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Just last week the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the United Kingdom finished a 6 month review of their raw dairy policy. Currently, raw milk sales are limited to farm sales and not available in stores (with the exception of Scotland, where it is banned entirely). Now, based on this review, the FSA is suggesting loosening the regulations to allow raw milk to be sold in stores and even in vending machines.
In the US, selling raw milk across state lines has been illegal since the 1980’s. Since then, the FDA has clamped down on raw dairies, sending numerous warning letters on the grounds of the possibility of harmful bacteria being present in unpasteurized milk. In response, many dairies create co-ops or farm shares where the consumer purchases a membership or a portion of the animals giving the milk, not the raw milk itself.
This has resulted in numerous and regular FDA raw dairy raids at gunpoint to cease and desist.
Change on the Horizon
Perhaps all the FDA raids have sparked a change in this law like we are seeing in the UK. But change is on the horizon. In the US there is a movement afoot to reclaim raw milk, now culminated in a bill called the Interstate Milk Freedom Act of 2014 or H.R. 4307. If passed, it would lift the current FDA ban on selling raw dairy products.
The bill was introduced to Congress on March 26 of 2014 with strong bipartisan support. It proposed to give the public the right to choose the kind of milk they drink and give dairy farmers the peace of mind that they aren’t a warning letter away from an FDA raid.
Here’s the bill:
Milk Freedom Act of 2014 – Prohibits a federal department, agency, or court from taking any action that would prohibit, regulate, or otherwise restrict the interstate traffic of milk or a milk product that is unpasteurized and packaged for direct human consumption if such action is based solely upon a determination that because the milk or milk product is unpasteurized it is adulterated, misbranded, or otherwise in violation of federal law.
Currently, 11 states allow raw milk sales and an additional 26 states allow farm share or co-op sales of raw milk. But with the federal law still in place banning raw milk sales, farmers have little real security.
Interdependency and the Raw Milk Ripple Effect
One other problem with our strict laws against raw dairy in the US is the ripple effect it has on raw dairy trends and policies in Europe. For one reason or another, the FDA’s regulations against raw milk have shown a mirrored effect in the European Union. These laws could literally erase a thousand years of cheese making mastery in Europe.
There seems to be some kind of policy-making ripple effect that, we are seeing now, can go the other way too. As Americans push back on the raw milk restrictions, the same trend is catching wind in Europe. Keeping our interdependence as a global society in mind can help us find even more motivation to speak out for the bills we care about.
Writing your congressman in support of this bill will help make it a reality.
Endangered: Raw Milk Cheese
In this milieu, standing dangerously close to the precipice of extinction is raw milk cheese. While the US has passed a law allowing most raw milk (unpasteurized) cheeses to be sold in stores as long as they have been aged for at least 60 days, the FDA’s ban on raw milk has seen a subsequent movement to ban raw dairy products in Europe.
This would devastate the European cheese industry, which I am currently studying. For example, 18% of the cheese manufactured in France is raw.
Raw cheese producers in Europe claim that the pasteurization process destroys enzymes that make the cheese more digestible and give it the distinct flavor they seek. They attest that pasteurization makes all cheese taste similar and bland.
The fact is, even pasteurized cheeses are at risk of growing toxic and harmful bacteria during the cheese-making process, so the practice itself with regards to cheese is not airtight.
As a side note, much of the raw cheese sold in the US is imported from Europe because farmers in the US are nervous about the perceived risks of producing any raw milk products.
Our Take Away
1. Raw cheese is available in the US and is a great source of healthy probiotics.
2. While the fight is on for new policies around raw milk and other raw dairy products, vat pasteurized milk and dairy products are widely available in the US. Vat pasteurization is a process whereby milk is heated to only 145 degrees F for only 30 minutes, keeping it within the legal limitations for widespread sales and killing the pathogens while sparing the enzymes and good bacteria. Heating the milk in this way is an ancient Ayurvedic practice.
My favorite brand now sold at Whole Foods is Kalona Milk. I have been to this diary in Kalona, Iowa – it is all grass-fed by Mennonite farmers who have been doing it the same way for 100 years.