The Raw Deal

Is it healthier? Does it taste richer and creamier? Or is it a bacterial threat and potential health hazard to the larger public?

These are the questions the Indiana State Board of Animal Health has been entrusted with as it considers the status of raw milk in Indiana, preparing a report to be completed no later than December 1. The study follows the January 30 passing of Senate Bill 398 in the Indiana State Legislature, an amendment to which would have legalized the sale of raw, unpasteurized and unhomogenized, milk at farms with fewer than 20 cows. But the larger bill died in the House, and further study by the Board of Animal Health was recommended.

Raw milk, which advocates say contains healthful amino acids, enzymes, and vitamins (not to mention flavors) that are lost when the milk is heated to upwards of 161 degrees Fahrenheit (275 degrees in some processes), can legally be sold in 28 states. In Indiana, those wanting raw milk have had to buy a “share” in a cow at a small farm or surreptitiously buy “pet milk” from local dairy farmers. But many cultures embrace raw milk, particularly the French, who value raw milk for its use in producing delectable and funky artisan cheeses.

Indeed, milk has been consumed raw for most of human history, until the process that Louis Pasteur refined and named for himself became the industry standard in the 1890s. This came about when large populations were moving to cities and milk was being bottled from multiple, potentially tainted farm sources. Advocates of raw milk argue that if the milk is produced on small farms using healthy feed and conditions, then there is little or no risk of the pathogens which once sickened people in swelling cities.

Now, the fate of raw milk in Indiana is in the hands of the Board of Animal Health and an advisory panel whose invited members include local farmers, milk producers, and university scientists, as well as cheesemaker Lindsay Klaunig of Traders Point Creamery and Adam Moody of Moody Meats. But consumers are asked to share their own opinions on raw milk at a Raw Milk Virtual Public Hearing online through September 1. You can post your own comments here.

Until then, maybe this a good summer to drink up plenty of ice cold glasses of moo juice, pasteurized or not. Your mother would be proud.