The Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH) has released a report on the sale of raw milk to consumers. It’s illegal to sell raw milk in that state, but the legislature is considering making the sale from farmers to consumers legal. Consumers in that state are purchasing raw milk through cow or herd share arrangements and buying milk marked as sale for pet food only. The agency researched laws in other states, both pro and con, took into account input from 18 stakeholders, held a virtual public hearing, and surveyed licensed dairy producers.
The report summary begins: “there is a significant risk that raw milk may contain pathogens. Pasteurization has worked well for many years to reduce substantially the risk of human illness from pathogens that may contaminate milk. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and many other members of the public health community support required pasteurization of milk.”
Before pasteurization, milkborne illness outbreaks caused 25% of all disease outbreaks due to contaminated food and water. Today, milk products are associated with less than 1% of foodborne illness outbreaks. Routine pasteurization began in the 1920s. Many public health experts consider pasteurization one of the most effective food safety interventions.
Good hygienic farm practices can reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of milk contamination by pathogenic bacteria. It takes only 10 E. coli bacteria to sicken an adult person. And bacteria are not evenly dispersed in milk, so if milk tests negative for pathogens, those pathogens may still be in the milk. States that allow the legal sale of raw milk for human consumption have more raw milk-related outbreaks of illness than states that do not allow raw milk to be sold legally.
The only two legislative options, according to the report, are to keep the sales of raw milk illegal and add language to eliminate herd share agreements and pet food sales, or change the law to allow limited distribution of raw milk directly from the producing farmer to consumers. If the second option is adopted, the BOAH should establish minimum sanitary requirements that “may reduce the risk of human illness” and raw milk should be held to the same standards as pasteurized milk. The 26-page report, with 150 pages of appendix documentation, is a thorough study of the topic. Current FDA regulation prohibit interstate sale of raw milk for human consumption. The Indiana General Assembly does not reconvene until January 7, 2013.