NPR: Raw Milk – Panacea or Poison

National Public Radio in the States has an online audio segment on Raw Milk Panacea or Poison, that you can listen to by clicking a link on the page this link takes you to.

There’s a story on that page of the NPR news website, written by Dan Pashman, about a couple who started a small dairy farm and were beseiged with requests to sell raw milk. The story, from June 25, 2008, quotes farmer Rick Vreeland:

“It was like we put a sign out there, ‘Free drugs for addicts,’ because the people come and come and come, you can’t believe it. Everybody wants raw milk.”

Win Rosenfeld

Raw milk farmer Rick Vreeland. Photo: Win Rosenfeld

This certainly seems like a well-researched story from a respected media outlet. Here’s an excerpt:

“Rick and Julie Vreeland opened Freedom Hill Farm last year as a place for kids, but quickly found themselves fielding an unexpected request: The people who came wanted to buy raw milk.In August 2007 the Vreelands began selling raw milk. In that first month they sold 13 gallons of it; last month, they sold more than a thousand.“It was just amazing,” says Rick. “It was like we put a sign out there, ‘Free drugs for addicts,’ because the people come and come and come, you can’t believe it. Everybody wants raw milk.”Raw milk hasn’t been pasteurized, meaning it hasn’t been heated to destroy pathogens that may lurk inside. But that’s just how raw milk lovers like it. They believe you can draw a wide range of health benefits from drinking milk raw and that in the process of eliminating potentially harmful bacteria, pasteurization kills good bacteria, too.

But the scientific community is skeptical, and governments are divided. It’s illegal to sell raw milk in nearly half the U.S. and all of Canada. In some places, farmers have been dragged away in handcuffs, their barns raided and their milk seized as evidence. A battle is raging. It includes all the classic elements of a good public policy debate: black markets, big busts, competing studies and — of course — dueling PowerPoint presentations.

The Accidental Activists

Freedom Hill Farm is in Otisville, N.Y., 90 miles northwest of Manhattan. Rick Vreeland, 55, is friendly, but he says his wife is the real people person in the family. Four years his junior, Julie Vreeland doesn’t come across as a killer businesswoman, but she knows an opportunity when she sees one.

Julie did some research on raw milk and got a license to sell it. In New York state, it’s legal to sell raw milk only at the farm where it’s collected, although black market networks and “milk clubs” exist in New York City. Rick estimates that half their customers travel more than an hour to buy his raw milk, many of them bringing pamphlets, links and lectures on its virtues…”

“…PowerPoint/CounterPowerPoint

Last year, a Swiss study of nearly 15,000 European children showed that those who drank raw milk had lower rates of asthma and allergies. Another study suggested that most lactose-intolerant people can drink raw milk. That study was funded by the Weston A. Price Foundation, one of the groups leading efforts to make raw milk more accessible…”

“…The Food and Drug Administration declined to comment for this story, but a PowerPoint presentation on its Web site calls raw milk “inherently dangerous” and says that drinking it is like “playing Russian roulette with your health.”

But the Weston A. Price Foundation put a slide-by-slide rebuttal to the FDA’s PowerPoint on its Web site. Its slides point out that people get sick from pasteurized milk, too, and argue that modern advances and responsible farming can make raw milk much safer than it used to be….”

“… Milk Law 101

Only eight states allow raw milk to be sold in stores for human consumption — Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maine, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, New Mexico and Washington. In others, like Florida, the milk has to be marked as pet food. In many of the states where the sale of raw milk is outright illegal, you can still drink it from your own cows, so people get around the law by buying cow shares…..”

Read the whole story and listen to the audio clip here.

The photo by Win Rosenfeld is also from the NPR website.

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