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Food Policy | May 2016

Raw Milk: To Lift the Ban or Not to Lift the Ban?

Jeremy Cotton, Employee Director

At the April 7 board meeting, Bill Schaser asked the board to join Eureka Natural Foods in supporting the repeal of Humboldt County’s ban on the sale of raw milk. The board seemed to be ready to write a letter of support for Bill and the raw milk movement, but was hesitant to act without more education on the subject and clear membership support. So we, as the board, are asking for member feedback on the subject. I, Jeremy Cotton, work for the Cheese Department in Arcata, and have fielded many customers’ requests for raw milk cheese. So I know there is room for niche market at that store. But this alone cannot represent the feelings of our 15,000 strong membership base. Among the reports that have been presented to the board, three strong arguments emerge in favor of raw milk and two arguments arise in favor of keeping the ban in place.

Argument #1 (pro): 
Health Benefits of Raw Milk
Many people around the county have reported how the consumption of raw milk has positively increased their basic health. Digestive problems have disappeared in patients who switched from pasteurized milk to raw milk. Reports also cite the examples of how dairy farmers (including local dairy farmers) feed their own children raw milk, and those children are perfectly healthy in regards to their raw milk consumption while customers at large have no access to raw milk and experience health problems related to pasteurized milk.

Argument #2 (con): 
Health Risks of Raw Milk
There is a chance of getting sick from the consumption of raw milk, with a chance of the most severe consequence being death. This chance is extremely low with an average of 115 Americans per year getting sick from raw milk. When compared to other foods, this number is extremely low.

Argument #3 (pro):
Creation of a Niche Market
By lifting the ban on raw milk in Humboldt County, there would immediately be a small, niche market for raw cow and goat milk locally. This would potentially be good for the local economy.

Argument #4 (con):
Fear of Loss of Business
Some dairy people (for lack of a better word for dairymen) feel like it would put Humboldt County’s reputation at risk if someone got sick from our raw milk, since a lot of our organic milk is shipped to large municipalities such as Los Angeles. There is also a perception that there could be a loss of business at the small dairy level of not being able to get their milk to a creamery if they support raw milk. The feeling is that a creamery might no longer purchase milk from said dairy.

Argument #5 (pro):
Freedom of Choice
Most people in favor of raw milk sales are baffled that there are only three counties in California with this ban in place: Humboldt, Trinity, and Kings. In Kings County, people travel an average twenty minutes out of the county to get raw milk, but here in Humboldt, it is a three-hour round trip from Eureka to Crescent City to get to the nearest market that sells raw milk. Local farmers are afraid to sell raw milk privately or under the table because the fine is $1,000 and a possible 90 days in jail for each offense. The argument that comes up most from supporters of raw milk, however, is simply a matter of freedom of choice. Why, they ask, can we not make our own choices about raw milk when people can make choices about raw beef, chicken, and especially oysters?

Once again, the North Coast Co-op Board of Directors is looking for feedback from the membership on this issue. Please join us at the July 7 board meeting where we’ll discuss the feedback and potentially take action.

This article was originally published in the May 2016 Co-op News

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