Belgian researchers have not exactly said the benefits of raw milk often cited by advocates exist only in their heads, but they’ve come pretty close. They’ve found that the only big difference between pasteurized and non-pasteurized milk is “organoleptic,” meaning how it tastes, smells, feels or appears. Their conclusion: raw milk is a “realistic and unnecessary” health threat because, until pasteurized, milk pathogenic bacteria poses a significant threat from Campylobacter, Salmonella and E. coli. Published in Food Control Journal, the Belgian research recommends the heat treatment of milk for human consumption, especially for young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems. The study did not find any support for the notions held by many raw-milk advocates that pasteurization “destroys the nutritional and health benefits of milk, and can even induce some detrimental effects.” The researchers say that those arguments can be refuted. “It is clear that this ‘detrimental’ effect of heating does not countervail the risk poised by raw milk consumption, namely of milk-borne pathogen infection, which can have serious health consequences,” the Belgian study states. Last month at two rambunctious public hearings held by the Wisconsin Senate, numerous advocates testified that raw milk offers special health benefits. Bills are pending in both Wisconsin’s Senate and General Assembly to allow the retail sale of raw milk, but since the hearings, they’ve not seen further action. The reason the bills have stalled might well be the public doubts being expressed about them by Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker. At the World Dairy Expo in Madison last week — held to show off Wisconsin’s $26.5-billion, mostly pasteurized, dairy industry — Walker said he’d consider a raw-milk bill if it reached his desk, but he also said he had doubts if it would be best for “America’s Dairyland.” Governors with doubts about pending bills are like wet blankets at picnics. Why take a controversial vote only to have the governor take out the veto pen? That’s what happened in 2010, the last time the Wisconsin Legislature agreed to make raw milk sales legal. Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed that one. Wisconsin’s transition from Gov. Doyle to Gov. Walker may not end up being as important for the raw-milk debate as two other developments. They are:

  • The 22-member Raw Milk Policy Work Group, named in March 2010, came out with restrictive requirements that it said would be needed if raw-milk retail sales were ever made legal in Wisconsin.
  • The Wisconsin Safe Milk Coalition has unified the dairy and agricultural industries with public health and hospitals in a powerful coalition to block changes to milk policy that might damage people or the economy in the state.