What Your Pets Have To Do With Illegal Raw Milk

Americans eager to sip hard-to-find unpasteurized milk are hiding behind products labeled for animal consumption.

Fluffy is just a front for illegal raw milk consumption.
National Journal
Marina Koren
Add to Briefcase
Marina Koren
April 8, 2014, 11:34 a.m.

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.

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