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Got raw milk? Some think you should

Got raw milk? Rutgers professor, others like the idea

Rick Malwitz: 732-565-7291; [email protected]

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My hardest adjustment to kindergarten, I am told, was not learning how to share crayons but having to get used to the pasteurized milk. It tasted awful. Until then the only milk I drank came from my grandfather's cows, what is known today as raw milk.

What my grandfather did would be still be OK. What he could not do is sell raw milk. Twenty-five states allow the sale of raw milk. Twenty-five don't. New Jersey is among the don'ts. This week the Assembly Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee heard testimony from both sides of the issue.

One dairy farmer said if a consumer got sick from raw milk, it would hurt the entire dairy industry. Jonathan and Nina White, who own a dairy farm in Sussex County, spoke in favor of raw milk. Not only do they drink their cow's milk, but they also use it for ice cream and cheese. Delicious.

Also testifying on behalf of raw milk was Joseph Heckman, a professor of soil science at Rutgers. He drank raw milk growing up on an Ohio farm. When he went away to college, he had no choice but to drink pasteurized milk, and soon suffered from allergies. He then went shopping for raw milk, and when he returned to raw milk his allergies disappeared.

Today, Heckman drives from his home in Monroe to dairy farms in Pennsylvania, where he gets the good stuff. Fortunately, it's not against the law to bring raw milk across the New Jersey border; police have enough trouble with illegal drugs and untaxed cigarettes.

White said he's heard of underground raw milk "buying clubs" in New Jersey. (Instead of the Bloods and Crips, they have the Curds and Whey gangs.)

Time was when pasteurization of milk was necessary. When pasteurized, milk is heated to at least 174 degrees to destroy harmful bacteria. What it also does, said Heckman, is destroy bacteria that are helpful to the body. It also destroys helpful enzymes.

Heckman said studies have shown that others have had allergies reduced. Other studies suggest raw milk prevents asthma. "Since the dawn of agriculture, milk has nourished humanity," he said.

Pasteurized milk was necessary, according to Heckman, before scientists learned what contaminated milk. The problem was not the cow, but the farmer. "The poor quality of the milk was the result of the farmer contaminating it with his (unclean) hands," he said.

Anything can be contaminated with improper handling. "The problem is not the food product, it's how the product is handled," he said.

Heckman has visited the dairy farms where he buys raw milk. He's examined the operation and looked the farmer in the eye. "The farmer wants to sell nothing but a healthy product," he said.

Although critics of raw milk suggest it could be dangerous, Heckman notes that pasteurized milk can be dangerous, too. In 1985, more than 160,000 residents of Illinois got sick from drinking pasteurized milk. In 2007, three people died in Massachusetts when pasteurized milk was contaminated.

It's a burden for Heckman to drive to Pennsylvania from his home in Monroe, where he grows vegetables and raises chickens on his two-acre property. "I thinking of getting my own cow. But that would be work," he said.

He would prefer the option of buying raw milk at stores in Central Jersey. Make it an option, he says. "Let people make their own choice."


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