Interesting notion, this idea that healthy foods help maintain good health. But then during a brief question period, an attendee launched into an assault. “We used to have access to raw milk, no longer. We used to be able to order rare meat, no longer…” The man wondered if leafy greens would be next on the FDA’s attack list, presumably through stronger requirements for irradiation. Taylor seemed not to understand the accusations, or the question. “The food supply has never been pristine, or antiseptic,” he began, and then seemed to mumble something as he exited the stage, and quickly left the event. The idea that the FDA is indeed pushing toward sanitation of the food supply was something Taylor didn’t want to deal with.

The verbiage coming out of the FDA and other food safety organizations is definitely shifting. There was lots of talk at the San Diego conference about “sustainability,” supporting “local food systems,” and the benefits of farmers markets. How deeply do they believe such verbiage?

By the way, I got to meet Jill Richardson, author of the Alternet article mentioned earlier on, and founder of the Lavidalocavore blog–she attended part of the symposium that included a tour of a local veggie and fruit farm committed to sustainable practices. She didn’t seem fazed by her introduction to the raw milk enthusiasts via dozens of comments on her Alternet article. She’s pictured above.


I just returned to the East Coast from San Diego, on my way to Charlottesville, VA, to speak at a special book signing event tomorrow (Saturday) evening with Joel Salatin (sponsored by the Virginia Independent Copnsumer and Farmer Association). If you’re in the area, stop in and say hello.