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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Unpasteurized milk has touched a raw nerve, shall we say, in recent years. And those on both sides of this debate are passionate in their positions. WEEKEND EDITION food commentator Bonny Wolf explores the controversy over raw milk.

BONNY WOLF, BYLINE: I first drank raw milk two years ago at a dinner given by a college anthropology class in Maryland. The professor, whose three small children drink only raw milk, had to go to Pennsylvania to get it since it's illegal to sell it in Maryland. I felt a slight thrill of danger before my first sip. Because, according to the federal government, drinking raw milk is a very bad idea. It didn't taste like a bad idea. It tasted like milk - fresh, rich milk. I was intrigued enough to buy it myself. Once I skimmed off the cream and tried to make butter. It didn't work, but I blame operator error. Another time, I was going to make mozzarella and ordered the necessary citric acid and liquid rennet through the mail. By the time they came, I had run out of raw milk. So, I just drink it.

I started following the raw milk news after my first sip. A simmering battle between raw milk lovers and the government has been heating up. Many states prohibit the sale of raw milk. There are now a group of moms calling themselves raw milk freedom riders who cross state lines with contraband milk in protest of government restrictions. These moms want the right to make unregulated choices for their families about the food they eat. They also want to support small sustainable farms and build community. And these young parents fervently believe raw milk is better for their children than the pasteurized variety. They say heating milk to temperatures high enough to kill bacteria also kills valuable enzymes and vitamins. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration beg to differ. They say that benefits are outweighed by risks. A recent CDC study claims most dairy-related disease outbreaks are caused by raw milk. The FDA warns that raw milk carries dangerous bacteria. They say any nutrients lost through pasteurization are readily available in other foods. True believers are skeptical. One study found that only 7 percent of raw milk consumers say they trust health officials' recommendations. They trust their local farmer more. Who's right? In a world where spinach, peanuts and cantaloupes are suspect, there's bound to be more crying over spilled milk.

MARTIN: Bonny Wolf is the author of "Talking with My Mouth Full" and contributing editor of NPR's Kitchen Window. You can follow her on Twitter. She's @BonnyWolf.

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