FDA Should Lift Its Ban On Interstate Sale of Raw Milk For Human Consumption

I never thought that I would agree with Representative Ron Paul. But after long reflection, I think that FDA should change its raw milk policy.

Consumers who wish to purchase and drink raw milk must navigate a labyrinth of regulations that govern its sale. Some states ban the retail sale of raw milk outright. Some permit it on store shelves. Still others allow its consumption through the back door of a “cow-share” program. Cow-share programs allow consumers to purchase a part of a dairy cow, and circumvent state laws that only permit consumption of raw milk by the cow’s owner.

This hodgepodge of state policies results in little or no oversight of raw milk producers and bottlers. And, in consequence, everybody suffers.

Earlier this week, representatives of the US dairy industry urged the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) to subject raw milk producers to the same regulatory and reporting requirements that are faced by producers of pasteurized milk. But how can FDA regulate raw milk producers while simultaneously banning the retail sale of their products?

The consumption of raw milk, and of dairy products made from unpasteurized milk, has been behind numerous outbreaks of food-borne disease. Many of these outbreaks have been linked to raw milk obtained through cow-share programs or purchased directly from dairy farmers.

In lifting the outright ban on interstate shipment of raw milk for retail sale, FDA would be able to bring raw milk under its regulatory umbrella. National standards could be set in cooperation with all 50 states, in much the same way that uniform standards have been agreed to for pasteurized milk. FDA and state regulators could insist on stringent safety and sanitation standards that would apply equally to all raw or pasteurized milk producers.

I have never been a supporter of the raw milk lobby. I know too well that raw milk, as it is produced and marketed today, is microbiologically risky. But prohibition isn’t working – just as it didn’t work for alcoholic beverages in the 1930s.

I have come to the conclusion that the only way to protect the US consumer from the health risks associated with drinking raw milk is to legalize it – and to hold raw milk to the same demanding safety standards that pasteurized milk must meet.

It’s time to recognize – and to regulate – raw milk.