No, You Should Not Drink Raw Milk. Here’s Why:

In this Friday, April 15, 2016 photo, raw milk is for sale at the Quill's End Farm, a small family run operation in Penobscot, Maine. The farm is a way of life Heather Retberg said needs to be protected from an aggressive regulatory structure that keeps small farms from getting food to local people. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

By Amie Rivers

April 17, 2023

All actual scientific evidence shows that drinking raw milk—also known as unpasteurized milk—is a bad idea.

That’s why the Iowa Farm Bureau, the Iowa State Dairy Association (ISDA), the Iowa Public Health Association, and many others are against a bill that passed both chambers in the Iowa Legislature that legalizes the sale of raw milk within Iowa borders.

The bill passed in the Iowa House last week and passed in the Iowa Senate on Monday. This bill has long been on the wish list for Sen. Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig), who sponsored legislation to legalize raw milk sales in Iowa for over a decade dating back to his time in the Iowa House.

“I have actually been waiting 17 years to say, Madame President, I moooo-ve the [bill forward],” Schultz said.

If Gov. Kim Reynolds signs the bill, raw milk sales will be legal in Iowa.

Literally, the industry group that supports Iowa’s dairies—supposedly being helped by this legislation—is opposed to it. (The only lobbyists for it? The out-of-state, Koch-backed conservative group Americans for Prosperity.)

“The ISDA supports Iowa’s current law on unpasteurized milk, and federal legislation that prevents the sale and distribution of unpasteurized milk directly or indirectly to consumers,” the group said in its policy book for 2023.

[inline-ad id=0]

What is raw milk?

Raw milk is milk directly from an animal that produces it, without going through the pasteurization process first.

Iowa defines it in this bill as the milk from cows, goats, or sheep.

What is pasteurization?

Pasteurization is named after the 19th-century French chemist who discovered the process, Louie Pasteur.

The process involves heating a substance, such as milk, for a certain amount of time at a certain temperature to kill bacteria like E. Coli, salmonella, and listeria. It’s then cooled and kept cool for human consumption to keep those bacteria out.

Pasteur originally applied the process to wine, saving France’s wine industry from collapse because of problems with contamination. Today, wine isn’t pasteurized, but lots of other products are, including milk.

The US began pasteurizing milk in the 1920s, and the process was widespread by 1950, leading to what the Centers for Disease Control called “dramatic reductions in the number of people getting sick.”

By 1987, the Food and Drug Administration made the sale of raw milk across state lines illegal. But some states in recent years began to allow the sale of unpasteurized milk within their own borders, and Iowa Republicans now want to join them.

[inline-ad id=1]

So why do people want to drink raw milk?

They think it tastes better, or that the benefits of drinking it outweigh the potential downsides (those downsides being the potential of tons of harmful bacteria making you sick, see below).

“I call it the Freedom Milk Bill,” Schultz, a Republican and a farmer, said when he introduced the bill in March.

If you want to wade into the weeds of their arguments about vitamins and probiotics and homogenization, Skeptoid does a really good job of laying out raw milk advocates’ claims and debunking them one by one.

Suffice it to say, these arguments are relegated to “alternative” health websites and are also debunked by the US Food and Drug Administration, the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and more.

[inline-ad id=2]

Why shouldn’t you drink raw milk?

Rep. Megan Srinivas, a Democrat and infectious disease physician, said she had “several concerns about this bill” during House debate last week. In particular, if raw milk is given to children “who have no control over what they’re consuming” they can be more susceptible to serious illness.

She noted that illnesses caught through raw milk have previously spread to those who haven’t drunk any, including through people who work in food service.

“We have seen hepatitis A, we have seen E. coli, we have seen shigella outbreaks—all linked to people consuming raw milk, and then spreading it through their work,” Srinivas said. “These outbreaks have public health implications that we cannot ignore.”

[inline-ad id=3]

But doesn’t Iowa’s bill make them test animals for bacteria once a month?

Yes, it does. And if that were the only way such bacteria could be introduced into the milk, maybe that’d be fine!

However, it’s not.

“That’s not where we see the contamination happen in raw milk,” Srinivas said.

Bacteria can be introduced into the milking process in a whole lot of fun ways:

  • Animal poop
  • Animal skin
  • Animal infection
  • The barn
  • Milking equipment
  • People handling the animal
  • Insects or rodents
  • Being outside

“Negative laboratory tests to detect germs in raw milk do not guarantee that raw milk is safe to drink,” the CDC says. “Tests do not always detect low levels of contamination. People have become very sick from drinking raw milk that came from farms that regularly tested their milk for bacteria.”

Agriculture is a messy business, even with the best of intentions at the most modern facilities. The best and most effective means of preventing bacteria is pasteurization.

[inline-ad id=4]

I mean, how bad are these bacteria really?

They’re not fun.

Best case scenario, they can give you food poisoning—vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, etc.

Worst case scenario: they can kill you, particularly the very young or very old or those who are already living with another illness. It can cause miscarriages or long-term illnesses like Guillain-Barre syndrome, paralysis, kidney failure, stroke and death.

Iowa Republicans’ response to those legitimate public health concerns? Meh, said Rep. Bobby Kaufmann.

“Literally anyone who has those concerns: They don’t have to buy it,” Kaufmann said during the House debate.

If you avoid raw milk, but are sickened by someone who spread a raw milk infection to you? Well, that’s just the price of “freedom.”


by Amie Rivers

[inline-ad id=5]

If you enjoy stories like these, make sure to sign up for Iowa Starting Line’s main newsletter and/or our working class-focused Worker’s Almanac newsletter.

Have a story idea for me? Email [email protected], or find me on TwitterTikTokMastodon, PostInstagram and Facebook.

Iowa Starting Line is part of an independent news network and focuses on how state and national decisions impact Iowans’ daily lives. We rely on your financial support to keep our stories free for all to read. Find ISL on TikTokInstagramFacebook and Twitter.

  • Amie Rivers

    Amie Rivers is Starting Line's community editor, labor reporter and newsletter snarker-in-chief. Previously, she was an award-winning journalist at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier; now, she very much enjoys making TikToks and memes. Send all story tips and pet photos to [email protected] and sign up for our newsletter here.

CATEGORIES: Uncategorized


Local News

Related Stories
Share This