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The raw-milk wars

(article, Culinate staff)

The spring issue of the food journal Gastronomica features a history by Anne Mendelson of America's confusions over raw milk. (No, you can't read the story online, but you can check out the abstract.)

Mendelson, the author of Milk, deftly sums up the 19th-century origins of America's devotion to fresh milk and the ensuing struggle to ensure that a highly perishable, easily contaminated substance would be safe, cheap, and readily available. 

She notes that today's antagonists in the milk wars — in essence, raw-milk advocates versus the federal government — can't seem to find a middle ground between deregulation and regulation. Over on Good, Peter Smith elaborated on some of the attendant complexities:

bq. On one hand, a vocal minority of raw-milk devotees say that pasteurization destroys important nutrients and point to studies correlating raw milk with lowered rates of asthma and allergies — without acknowledging the many different methods of pasteurization and the lack of systematic testing of milk's digestive or immunological characteristics. On the other hand, federal authorities aren't willing to even engage in the debate, asserting that it's never safe to drink raw milk — without acknowledging outbreaks in pasteurized milk and the fact that clean milk drawn from healthy cows can be relatively sterile. 

Mendelson concludes with a call to scientific and political arms:

bq. What ultimately curbed the loss of life through contaminated milk was not pasteurization or certification per se, but new tools of science that provided hygienic insights equally applicable to two otherwise divergent agendas. Does no rational common ground exist today?