The Raw Milk Debate: From Farm to Table Or Not

Nov 9, 2015

Credit Nicholas Boullosa,

Interest in the whole ‘farm to table’ movement is growing.  But one aspect of it continues to be controversial in Virginia; direct farm sales of raw, unpasteurized milk.  Some say it should be a personal choice. And others warn, it’s a question of public safety. 

At the farmer’s market in Blacksburg, customers come early for their raw milk so they can get it before it’s gone. Steve Moll, a builder in town is here almost every week.

“Yeah, It’s just so good. It really has flavor and it has cream.  Real cream. I make butter out of it.”

Because it’s illegal to buy unpasteurized milk in Virginia, Moll makes a suggested donation to the farmers at their booth. Food safety officials warn it’s not safe to drink raw milk.  Moll admits the flavor may not appeal to people who have forgotten or never new what he calls real milk actually tastes like.

“It tastes like an animal. When we were growing up my grandparents lived on it for 80 years.  It’s only unsafe it you’re not careful. 

Brandon and Gina Herndon own “Hoof Hearted Farm” in Blacksburg. Sometimes they calls form people passing through the region who look them up so they can nab some of the fresh stuff on their way.

“It’s nice to provide something we believe is healthy for the community.”

He says, their farm is tiny, just a few cows and goats all grazing on grass only – and that its important for people who want raw milk to get it from small farms, because he believes it’s harder to keep large dairy operations clean enough without pasteurization. He says that high heating measure was needed, after we started producing milk in huge quantities in this country.  But he believes the risks of raw milk are overstated.

“If you look at the numbers of overall food illnesses from food borne illnesses, roughly 3-thousand people die each year from food borne illnesses.  If you look over a 12 year span from 98 to 2010, in that 12 year span there was only 4 deaths from raw milk products and 6 deaths from pasteurized milk products.”

“Raw milk is one that people have very strong feelings about.”

Rob Williams is an associate professor of food science.  He specializes in food borne illness

“It’s one of these things that from a microbiological perspective we view raw milk as being a more likely source of food borne illness than properly pasteurized milk.

Advocates say educated consumers should be able to make their own decisions about it. Lois Smith is President of the Virginia Independent consumers and farmers association.

We are trying to get a constitutional amendment that states that the consumers shall have the right to acquire, for their own consumption, farm produced food directly from the farm with agreement from the farmer who produced it.

Those attempts so far, have gone nowhere and Smith is convinced it’s more an issue of commerce in the commonwealth than of food safety.

“Well I know how I grew up. I believed the propaganda that raw milk was going to kill us but I think it goes farther than that.”

Smith runs Happy Food Farm in Spotsylvania.  Years ago, she cut down the trees on her 12 acres so she could raise cows for their milk and feed her 6 kids what she considers to be one of nature’s healthiest drinks.

“We’re already drinking raw milk. The only difference is they do not want me to be able to make a profit it and that’s how they’ve destroyed farms all across Virginia.  They’ve allowed other people to monopolize who gets paid and who doesn’t get paid.

Tuesday night the Washington County Board of Supervisors will listen to arguments against legalizing raw milk sales to the public from its Agriculture Committee.  The county is the seventh largest dairy producer in Virginia.  VICFA will make its case too, asking shouldn’t it be up to consumers to decide what kind of milk they want to drink.

The Washington County Board of Supervisors will hear comments from activists and the public at its meeting tonight, 11/10/15 at Government Center Place in Abington.