STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Another sign that America is the home of the brave. More Americans are buying raw milk - milk that's not been pasteurized to kill bacteria, neither the good nor the bad kind. The FDA does not support this practice so there are no national safety guidelines. And some people are trying to change that. Deena Prichep reports.

DEENA PRICHEP, BYLINE: Champoeg Creamery is a small dairy about 30 miles south of Portland, Oregon complete with fields, chickens and a few brown cows. Charlotte Smith is a fifth- generation farmer. But when she first started producing raw milk, she found the usual resources weren't around.

CHARLOTTE SMITH: I could call the extension office and get some help on what was going on with my vegetables, or what is this beetle eating my tomatoes? But there's no one that will help you with raw milk production.

PRICHEP: And with about 100 families buying her milk, Smith wants to get it right.

SMITH: So you can bring home a chicken and sell the egg and feel pretty safe about it. But raw milk coming out of a cow and manure flying during milking time - it is a huge challenge, far different than any other farm animal we have.

PRICHEP: And so two years ago, Champoeg Creamery became the first farm listed with the Raw Milk Institute.

MARK MCAFEE: People are searching for local raw milk. But when they go to the farm or they go to the store, they really don't know what they're getting.

PRICHEP: Dairy farmer Mark McAfee founded the Institute. Instead of just focusing on the end results like bacteria levels, they also work up detailed protocols for the entire process, from taking the temperature of the dishwasher to looking at the risks specific to each farm.

MCAFEE: The conditions, the elevation, the water, the breed of cow you have.

PRICHEP: Approved dairies listed their guidelines and bacteria counts for anyone to see. But McAfee knows that certification has its discontents.

MCAFEE: They're going to say there's no way to guarantee the safety of raw milk because it doesn't go through pasteurization. So the bottom line is cantaloupe just killed 34 people in the last two and half years. So what is relative risk here?

ROBERT TAUXE: If there were an easy way to pasteurize cantaloupe I think, you know, that would be something to consider.

PRICHEP: Robert Tauxe is an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who deals with foodborne illness. The raw milk outbreaks he sees...

TAUXE: Salmonella infections, E. coli infections, campylobacter infections.

PRICHEP: Are generally not fatal. But they can land you in the hospital.

TAUXE: I understand the interest in having colonies of living bacteria in the food we eat. The problem is when those living bacteria that are beneficial get mixed up with the living bacteria that cause disease.

PRICHEP: While raw milk protocols can reduce the chance of these bad bacteria or catch them early, Tauxe says it's no guarantee.

TAUXE: A cow can test negative today and then get infected tomorrow.

ADRIAN HALE: It's scary. I mean, but I also eat oysters.

PRICHEP: Adrian Hale lives in Portland. And as a mother- and food writer - she's always looking for the full story of whatever she eats.

HALE: There's a lot of choices we make with food so I try to make those choices as best I can.

PRICHEP: For Hale, making a good choice means buying raw milk that meets these guidelines, especially with two young kids drinking it.

HALE: I don't want to be a negligent parent. I just wanted that assurance that the person who's producing the milk is paying attention.

PRICHEP: And if the producer and the consumer are paying attention, it can create a risk that's more manageable whether you are talking about oysters or cantaloupe or raw milk. For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep in Portland, Oregon.

INSKEEP: It's NPR News.

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