Raw milk is a controversial topic; the Food & Drug Administration contends that drinking unpasteurized milk is unnecessarily dangerous, and as a result it's banned in much of the country. Proponents claim that raw milk is healthier and sometimes just use it as a way to assert their right to eat or drink whatever they want.
WSAZ, a local news affiliate in West Virginia, got a tip that might make legalizing raw milk just a little bit harder. Last week, West Virginia governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed into law a bill that makes it legal to drink (but not sell) raw milk throughout the state, despite pressures from the dairy industry and from the FDA, which actually testified that raw milk is unsafe. However, the law doesn’t go into effect for 30 days.
According to the tipster, who remains anonymous, state representative Scott Cadle (Republican of West Virginia’s 13th district) brought in some raw milk to celebrate the legalization. Cadle, says the tipster, handed out samples to various other representatives. And now, verifies WSAZ, several West Virginia lawmakers are severely sick to their stomachs.
Pat McGeehan (Republican of West Virginia’s first district), one of the afflicted, says that while he did drink the raw milk, that a stomach bug is going around and that he does not believe his illness to be related to the milk.
Although there isn’t proof—and we all know that correlation doesn’t equal causation—there’s certainly the possibility that the raw milk consumption and the illnesses are related. Raw milk is not pasteurized, or heated up to a temperature of 140 degrees F for 20 minutes, a process that kills off bacteria that can cause foodborne illness, including Salmonella, listeria, and E. coli. The Center for Disease Control says that thousands of illnesses, and two deaths, can be linked conclusively to consumption of raw dairy products in the period between 1998 and 2011. The Cornell University food science department, one of the premier such institutions in the world, puts it simply: “We recommend pasteurization of milk intended for consumption by humans.”
There are substantial efforts to allow the sale and consumption of raw milk, partly from entities who claim that the pasteurization process is unnecessary thanks to modern sanitary requirements, that the process kills beneficial bacteria and vitamins, and that raw milk can have effects ranging from healthier gut flora to decreased risk of cancer. The West Virginia lawmakers involved here are a slightly different breed; they mostly push for legal raw milk out of a libertarian instinct that citizens should be able to decide what they eat and drink.
“There definitely shouldn’t be a law against allowing people to do what they want within the framework of the rule of law,” McGeehan told WSAZ. “Just be careful.” It’s unclear how careful McGeehan was when he drank a cup of raw milk handed to him by a co-worker.