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Farmer’s request to sell unprocessed milk has Bridgewater officials in a quandry

By Mike Melanson | Enterprise News

BRDG_RAWMILK_TMC01.jpgTim Correira/The Enterprise

Dave Hanson poses with a half-gallon bottle of raw millk from Hanson Farm in Bridgewater. Hanson is the first farmer in Bridgewater to apply for a license to sell raw milk under modern laws.

BRIDGEWATER — Farmer David Hanson of Bridgewater says he’s got milk and he wants permission to sell it in its most natural form.

Hanson’s request to the local Board of Health for permission to sell raw milk has given birth to a debate over the pros and cons of raw versus processed milk, one that pits fear about disease from bacteria in raw milk against concern that processed milk kills beneficial bacteria — as well as the environmental arguments to eat, and drink, locally produced food.

Hanson says he wants to sell the milk, which comes from the farm’s nine cows and is not pasteurized or homogenized, at his Pleasant Street farm stand.

“I drink raw milk myself right now, as do most farmers who have cows,” he said. “There’s much more flavor to it, not only because it has the cream but just because it’s fresher. It’s right from the cow.”

In raw milk, the cream separates from the milk and the fat content is higher. Proponents say the milk is healthier and tastes better than pasteurized milk. But health officials argue that without pasteurization, there could be a risk to human health for drinkers not used to the bacteria in a cow’s milk.

It’s legal in Massachusetts to sell raw milk from farm gates if a farmer meets sanitary standards and passes inspections by state Department of Agriculture Resources milk inspectors, according to the Northeast Organic Farming Association, Massachusetts Chapter.

However, local communities can prohibit the sale of raw milk. Several local communities — including Bridgewater, Avon, Brockton, East Bridgewater, Hanson, Middleboro, Pembroke, Rockland, Wareham and Whitman — now ban the sale of raw milk, according to the Northeast Organic Farming Association.

There are 24 dairies in Massachusetts that sell raw milk. A gallon costs $6 to $10, according to NOFA.

Recently, Bridgewater assistant health agent Doug Sime presented health board members with a stack of paperwork on raw milk.

“There are a lot of pros and cons,” Sime said. “Health is the main thing,” he said, adding there’s a risk of getting ill from E. coli, Listeria and a handful of other diseases.

Sime said it would be up to the health board to decide whether to allow the sale of raw milk and to set procedures for local inspections if it does.

Hanson said he would bottle and sell raw milk at the farm stand and use the proceeds to increase his herd of nine cows, boost production and start selling pasteurized and homogenized milk as well.

Board of Health Chairwoman Sandra Wright said the board needs more time to study the proposal. She said they’d try to go for a tour of Oake Knoll Ayrshires Farm in Foxboro, where raw milk is sold, before acting.

With pasteurization, milk is heated to 145 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.

“Pasteurization is intended to kill the bacteria and pathogens that can be found in milk, that can cause illness in humans,” said Michael Cahill, director of the Division of Animal Health for the Department of Agricultural Resources.

He said communities can choose to allow or not allow the sale of raw milk and a local board of health has a lot of powers.

“Ultimately, it’s up to the town whether or not they allow it,” he said.

Someone who wants to sell raw milk must first be inspected and certified by the Department of Agricultural Resources, then agree to routine inspections every six months and monthly sampling for bacteria, Cahill said.

But raw milk proponents say pasteurization also kills good bacteria that boost the digestive and immune systems in humans, and destroys calcium and vitamins B6, B12 and C as well as beneficial enzymes.

Terri Lawton’s Oake Knoll Ayrshires farm in Foxboro sells raw whole milk and raw milk cheeses. She said a gallon of pasteurized milk found on supermarket shelves can have a mixture of milk from thousands of different cows.

“When a person sells raw milk, it comes from one farm and one herd,” she said.

The Foxboro farm milks around 20 Ayrshires and has sold raw milk and cheeses for more than three years. A gallon of raw milk there costs $10, Lawton said.

She said the farm’s Ayrshire cows produce a sweeter milk than do Holstein cows. “It’s like drinking a milkshake, some people have said,” she said.

“The big difference is it’s not homogenized and not pasteurized,” said Lawton, an FDA-certified dairy inspector.

“It seems to be growing in popularity. There’s a lot of health benefits and a lot of taste preference.”

 

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