By MEGGIE I. FOSTER
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Aside from the cumbersome policy debate, no issue in the dairy industry likely stirs up more emotion among farmers and processors then the consideration to legalize the sale of raw milk.
In response to an amendment proposed and later defeated earlier this year in the Indiana General Assembly, the Indiana Board of Animal Health was tasked with the duty of exploring the issue in more detail, by conducting a summer study on the likely implications of legalizing the sale of raw or unpasteurized milk to the public.
Currently, the state dairy statute requires pasteurization of all milk for human consumption. According to BOAH, arrangements such as cow and herd shares, where consumers essentially own a cow, percentage of a cow or the herd strive to circumvent this policy since the consumption of raw milk does not apply to the owner or owners of a dairy farm.
“Whatever the General Assembly decides and ultimately it comes down to what they want to do, there are still loopholes that need tightened up such as the cow share program and selling raw milk for pet food,” said Denise Derrer, public information officer for the Indiana State Board of Animal Health.
After 831 public comments during a virtual public hearing, three all-day meetings with an 18-member advisory committee, extensive in-house research and a dairy farm survey with responses from 242 farmers, two options were formulated from the summer study and a 150-page report was submitted to the governor and the legislative council.
“This has been a lengthy and educational process,” said Indiana State Veterinarian Bret Marsh, DVM. “We truly appreciate the input of the Advisory Panel members and the more than 800 individuals who contributed their opinions and ideas to this study. We feel the information in this report will be a great resource to lawmakers, should they decide to reconsider the issue of legalizing sales.”
While the advisory committee received comments from both sides of the fence, essentially, BOAH believes that pasteurization is a practice that is highly-effective in reducing the risk of human illness from pathogens in raw milk and that distributing raw milk for human consumption will increase the risk that someone may become ill.
“The decision to authorize or not the sale of unpasteurized milk to consumers is ultimately a political decision,” re-enforced Derrer.
From information gathered in a four-pronge approach, BOHA recommended that the General Assembly consider the following two options when considering the issue:
Option A: Maintain the current requirement for milk to be pasteurized prior to sale and amend the statute to clarify that all persons producing milk for consumption must comply with state sanitation standards and pasteurize the milk regardless of the method used to distribute the milk, including cow or herd share arrangements and products labeled for pet food.
Option B: Change the current law requiring pasteurization to allow limited distribution of raw milk directly from the farmer producing the milk to consumers and authorize BOAH to establish minimum sanitary requirements that may reduce the risk of human illness. If Indiana is to move away from the current laws requiring pasteurization of milk and milk products sold to the public, the following principles should be followed:
•The Indiana Board of Animal Health should have authority to adopt rules requiring permits and establishing sanitation standards for raw milk producers.
•All farmers producing raw milk for consumption should be held to the same standards.
•The sale of raw milk should be limited to the farmer producing the milk selling directly to consumers.
Proponents of raw milk insist that raw milk contains beneficial properties and pasteurizing milk changes or destroys these properties. Also, proponents say that raw milk has a higher content of butterfat, it has no additives and that pasteurization destroys or inactivates enzymes in raw milk.
Additionally, advocates contend that consuming raw milk cures or is beneficial to the treatment of certain conditions including allergies, tooth decay, colic in infants, osteoporosis, arthritis heart disease and cancer. They insist that consuming pasteurized milk causes or exacerbates many of these conditions.
While on the other hand, arguments for pasteurizing milk include that unpasteurized milk can carry dangerous organisms that are a threat to the public’s health and that pasteurization of milk is an effective method for reducing the risk of pathogenic organisms in raw milk.
Additionally, pasteurization advocates contend that pasteurization does not reduce milk’s nutritional value and that research shows no meaningful difference in the nutritional values of pasteurized and unpasteurized milk.
According to Derrer, both sides of the raw milk debate have sincere, deeply held positions on the issue. No consensus middle ground exists between the public health community that wants no raw milk sales to consumers and advocates who want raw milk sales to consumers, she added.
Derrer also said that 30 states have evaluated the risks associated with selling unpasteurized milk to consumers and decided to allow access to raw milk in some manner within their states. Almost all of these states limit consumer access to raw milk and regulate the production and distribution of raw milk in a milk designed to reduce, but not eliminate, the risks associated with unpasteurized milk.
“If the legislators choose a plan B type option (see above) and legalize the sale of raw milk, there are no exemptions everyone will be held equally to the same standards,” said Derrer.
Derrer mentioned that the General Assembly will reconvene right after the first of the (new) year, though it will be a longer session since it’s a biennial budget year.
“They have a lot of things to work on, so we’ve been given no indication yet on what’s going to happen and what’s going to be proposed,” said added.