With dairy farmers struggling to make ends meet worldwide, many are turning to selling raw milk – straight from the cow and unpasteurized. In Pennsylvania, the nation's largest raw-milk permitting state, 122 farms have permits.
"Another 35 are in the permitting process right now," reports Bill Chirdon, director of Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Food Safety. "Some farmers are selling 1,000 gallons a week at $3 a gallon. That's powerful incentive," he adds.
But hold everything!
In American Agriculturist 's November cover story package, one of the state's one-time largest raw milk producers warns of the risks involved. Chirdon seconds that concern.
Besides milk quality, the food safety bureau chief stresses that there are many issues to deal with: drinking water quality, new animals coming onto the farm, milking equipment troubles, milking procedural errors, packaging and storage, to name a few.
The biggest concern may be liability. "It's an enormous risk." And he adds, "There are times when insurance companies don't even know producers are marketing raw milk. Producers need multi-million-dollar coverage, and it's very expensive.
"Today, our bureau spends considerable time with raw milk producers. We're pulling more milk samples than ever before, and doing more producer education to reduce consumer health risks."
And it's working. "In 2007, 8.4% of (Pennsylvania) raw milk tested positive for pathogenic bacteria. So far this year, less than 2% have tested positive. That a huge improvement!"
What you need to know
Not all states permit raw milk sales. Some permit selling raw milk only from the farm. A number of states are grappling with whether to allow sales as well as how to regulate and police them.
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has published guidelines to help educate prospective raw milk producers. It's downloadable from the Web at:
Key points from that document include:
* Animals must be brucellosis-free and tuberculosis-free, and pass an annual veterinary exam.
* Farm well water must test bacteriologically safe at least every six months.
* Bacteria (plate count) cannot exceed 20,000 per milliliter.
* Coliform counts cannot exceed 10 per milliliter.
* Somatic cell counts cannot exceed 1 million per milliliter.
* Sample and test raw milk at least twice a month for pathogens and drugs.
* No pathogenic bacteria: Salmonellae, Campylobacter, Listeria or E. Coli 0157:H7.
Those are the legal limits. But Chirdon wouldn't advise producers who have trouble keeping SCC counts, for instance, under 400,000 and closer to 200,000 to seek a permit.