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AGRICULTURE REPORT - Fresh From the Store, or the Cow? The Debate Over Raw Milk

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Some milk drinkers like what they call "real milk," also known as raw milk. This is milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized.

A cow named Iris is milked for raw dairy products under a
A cow named Iris is milked for raw dairy products under a "cow shares" agreement at a family farm near Seattle in 2005

Homogenization is the mixing process that keeps all the fat from rising to the top. Pasteurization kills bacteria with heat. Ultra-pasteurized milk is quickly heated to an even higher temperature, which keeps it fresh in stores longer.

In the United States, health officials warn that drinking raw milk can be dangerous and even deadly. But the popularity seems to be growing.

Raw milk is often used in specialty cheeses. Supporters say raw tastes better than pasteurized, though not everyone can taste a difference.

In all of the fifty states but Michigan, people are permitted to buy raw milk for animals. But only farms in twenty-eight states can sell it for humans, under restrictions that differ from state to state.

People may also buy raw milk in stores in California, Connecticut, Maine, New Mexico and South Carolina.

Some people who live where the sale of raw milk is banned get it through a system of cow shares. People buy shares of a cow or a herd of cows. This way, the milk belongs to them as owners.

Other people get raw milk through milk clubs or cooperatives. Some of these clubs operate outside the law.

One man in Maryland has for years enjoyed thinking that he might be doing something illegal by buying raw milk. He had no idea it was legal there.

In nineteen twenty-four the United States Public Health Service proposed rules against the interstate sale of raw milk. Today forty-six states have passed what is known as the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance. The exceptions are Pennsylvania, California, New York and Maryland.

Earlier this year, federal health officials had another warning for the public about raw milk. They warned of the risks from bacteria including salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, campylobacter and brucella.

The warning said there is no meaningful nutritional difference between pasteurized and raw milk, as supporters say. And it said raw milk does not contain compounds that naturally kill harmful bacteria, as some also say.

Activists accuse the government of a prejudice against raw milk. They argue that outbreaks of sickness from drinking it are not as widespread as reports have suggested.

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Steve Ember.

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