Regulation of the commercial distribution of packaged raw milk varies across the world. Some countries have complete bans, but many had partial bans that do not restrict the purchase of raw milk bought directly from the farmer. Raw milk is sometimes distributed through a cow share program, wherein the consumer owns a share in the dairy animal or the herd, and can be considered to be consuming milk from their own animal. Raw milk is sometimes marketed for animal or pet consumption, or for other uses such as soap making in places where sales for human consumption are prohibited.
Although milk consumption in Africa is fairly low compared to the rest of the world, in tribes where milk consumption is popular, such as the Maasai tribe, milk is typically consumed unpasteurized.
According to the regulations in the European Union all raw milk products are legal and considered safe for human consumption, and can be sold without any price, variety or quantity restrictions. However, the European countries are free to add certain requirements, usually special sanitary regulations and frequent quality tests (at least once per month) are mandatory.
Raw milk and especially raw milk cheeses are considered the standard for high quality dairy products. Many French cuisine traditionalists consider pasteurized cheeses almost a sacrilege. Many traditional French cheeses have solely been made from raw milk for hundreds of years.
In Germany, raw milk is commonly called Vorzugsmilch. It is sold widely in all health food stores, large supermarkets, gourmet delis and delicatessen sections of department stores, and in most of the German predecessors of health food stores called Reformhaus. Raw milk is legally sold in the entire country, and the same goes for raw milk cheeses, which are especially sought out and promoted by the health food and slow food movements.
Distribution of raw milk is illegal in Scotland. While it is legal in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the only registered producers are in England. About 200 producers sell raw, or “green top” milk direct to consumers, either at the farm, at a Farmers’ market, or through a delivery service. The bottle must display the warning “this product has not been heat-treated and may contain organisms harmful to health”, and the dairy must conform to higher hygiene standards than dairies producing only pasteurised milk.
As it is only legal to supply unpasteurised milk direct to consumers, it is illegal to be sold on the High Street, via shops or supermarkets.
In rural areas of Asia where milk consumption is popular, milk is typically unpasteurized. In large cities of Asia, raw milk, especially from water buffalo, is typical. In most countries of Asia, laws prohibiting raw milk are nonexistent or rarely enforced. However, while milk is sold raw in these areas, household milk is usually consumed after boiling.
The sale of raw milk for drinking purposes is illegal in all states and territories in Australia, as is all raw cheese. This has been circumvented somewhat by selling raw milk as bath milk. An exception to the cheese rule has been made recently for two Roquefort cheeses. There is some indication of share owning cows, allowing the “owners” to consume the raw milk, but also evidence that the government is trying to close this loophole.
The sale of raw milk directly to consumers is prohibited in Canada under the Food and Drug Regulations since 1991.
Section B.08.002.2 (1) No person shall sell the normal lacteal secretion obtained from the mammary gland of the cow, genus Bos, or of any other animal, or sell a dairy product made with any such secretion, unless the secretion or dairy product has been pasteurized by being held at a temperature and for a period that ensure the reduction of the alkaline phosphatase activity so as to meet the tolerances specified in official method MFO-3, Determination of Phosphatase Activity in Dairy Products, dated November 30, 1981.
Provincial laws also forbid the sale and distribution of raw milk. For instance, Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act, subsection 18(1) reads: “No person shall sell, offer for sale, deliver or distribute milk or cream that has not been pasteurized or sterilized in a plant that is licensed under the Milk Act or in a plant outside Ontario that meets the standards for plants licensed under the Milk Act.”
In January 2010, a dairy farmer named Michael Schmidt was found not guilty on 19 charges relating to the sale of raw milk by Justice of the Peace Paul Kowarsky of the Ontario Court of Justice. Schmidt argued that he was not actually selling raw milk but rather making it available to its true owners, called “cowshare owners” who had purchased a share in the dairy herd and therefore owned the milk. As of February, 2011, that case is under appeal with a scheduled hearing date in April, 2011. Schmidt is receiving pro bono legal services from the Canadian Constitution Foundation to defend the appeal. The appeal will also raise the question of whether the ban on raw milk violates any constitutional rights of Canadians.
In British Columbia, Alice Jongerden is challenging the constitutionality of that province’s legislation, which deems raw milk to be a hazardous product.
Meanwhile, Canada does permit the sale of raw milk cheeses that are aged over 60 days. In 2009, the province of Quebec modified regulations to allow raw milk cheeses aged less than 60 days provided stringent safeguards are met.
In the United States
Main article: United States raw milk debate
Twenty-eight U.S. states do not prohibit sales of raw milk. Cow shares can be found, and raw milk purchased for animal consumption in many states where retail for human consumption is prohibited.
Most states impose restrictions on raw milk suppliers due to concerns about safety. As of 2009, the state of Connecticut has discussed creating possible restrictions upon the sale of raw milk to farms and farmer’s markets. The FDA reports that, in 2002, consuming partially heated raw milk and raw milk products caused 200 Americans to become ill in some manner.
Many governmental officials and the majority of public health organizations hold to the need for pasteurization. Before pasteurization, many dairies, especially in cities, fed their cattle on low-quality food, and their milk was rife with dangerous bacteria. Pasteurizing it was the only way to make it safely drinkable. As pasteurization has been standard for many years, it is now widely assumed that raw milk is dangerous. The Cornell University Food Science Department has compiled data indicating that pathogenic microorganisms are present in between 0.87% and 12.6% of raw milk samples.
Proponents of raw milk (in the U.S.) advance two basic arguments for unpasteurized milk. They claim that pasteurization destroys or damages some of the milk’s nutrients, and that while pasteurization may kill dangerous bacteria, it also kills off “good” bacteria that raw milk supporters claim to have health benefits. The United States Food and Drug administration claims that this is false, and that pasteurizing milk does not destroy any of its nutritive value.
Proponents also invoke the benefits of direct-marketing when promoting the sale of raw milk. The ability of the farmer to eliminate the middle-man and sell directly to the consumer allows for greater profitability. Many manufacturers sell small-scale pasteurization equipment, thereby allowing farmers to both bypass the milk processors and sell pasteurized milk directly to the consumer.
Additionally, some small U.S. dairies are now beginning to adopt low-temperature vat pasteurization. Advocates of low-temperature vat pasteurization note that it produces a product similar to raw milk in composition and is not homogenized.