Letter writer: Farmers and consumers need to educate themselves on risks of raw milk

Graphic by Lori Deaton

As a raw-milk dairy farmer, I am highly interested in both the benefits of raw milk and the illnesses people have contracted from it. As the popularity of raw milk grows, it needs to be both the responsibility of the farmer and of the consumer to be educated of the risks and talk openly about them. The farmer and the consumer need to work together to minimize these risks.

The major argument against the sale of raw milk for human consumption is the possibility that it may contain high levels of certain harmful bacteria, such as campylobacter, salmonella, listeria, E. coli and brucella. I have no experience in personally contracting any illness from raw milk, but I know it is possible.

When it comes to brucellosis or undulated fever, this one lies in the hands of the farmer. In cattle, the disease is called Brucella abortus, or “contagious abortion.” In infected ruminants, brucellosis commonly induces abortion in the latter half of gestation. Brucellosis has largely been eradicated within the cattle population in the U.S. With this being said, there is always a chance this illness may return at some point in the future.

In a small dairy herd, B. abortus is a good example of a manageable risk. If a cow experiences a late-gestation abortion, the farmer can take the dead calf to the diagnostic lab for testing. This is one way to learn if B. abortus is present.

Our farm sells raw milk for animal consumption only, and not for human consumption, although someday this law may change. This is all the more reason to be open in dialogue to increase the carefulness of the farmer and the attentiveness of the consumer. For raw milk to be as safe as possible, there needs to be a direct and close relationship between the consumer and the farmer.

If we can keep raw milk on a small scale and within the community, it becomes more manageable to make ethical, educated and aware decisions for the betterment of our health and the regeneration of the land.

— Kevin Lane

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