Raw Milk Demand Grows Despite Concerns

By: By M.L. JOHNSON
By: By M.L. JOHNSON


NEW HOLSTEIN, Wis. (AP) -- Despite serious health risks, demand for unpasteurized, or raw, milk appears to be growing.

With prices topping $5 per gallon, more dairies are selling raw milk - and finding themselves at odds with public health officials. The federal government and many states prohibit sales of raw milk to the public, saying it is responsible for hundreds of people sickened in the past decade with salmonella, E. coli, listeria and other bacteria.

"Raw milk continues to cause outbreaks year after year," said John Sheehan, who oversees plant and dairy food products for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "It is a concern for the FDA."

More than 1,000 people, including two who died, got sick from raw milk or cheese made from raw milk from 1998 to 2005, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pasteurization uses heat to destroy bacteria. It also extends the shelf life of milk. Proponents of raw milk contend the process destroys nutrients and enzymes and that raw milk is healthier.

"Raw milk is like a magic food for children," said Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates consumption of whole, natural foods.

According to Robert Bradley, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who has worked in food science for 44 years, pasteurization should not affect milk's taste, texture or nutritional content, aside from a slight loss of vitamin C.

And the FDA says "raw milk, no matter how carefully produced, may be unsafe."

At Kay and Wayne Craig's organic farm in eastern Wisconsin, people looking for raw milk began showing up five or six years ago. Many had digestive issues or other health problems.

"They're sick of being sick, and they're sick of the meds and the side effects, and so they're looking for options," said Wayne Craig.

The couple had about 100 customers by the time they opened their store with organic products three years ago. Now they have about 800.

No government agency or group tracks raw milk sales nationwide. But in Washington state, the number of dairies selling raw milk to the public grew from six to 22 in the past two years. In Massachusetts, the number has more than doubled to 24 in the past five years even as the overall number of dairies has declined.

Wisconsin has banned the sale and distribution of unpasteurized milk, although it allows "incidental sales" by farmers. It also permits farm owners to consume their own milk.

That prompted Wisconsin farmers, like those in a number of other states, to make a variety of arrangements to sell raw milk. For example, farmers have sold shares in their cows, herds and milk licenses. But some arrangements are being challenged.

Jane Ratajczak, 43, of Kiel, started buying raw milk from the Craigs after reading a book about natural cures. She now drinks four or five glasses a day and said she has noticed no ill effects.

"To me, it's refreshing," she said. "Just grab a glass of milk."

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UNION, Ohio (AP) - A glut on the market and the rising cost of feed have some hog farmers looking at hard times.

Six months ago, George and Tim Stebbins began spending more money raising pigs near this western Ohio town than they recouped when the hogs went to market. And things have only gotten worse.

Tim Stebbins, 49, estimates the family now loses $36 to $40 for each pig sold, not including labor and the cost of keeping up buildings.

"There's no profit to be seen" in the foreseeable future, said Stebbins, who with George has raised hogs since 1978.

Hog farmers are bracing for what could be the industry's worst year in history, according to Purdue University agriculture economist Chris Hurt.

Like other livestock sectors, the hog industry has been battered by higher feed costs, brought on in part by the surge in ethanol production and crop exports.

Feed accounts for about two-thirds of the cost of raising hogs. Cash prices for corn, which is fed to hogs and also used in making ethanol, were $5.80 per bushel last week, up 64 percent from $3.53 per bushel a year ago. Another primary feed ingredient, soybean meal, jumped from $204 to $329 per ton.

Higher feed prices have come as a glut of hogs has reduced prices paid to farmers by 18 percent in the past year.

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