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FDA raw milk petition divides fans; one camp admits hazards

The new strategy to bust loose more territory for retail sales of raw milk has caused the unintended consequence of dividing proponents over a petition asking the Food and Drug Administration to make it happen.

In May, attorneys Jonathan W. Emord and Bethany R. Kennedy of Cliffton, VA, petitioned FDA on behalf of the Real Food Consumer Coalition to allow raw milk to cross state boundaries with a warning about its health risk and instructions on safety instructions, including self- or home-pasteurization procedures.

FDA has late until October to respond to the petition. The agency, along with state health and agriculture departments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a long record of advising against the consumption of unpasteurized dairy products, including raw milk.

But just as many pot farmers oppose state legalization of marijuana, the pro-raw milk blogger David Gumpert says farmers are “dragging behind consumers in the push for ‘legal’ interstate raw milk.”

In comparing raw milk to marijuana, Gumpert says he suspects part of what we are seeing is the “defeating farmer silence” that has accompanied the filing of a citizen petition with FDA to legal interstate raw milk sales.

Consumers, according to Gumpert, have contributed to $30,000 in support of the petition, while dairy farmers have been “notably absent from the campaign.”

A prominent opponent to the current position is Joel Salatin, the Virginia “celebrity farmer” who says the petition appears to favor home pasteurization as the best option for consumers. His farm-to-consumer operation does not offer customers any raw milk option.

Others see the home-pasteurization option in the petition “as an admission of the potential for raw milk to sicken a handful of individuals — or less — despite the fact that the vast majority of those who drank that very same milk remain unscathed…”

The same person said they could not endorse pasteurization, which some believe has questionable effectiveness and is ultimately detrimental to a person’s overall well-being.

Salatin says the petition now before FDA “completely yields” all the ground milk advocates have tried to gain by showing that raw milk is inherently safe when well produced. To cave in on such a foundation point is a travesty.

Gumpert, the author of “The Raw Milk Revolution” and other books promoting unpasteurized milk, says Salatin’s viewpoint “is naive.” He says the anti-raw-milk crowd wants the issue to “disappear from the scene, period, end of a sentence.”

He says if consumers want to advocate for raw milk access, they are going to have to have for the fight for it.

The petition walks a narrow line. “There is no need, however, for milk to be pasteurized before it is sold to consumers,” it says. “Self-pasteurization is as effective as industrial pasteurization in reducing bacterial infection in milk and milk products.”

The petition proposes a warning and instructions on raw milk and cream from raw milk that is transported across state lines. Here’s the suggested language:

WARNING: This raw (unpasteurized) milk (cream) may contain disease-causing organisms. Persons at highest risk of these organisms including newborns and infants; the elderly; pregnant women; those taking corticosteroids, antibiotics or antacids and those having chronic illnesses or other conditions that weaken immunity.

SAFE HANDLING INSTRUCTIONS: To prevent foodborne illnesses, keep this product refrigerated at 45°F, or lower and, prior to consumption, follow the pasteurization process identified below.

Pasteurization Process: (1) Heat milk at 145 °F, [150 °F] for 30 minutes in a stainless steel pot. (2) Remove pot of milk from heat and place in a single or large bowl with ice water stirring constantly until milk temperature drops to 40 °F, and (3) Store pasteurized milk in a refrigerator at 45 °F, or lower. (The 150 °F heating temperature option is used for milk with fat content of more than 10 percent.)

A similar warning is suggested for raw milk products in interstate commerce.

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