The idea of consuming pet food sure sounds gross, but some Americans are doing it.
The popularity of raw, unpasteurized milk is growing, and people are turning to buying it in jars labeled "for pet consumption only" to circumvent laws preventing its sale and distribution to humans. In some states, the legal loophole is helping fuel a burgeoning underground network of raw milk.
"No one is feeding this to their pets," Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky. told The Washington Post last week, after introducing two bills that would free raw milk from Food and Drug Administration oversight. "They are buying raw milk for themselves and their families. And they are doing it because we have some very stupid laws out there." Massie said he grew up drinking unpasteurized milk, which does not undergo a heating process to kill bacteria.
Federal law prohibits the sale of raw milk for humans between states, and half of the country has banned its sale. But there is no federal ban on the sale of raw milk for pets between U.S. states, nor is there an FDA pre-market approval process for raw dairy products labeled strictly for pet consumption.
The sale of raw milk for pets is legal in many states, if producers meet requirements for selling commercial feed. Michigan, New Mexico, and Ohio ban its sale "through either written law or departmental policy," explains a raw-milk campaign website, owned by the Weston A. Price Foundation, the Washington-based nonprofit that's been fueling the raw-milk movement. Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, and Washington require the inclusion of a dye in raw milk for pets. Only North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida have raw-milk producers "who have received permits or are otherwise in compliance with the law."
Raw-milk consumption has been linked to infections such as salmonella and E. coli in humans, as well as kidney failure and even paralysis. But consumption has doubled in the past five years.
Proponents say raw milk tastes better and contains beneficial enzymes and curative properties that the pasteurization process destroys. During this legislative session, The Post's Kimberly Kindy recently reported, 40 bills to legalize unpasteurized milk within state borders have been introduced in 23 states. Food safety agencies, dairy industry organizations and many health experts oppose such legislation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 percent to 3 percent of Americans are drinking it. And for some of them, that means buying "pet food."
Massie's bills are unlikely to pass, with a legislative tracking service putting their chances at 2 percent. Whether that's pasteurized or not, we don't know.