The raw milk debate: It’s not about choice, it’s about safety
A few times a week, I visit my daughter at daycare over my lunch break to see what her class is learning and to enjoy a few toddler snuggles before I go back to work.
Sometimes, I arrive when the kids are finishing up lunch. My daughter usually has a sippy cup of milk in her hands, with her head tipped back so she gets every last drop out of the cup.
Parents today have a lot of choices when it comes to the milk we buy for our growing families. I admit, I worry over every little decision when it comes to feeding my daughter, including whether I should switch her from whole milk to low-fat milk when she turns 2 in a few weeks.
However, I don’t worry about the safety of the milk she drinks. By talking to farmers and dairy science experts, I’ve learned that milk is one of the most highly regulated foods in the United States.
Every tank-load of milk that comes from a farm is tested to make sure it’s free of antibiotics and chemicals before it’s processed and bottled.
Because milk has such a wholesome image as one of the first foods for kids, we tend to take for granted that it’s safe.
But in reality, it wasn’t always like that. Before the invention of milk pasteurization, many people would become seriously ill – and in tragic cases, die – from drinking raw milk.
Milk pasteurization, which is required by federal and Iowa law, is a process that heats up milk to kill any food-borne bacteria that could make us sick before the milk is bottled.
Unfortunately, today’s “clean food” trend has made some people leery about processed foods, or any food that’s not sold in its natural state, including pasteurized milk.
Here in Iowa, there’s an effort in the state Legislature to make unpasteurized, or raw, milk sales legal.
While farmers in general tend to be an independent sort, and they support consumer choice, our Iowa Farm Bureau members insist on prohibiting raw milk sales in Iowa.
Why? Because dairy farmers and health experts agree, the risk of food-borne illness from raw milk – especially to children, the most vulnerable population – isn’t worth any unproven health benefits that are touted on the internet, or by our friends and family members.
Some states have enacted laws that allow the sale of raw milk. As a result, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that cases of food-borne illness linked to raw milk consumption are on the rise.
Even more troubling, the raw milk-related illnesses tend to cause serious, life-threatening complications, particularly for young children.
While I’m sure raw milk advocates have good intentions, it’s important to take a look at the bigger picture. There’s a reason why the law requires milk pasteurization, just like it requires seat belts in cars.
Yes, it’s good to have choices in the food we eat, but not when those choices can harm people who don’t have a choice, like young children.
By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's Senior Features Writer.
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