In a comment a couple weeks back, Joseph Heckman pointed out that it’s been nearly a decade since publication of my first book about the politics of raw dairy, The Raw Milk Revolution He wondered how things have changed in the intervening time period, and how things might unfold in coming years. 

I’ll try to answer his inquiry in terms of the present, and future. In my view, the present looks pretty good. The future? Not so great. Let me explain. 

In terms of the present, I would say that the regulatory and availability situations are much improved over where they were ten years ago. The Raw Milk Revolution is full of stories of farmers being harassed—there’s no other way to characterize what was happening to many of them. I couldn’t write the same book today because regulators have pulled back in significant measure from harassment. 

As just one example, a regulatory action now ongoing is the quarantine of a raw dairy farm in Pennsylvania, for suspected brucella, which I wrote about in my previous post. According to the Real Food Consumer Coalition,  a food activist group that promotes raw dairy and private food, “Once the Pennsylvania farm was identified, a new approach proceeded. Miller’s Biodiversity Farm in Quarryville, PA, as is protocol, was immediately quarantined, but only for the raw cattle milk and products produced with that.” In other words, the farm has been allowed to remain open and selling all its other products, including meat, goat milk, eggs, etc.

I wish I could report a happy ending there, but so far I can’t. Even though the quarantine went into effect at Christmas, the dairy is still under quarantine, apparently because the national lab testing the dairy’s milk has been slowed by the federal government shutdown. Just one of many unintended consequences from the current sad state of Washington politics. 

Aside from the kinder, gentler regulatory approach, another big change is that raw milk is allowed in large states that once banned it, including Michigan, Ohio, and Colorado. And there are signs of stirring beyond the easing that has occurred:  The largest raw dairy in the country, Organic Pastures,  apparently feels comfortable enough about the regulatory situation that it just announced it has begun distributing raw milk kefir nationally as pet food from its home base in California (via a pet food company, Open Farm). I presume people can share the kefir with their dog or cat. 

I’d like to think that The Raw Milk Revolution, together with the activism and persistence of consumers and farmers alike, played a significant role in changing the regulatory and political landscape for raw milk, 

Unfortunately, the fact that the regulatory climate for raw milk has eased so significantly doesn’t guarantee a positive outlook for raw milk sales over the coming decade. In fact, I’d say there are some serious clouds on the horizon for raw milk in terms of something marketing experts refer to as “primary demand.” That is the overall trend in demand for a product category. 

We don’t have consumption data for raw milk, since no corporate or government group tracks it. But all you have to do is look in the dairy cases at pretty much any urban or suburban supermarket and you’ll see that milk is being crowded out, in favor of “almond milk,” “soy milk,” and “coconut milk,” not to mention soy-based yogurts. 

And increasingly, dairy is being demonized by nutritionists, including those who recommend full fats and grass-fed meats. Mark Hyman, a physician in functional medicine, whom I’ve followed for more than a dozen years, now says in his latest book (Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?) that credible research suggests “that (milk) may promote cancer. That’s because milk contains a witches’ brew of hormones that act like Miracle-Gro for cancer cells. The average glass of milk has sixty different hormones in it.” The cancer research is in addition to his previous concerns about high levels of natural sugar in milk. 

He does have some positive things to say about milk from grass-fed cows, and A2 milk. His conclusion is that “dairy does not have to be completely off-limits. It’s fine to have some grass-fed milk, cheese, and butter from time to time—as long as they’re full-fat, free of additives, and ethically and sustainably produced. Try sheep or goat products. They are less inflammatory and easier to digest.” Talk about a back-handed endorsement. 

On a personal level, I know that, growing up, most kids, myself included, drank milk with every meal.  It was just always there. Today, you’ll be hard pressed to find a lot of school-age children regularly consuming milk–in my family, only one of four grandchildren drinks milk even occasionally. 

It’s really difficult to know where dairy will stand a decade from now, but I’m not sure I’d wager a huge amount on any dairy products, with the possible exception of raw milk cheese, being on an upward growth path.