Colorado Milk Lovers Go Straight to the Source Raw milk — an unpasteurized product that comes directly from the cow or goat — is growing in popularity with consumers, though some critics say it can pose a health threat. In Colorado, the only way residents may get raw milk is through buying a stake in a cow or a goat.
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Colorado Milk Lovers Go Straight to the Source

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Colorado Milk Lovers Go Straight to the Source

Colorado Milk Lovers Go Straight to the Source

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Raw milk, the kind that comes directly to the table from the cow or goat, is getting more popular with consumers and it's more popular in spite of warnings from many health professionals that it can be dangerous.

In California, raw milk loyalists are balking at some brand new dairy standards that might affect their favorite products. And in Colorado, dairy farmers are coming together to make sure that their raw milk is safe.

Anna Panoka of member station KCFR reports from Denver.

ANNA PANOKA: In some states, people can buy raw milk at the grocery store or directly from a farmer. In others, it's illegal, and in a handful of states like Colorado, the only way people can get unpasteurized milk is by becoming a shareholder of a cow or goat herd.

Ms. LYNN RODNEY (Resident, Boulder, Colorado): This is how it comes. Just in a half gallon canning jar that they sterilized there.

PANOKA: Lynn Rodney(ph) of Boulder says pasteurized milk gives her digestive problems so she was happy to learn she could get raw milk from a dairy north of Boulder.

Ms. RODNEY: You know, if I had any digestive-type issues going on and all, it's completely just healing for me. I find that it balances my system out and so on.

PANOKA: Rodney pays $14 a month for her half share. For that, she gets a half gallon each week. She and other raw milk enthusiasts believe it's more nutritious and easier to digest and that it can help people who suffer from certain diseases.

But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says unpasteurized milk can pose a serious health risk. The agency says people have gotten sick from drinking raw milk in several states in recent years.

Colorado doesn't regulate raw milk but Alicia Cronquist, an epidemiologist with the state's health department, estimates about a dozen people each year get bacterial infections likely caused by drinking raw milk.

Ms. ALICIA CRONQUIST (Epidemiologist, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment): The thing to be aware of, however, is that no matter how tightly you regulate it, we've seen time and time again that unpasteurized milk is a risky food item.

PANOKA: Members of the newly formed Raw Milk Association of Colorado disagree. David Lynch, the founder and president of the association, acknowledges there could be a health threat if a farmer isn't running a clean operation.

That's why he and the nearly 20 dairies, now part of the group, are coming up with safety guidelines they hope all raw milk dairies in the state will follow, that includes milk testing requirements and sanitation standards. Lynch says that's important because dairy farmers have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into their new businesses.

Mr. DAVID LYNCH (President, Raw Milk Association of Colorado): To consider the fact that that could be jeopardized by someone doing an irresponsible little, raw milk operation without any accountability is certainly a concern.

(Soundbite of running machine)

PANOKA: A metal pump moves milk straight from a cow into the next room where it's bottled and cooled. Here on the Plains, east of Denver, about two dozen cows are milked twice a day at Ebert Family Farm, a member of the Raw Milk Association. Kres Ebert says he's never known anyone to get sick from drinking raw milk, but he's glad the association is creating guidelines for farmers in Colorado.

Mr. KRES EBERT (Ebert Family Farm): I milk into a closed system so I'm not out there with a bucket in the middle of a pasture, trying to milk bessie. You know, you limit the things that can go wrong and then nothing does go wrong.

PANOKA: The Ebert Family Farm like other raw milk dairies in Colorado has a waiting list of people it just can't serve. With demand outpacing supply, Raw Milk Association leaders say its all the more reason to unite the dairies and set standards for this growing market.

For NPR News, I'm Anna Panoka in Denver.

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