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Feelings are raw over milk

Akron store refuses inspector’s order to toss unpasteurized product.

Sunday News

Published: Jul 27, 2008 - Lancaster Online

The long debate over raw milk hit another raw nerve July 9 when the state cited a store in Akron for selling the unpasteurized beverage illegally.

Your Healthy Food, 703 New St., was also written up for illegally selling yogurt made from raw milk, and for failing to advise consumers that its products contained raw milk.

In addition, Department of Agriculture officials said, the owner refused to remove the products from its shelves.

A woman who answered the phone at Your Healthy Food last week said the state inspector who visited the store ordered her to destroy the raw milk items.

"I shipped her out of here very fast," said the woman, who refused to give her name. "I was not going to comply with her."

The inspection report and other documents identify the store owner as Jane Haller, of Lititz.

The woman at the store said she purchases raw milk from a local member of Communities Alliance for Responsible Eco-Farming, a self-regulating cooperative of raw milk dairymen.

CARE standards are "much higher" than those of the Department of Agriculture, the woman claimed.

"It was a witch hunt," the woman said of the inspection.

She said that she has since stopped selling raw milk items at the store, but added that she called the agriculture department to complain about being harassed.

"It is a very touchy subject," she said. "It is a God-given right that we consume whatever we want to consume."

Not so, says the state.

Agriculture department Press Secretary Chris L. Ryder said any harassment complaints are duly investigated.

However, he said, the law bars retailers from selling raw milk unless both the store and the producer are licensed by Pennsylvania.

Neither was in this case, according to the agriculture department.

Nor is it legal in the commonwealth to sell foods made with raw milk, except for aged hard cheese.

Ryder said Your Healthy Food was allowed to remain open while coming into compliance because "there does not appear to be an imminent health risk.

"We have made plans to go back to the store and discuss [the situation] with the owner," he said.

Roughly 100 Pennsylvania farms market raw milk. About half the states allow their farmers to do so.

State Sen. Mike Brubaker, who chairs the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, said Pennsylvania's permitting and inspection process constitutes a reasonable public safeguard against possible contamination by microorganisms.

A proposal by Brubaker and state Rep. Bryan Cutler would add value to farm operations by expanding permitted raw milk sales to include items such as soft cheese, butter, ice cream and yogurt.

The senator said that he is also backing a bill to allow CARE and other cooperatives to develop testing protocols for their members.

The protocols would have to be approved by the state, which would then periodically monitor the farmers, he said.

Advocates say raw milk conveys exceptional health benefits because its nutrients remain undamaged by processing.

Akron Nutrition Center, which sells raw milk and hard cheese made from raw milk, was also recently advised by the agriculture department to notify customers about the content of those products.

The store at 22 N. Seventh St., Akron, has since put up a sign, according to food buyer Emily Holt, who said she avoids pasteurized milk.

"To me," she said, "the only kind of milk that's safe is raw milk."

Jon Rutter is a staff writer for the Sunday News. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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