drinkable reno tahoe
GOT RAW MILK?
Is raw milk getting a raw deal?
WRITTEN BY ERIN MEYERING
PHOTO BY CANDICE NYANDO
The debate over raw milk — fresh-from-the-cow/goat, not homogenized, not pasteurized, full-fat milk — has been heating up recently, with the introduction of new legislation last year that, to the chagrin of raw milk advocates, was vetoed. While it's legal to sell raw milk in Nevada, it's difficult to overcome governmental restrictions to do so. What's all the fuss about? Read on.
It's thick, rich, cool, and creamy. It's also the talk of the town.
AB-209, a 2013 bill dealing with Nevada's guidelines on selling raw milk, seemed to be taking off until Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed it as the legislative session closed because of safety concerns. The bill would have changed the current laws, enabling dairy farmers in Nevada to sell raw milk statewide, were a proper county dairy commission established and all safety guidelines met. Instead, the current legislation remains, which allows raw milk sales in Nevada, but even with proper licensing and a functioning county dairy commission, local dairy producers can't sell it anywhere outside the county in which it's produced.
Paula Terrell, owner of the Creamcup Mini's farm near Reno and vice president of the Nevada Goat Producers Association, says she has been drinking her own goat's milk for the past 30 years. (It's legal for producers to consume raw milk for personal use. It comes under governmental scrutiny when it's sold to consumers.)
"I believe the issue is one of choice, not whether raw is 'better' than pasteurized or not. I believe that if one does believe that raw milk has health benefits, one ought to be able to secure a healthy supply of that milk without the supplier being considered a criminal by the state," Terrell says. "I consider it a matter of 'informed consent.'"
It seems many across the nation are becoming intrigued by raw milk, some for the purpose of whole living, some for its outright uncommon nature, and some out of pure taste preference — raw milk is much creamier, thicker, and, many say, fresher tasting than pasteurized milk. With the raw milk push, education becomes increasingly important.
"Information and education on raw milk safety and nutrition is going to have to come from the food movement [and grassroots education]. It's not going to come from the (American Dairy Council) and the state dairy commission," says Rob Holley of Holley Family Farms in Dayton. "But that doesn't mean that it's wrong."
Holley has been feeding himself, his family, and his pigs raw milk, and is confident in its nutritional value as part of a well-balanced diet. He admits, though, that there is no question that raw milk can harbor dangerous pathogens if handled poorly.
"To us, raw milk is very dangerous. It can really have some serious health effects on the elderly ... and children," says Anna Vickery, inspection manager at the Nevada Dairy Commission. She says that she oversees dairy "from the cow to the cup."
"One of the good things about [additional dairy education] is that so many of us are removed from the farm," Vickery says.
Because many people access their milk easily and safely from a grocery store, they don't think twice about where it comes from or the process of getting it there.
Among dairy product-associated outbreaks reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 1998 and 2011 in which it was noted whether or not the product was pasteurized or raw, 79 percent were associated with raw milk or cheese, according to the CDC website.
If the milk is to be sold, it must be handled with care. This means clean milking equipment, sanitary teats, proper storage, and, with any other dairy product, a diligent observance of the product's shelf life.
Many believe pasteurization was put in place to avoid illnesses associated with raw milk (E. coli, Salmonella), and the arguably tedious guidelines were created for a reason.
Libby Lovig, a registered and licensed dietician with the Dairy Council of Utah/Nevada, shares this view.
"In my opinion, I work for the dairy farmers," Lovig says. "I'm all about choice if it's legal and safe, and right now in the state of Nevada ... it's not safe."
In addition to preferring its flavor and texture, raw milk enthusiasts extoll its nutritional benefits. Proponents argue that it's purer, being unprocessed.
"If you put your pasteurized milk here and your raw milk here and you measured the nutrients, they're not any different except the pasteurized product will have vitamin D added to it whereas the raw product will not," Lovig says.
According to Lovig, "flash heat" pasteurization (heating to 160 degrees F for about 15 to 20 seconds) doesn't destroy milk's nutrients or denature its protein.
However, some point out that pasteurization can cover up poor farming practices such as poor sanitation. On one hand, this is the whole point — that any potential problems will be addressed regardless of what's in the milk prior to pasteurization. Raw milk production would require farmers to go back to the basics of impeccable sanitation to produce a safe product.
Vickery also adds that if Nevada had an outbreak associated with raw milk, it could potentially damage state tourism.
On the other hand, some consumers are purchasing raw milk out of state, meaning that Nevada may be losing out economically.
Holley compares the current raw milk situation to the chicken-or-the-egg scenario. He claims that more liberal legislation would have to come before Nevada dairy farmers would attempt to sell raw milk. Dairy farmers can't sell in their own county without an individual dairy council in that county, and they likely won't work to establish a council because the geographic restriction makes the prospect impractical financially.
"If you had someone who had a legitimate and viable plan for a business that would help that person make a living and potentially have some appeal to people in an agricultural county, then I think that you could get the support of the county to establish a dairy board," Holley says.
Currently, no raw milk is being sold legally in the state of Nevada. Leaders in Southern Nevada's Nye County are creating their own dairy commission and hoping for new legislation that allows statewide sales.
Erin Meyering, editorial assistant at edible Reno-Tahoe, is a Southern California native with a growing love for Northern Nevada. She has one semester left at the University of Nevada, Reno for her degree in journalism. She thinks milk, of any kind, is best in a caramel latte.
Raw Milk Stats
• According to Real Raw Milk Facts, it's legal to sell raw cow milk in 30 states. Arkansas joined that list in February 2013, though sales of raw goat milk have been permitted since 1995.
• Of the 30 states, those that permit the sale of raw milk in retail stores are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada (though none is being sold because of restrictions), Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington.
• Of those, states that allow the sale of raw milk on the farm are Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, and Wisconsin (though Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Rhode Island restrict sales to goat milk, with Kentucky and Rhode Island requiring that consumers get prescriptions from physicians to purchase it).
• Of those, states that allow the sale of raw milk at farmers' markets or other outlets are Colorado, Missouri, Oregon, South Dakota, and Vermont.
• Chicago passed the first mandatory dairy pasteurization law in the United States in 1908.
• In 1987, the FDA mandated that all milk and milk products be pasteurized in their final packaged form. This included banning all interstate commerce of raw milk.
Raw milk is legal and currently being sold in the state of California. Sold at the place of production, it must have a disclaimer that it's raw either on display or attached to the bottle. An official representative from an approved milk inspection service checks the raw milk at every production facility once every two months. Counties may regulate raw milk additionally, but state guidelines standardize the retail process to ensure proper handling and safety.