Moo-nshine: Finding Creative Ways to Buy Raw Milk


The battle over raw milk has been waged for years now. Some attest to the inherent nutritional value, and culinary superiority, of raw milk, while others (namely cautious government officials) claim the practice of consuming raw milk is inherently reckless and potentially dangerous. Therefore the sale of raw milk in the United States is largely deemed illegal – kind of.

Especially within the last few years, raw milk advocates have gone to exceptional lengths to maintain a regular supply of the raw stuff: in many cases breaking the law, or at least creatively skirting it (In 1924, the FDA developed a model code for states to use in regulating milk, then called the Standard Milk Ordinance (now the “Pasteurized Milk Ordinance” or “PMO”), which bans raw milk and its products from being sold to consumers). In most states raw milk can be purchased directly from the farm in which it comes from. Some farmers markets are licensed to sell raw milk, whereas some retail outlets are able to sell raw milk in limited quantities. But for the most part, getting your hands on a ½ gallon of raw milk takes some determination and a slightly scheming resourcefulness.

The latest inventive work around involves branding raw milk “pet food” thus exploiting a legal loophole and paving the way for raw milk devotees to keep it raw. This is the case in Florida where about a dozen new farms signed up to sell raw milk as “commercial feed” in the past year, bringing the total number of registered farms to 46, according to the Sun Sentinel. Pete Kennedy, the president of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which represents some 2,000 individual farmers across the U.S. who sell raw milk, and some 3,000 members of raw milk-buying clubs, told NPR such subterfuge is a necessity in a “dysfunctional” legal landscape. “The consumption of raw milk is legal in every state in the country,” Kennedy says. “But you have 20 states where the sale is illegal. So you have this right with some people unable to exercise it.”

The FDA is obviously committed to enforcing the law (with varying degrees of commitment) and contend that the consumption of raw milk presents a significant health risk, and that pasteurization effectively kills off various pathogens that can easily sicken milk drinkers (according to the FDA, between 1998 an 2008, drinking raw milk was linked to two deaths and more than 1,600 reports of illness). But raw milk advocates claim that pasteurized milk is a “dead” product with little to no nutritional value, as they continue to advocate for the superiority of the raw product.

Where do you stand on the raw milk debate? Do you feel the creative skirting of the law is a good thing, or something inherently irresponsible? Is this a public health issue or a personal freedom issue?

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

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