The raw milk issue continues to heat up in Indiana, with some consumer groups pushing for legislation that will allow raw milk sales to consumers.

To study the issue more fully, the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH) has released a report on the sale of raw milk in the state of Indiana.

There are approximately 176,000 dairy cows in Indiana on 1,527 dairy farms. In 1925, the Indiana General Assembly passed a law requiring pasteurization of milk or tuberculin testing of cattle.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits the interstate sale of raw milk for human consumption through a regulation adopted in 1987. Each state governs the intrastate sale of unpasteurized milk to consumers.

The report says currently individuals are acquiring raw milk from producers through cow or herd share arrangements and pet food sales believing that these transactions are outside the current state statute requiring milk to be pasteurized. The current pasteurization statute does not explicitly contemplate these arrangements, creating uncertainty for regulators, producers and consumers as to the legal status of these transactions and arrangements.

Twenty states prohibit the sale of unpasteurized milk to consumers, including Indiana. Almost all of the states that allow unpasteurized milk sales limit access to raw milk and regulate the production and sale of the product.

Raw milk and pathogens
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discourages the consumption of raw milk products. Unpasteurized milk can carry dangerous bacteria, such as Salmonella enterica, E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter jejuni and Listeria monocytogenes.

Foodborne illness from these pathogens in raw milk can cause chronic, severe, or even life-threatening illnesses that can lead to kidney failure, paralysis, chronic disorders, and even death. For example, a person can develop Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause paralysis and hemolytic uremic syndrome that can result in kidney failure and stroke.

The BOAH report says studies show that states that allow the legal sale of raw milk for human consumption have more raw milk-related outbreaks of illness than states that do not allow raw milk to be sold legally. Among dairy product-associated outbreaks reported to CDC between 1973 and 2009 in which the investigators reported whether the product was pasteurized or raw, 82% were due to raw milk or cheese. Read more on raw milk outbreaks here.

From 1998 through 2009, 93 outbreaks due to consumption of raw milk or raw milk products were reported to CDC. These resulted in 1,837 illnesses, 195 hospitalizations, and 2 deaths. Most of these illnesses were caused by Escherichia coli, Campylobacter, or Salmonella.

It is important to note that a substantial proportion of the raw milk-associated disease burden falls on children; among the 93 raw dairy product outbreaks from 1998 to 2009, 79% involved at least one person younger than 20 years old.

Options for Indiana
The BOAH report notes that the authorization of sales of unpasteurized milk to consumers is ultimately a political decision. BOAH believes that pasteurization is a practice that is highly effective in reducing the risk of human illness from pathogens in raw milk and that distributing raw milk for human consumption will increase the risk that someone will become ill from consuming raw milk.

BOAH recommends that the Indiana General Assembly consider the following options when considering this issue:

Option A. Maintain the current requirement for milk to be pasteurized prior to sale and amend the statute to clarify that all persons producing milk for consumption must comply with state sanitation standards and pasteurize the milk regardless of the method used to distribute the milk, including cow or herd share arrangements and products labeled for pet food.

Option B. Change the current law requiring pasteurization to allow limited distribution of raw milk directly from the farmer producing the milk to consumers and authorize the BOAH to establish minimum sanitary requirements that may reduce the risk of human illness.

If Indiana is to move away from the current laws requiring pasteurization of milk and milk products sold to the public, the following principles should be followed:

  • The Indiana State Board of Animal Health should have the authority to adopt rules requiring permits and establishing sanitation standards for raw milk producers.
  • All farmers producing raw milk for consumption should be held to the same standards.
  • The sale of raw milk should be limited to the farmer producing the milk selling directly to consumers.

Read the BOAH raw milk report here.