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Fighting For A New Freedom Of Choice

By: Mary B. Worthington,
For The Bulletin

"The idea of having all the vitamins boiled out of my milk and then put back in doesn't sound nearly as appealing as getting it straight from the cow!" exclaimed Mountain MacGillivray.

Mr. MacGillivray, 35, discovered what he calls "authentic" milk three years ago when he was exposed to research showing its health benefits. "I tried it, and it tasted just as good, so I figured it was the way to go."

Milk bottled direct from the cow without pasteurization or homogenization is commonly called "raw milk," and despite being decried as "inherently dangerous" by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, raw milk consumers are a growing movement in Pennsylvania and around the country.

The risks and benefits of pasteurization, a process of heating milk to high temperatures in order to destroy bacteria that may lead to disease, are hotly contested.

Through their "Campaign for Real Milk" Web site, the Weston A. Price Foundation explains the harms of this process, including destroying enzymes, killing beneficial bacteria and diminishing vitamin content.

On the other side, the FDA claims that "Raw milk is inherently dangerous and it should not be consumed by anyone at any time for any purpose. Raw milk may contain many pathogens."

As the norm in the United States for several decades, pasteurization was originally intended to solve the problems of unsanitary dairy farm conditions and poor animal nutrition. Modern sanitation standards and a broader understanding of raising healthy cows, however, make raw milk healthy once more, according to the foundation.

While the FDA firmly resists the sale and consumption of raw milk, one organization that defends the rights of raw milk farmers and consumers celebrated its first birthday on Independence Day with a picnic at a Lancaster County farm. Born out of the Weston A. Price Foundation, the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund defends farmers and consumers in their "freedom of choice to consume raw milk," according to Taaron Meikle, president of the fund.

From farming roots in Colorado, Ms. Meikle became a consumer and proponent of raw milk when she saw how radically it changed her health. "I want these dairy products available to my children when they are adults," said the home schooling mother of four. "If we do not do something now, it will be scarce."

And, she is doing something. In just one year, the fund has raised over $350,000 and receives about three requests per week from farmers across the country where the sale of raw milk is either illegal or legal only through permits that are so complicated that the farmers wish to operate independently of them.

Recognized as a social welfare organization, the mission of the fund is "to defend the freedoms and to broaden the rights of sustainable farmers and their consumers to produce and consume local, nutrient-dense food."

Local access to raw milk is of primary concern to the fund. Because of legal issues in their home state, consumers such as Jeannine and Matt Rooney must travel across state lines to purchase their milk.

"We think it's the right thing for our health, and that's important," said Ms. Rooney, 25, who began consuming raw milk 7 months ago. While she and her husband live in Montgomery County, Md., they drink milk from a farm in Pennsylvania.

The fund helped to link them with a group of local raw milk drinkers who take turns making the trip to the farm.

Because the distribution and sale of raw milk is legal in Pennsylvania, it can be easier to obtain by Philadelphia families. Because of consumer demand, Martindale's Natural Market in Springfield, Delaware County has sold raw milk from two local dairies for the past five years, serving consumers from as far away as Delaware and New Jersey who travel to the store specifically for the controversial product.

"You can really feel safe getting milk from Martindale's," said Tammi Goodmond, store employee who is responsible for ordering the raw milk. "We researched and are confident that this milk is safe to drink. Our farmers are very conscientious in ensuring safety and quality of milk."

A half-gallon of raw milk at Martindale's will run $3.99-$4.59 plus bottle deposit fees. Raw milk prices direct from the farm can range from $5 to $9 per gallon.

"I predict that in 20 years, raw milk will be the only type of milk available," said Sally Fallon, president of the Price Foundation and member of the legal defense fund. "We will look back on pasteurization - something that was called a great innovation - as the greatest health disaster."

©The Evening Bulletin 2008