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Raw milk gives farmers options

By Amy Strauss | Tri County Record

The National Dairy Council's advertising campaign has sung for the last two decades that "milk does the body good." The council proclaims through the Dietary Guidelines for Americans study that "people who consume more low-fat and fat-free dairy foods have better overall diets, have more nutrient intake and improved bone health," which proves that milk may be beneficial for the human body, yet rounding out the year of 2009, it may not be great for dairy farmers.

Pennsylvania is one of the top dairy producing states, but similar to the recession in the 1970s when milk prices were at their lowest, the decrease

in profits from their products has become a statewide crisis. This year, the PA commonwealth has reported that there are 7,400 dairy farms, with most of these farms listing that they are experiencing losses of thousands of dollars per month.

Positively, Congress recently approved $290 million in direct subsidies to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that will be granted to dairy farmers, with hopes for the farmers to receive the funds by the end of this month. However, one potential solution that area dairies are considering is the sale of high-priced, unpasteurized milk, known as "raw milk."

As the Weston A. Price Foundation reports, an advocacy group for organic foods based in Washington, dairy farmers who directly sell unpasteurized milk to customers have begun to charge and graciously-receive $5 to $7 per gallon. Without a middleman coming between the consumer and the producer, the farming of raw milk is becoming attractive to many farmers. PA-based dairy farmers currently receive only $1.11 per gallon of pasteurized milk, which is 66 cents less than in July of 2008.

In most recent tallies, 122 dairy farms hold raw milk permits in the PA, which is more than any other state. Tripling over the last three years, and state officials said another 40 permits, plus more, are pending. The raw milk market is maintained, however, as relatively small, due to the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) ban of its interstate sales, 22 years ago.

The FDA reports that unpasteurized milk is "inherently dangerous" and states that it could "contain a host of potentially lethal pathogens, including salmonella, E. coli and listeria." To note, the FDA does allow raw milk dairies to operate, but only under warranted permits and approved health inspections. The Welsh Mountain Farm, run by Amos and Leah Ebersol on Red Hill Road in Narvon, is one of the area's raw milk dairies.

Due to consumers' constant requests, Welsh Mountain Farm's Jersey cows are now one hundred-percent grass fed and in turn, produce grass-fed raw Jersey milk, pasteurized butter, raw milk cheeses and aged cheeses (3-year old sharp cheddar, mild cheddar, smoke cheddar, pepper jack, Monterey Jack, herbal jack, garlic and chives, and Le Cheval cave-aged cheese). The Ebersols thank their faithful customers, for allowing their farm "project" to go from a "hobby to a prospering business," with many local residents encouraging their continuing production of raw milk.

Kimberton Whole Foods, with a branch of their grocery store located in Douglasville, receives five shipments of raw milk a week, which total about 240 gallons from two Chester County dairy producers. Owner Terry Brett is vocal in his support of raw milk, stating that the sales of the pure milk blend have rapidly increased over the last few years. He also will soon provide consumers with a third raw milk dairy producer, in his four-store chain of his PA-based health food stores.

Pennsylvania is one of eight states nationwide that is allowed to sell raw milk within area grocery stores. Consumers in favor of the unpasteurized milk, including those who run the Campaign for Real Milk, state via their Web site that pasteurization kills enzymes and bacteria that are nutritionally beneficial and aid in digestion and diminishes vitamin content. Raw milk consumption has also, as they cite, been seen to lower instances of tooth decay, infection, allergy and asthma.

Raw milk is just one potential solution to the current dairy crisis. Whether local and state-based dairy farmers choose to follow the in-question lead of the unpasteurized blend, one thing is for sure -- the milk mustache, popular with the National Dairy Council's advertising campaign, will not go extinct, and the new form of milk continues to be on the brink.

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