By Gosia Wozniacka
PANOCHE VALLEY, Calif. — On a stretch of California grassland, workers milk 70 Jersey cows and bottle several hundred gallons of milk into quart glass bottles topped with bright yellow caps — without heating the milk to pasteurize it.
Claravale Farm, two hours west of Fresno, has been producing milk with minimal interference between the udder and the customer for about 80 years. It’s one of two licensed raw milk dairies in California, which allows the retail sale of milk that has not been heated to 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds.
But even as consumers line up at farmers markets and specialty stores to buy raw milk, pressure on the producers has intensified in California and around the country.
“People have been drinking raw milk for thousands of years around the world,” Claravale’s co-owner, Ron Garthwaite, said. “But recently, raw milk has become a biohazard.”
Five other states — New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Vermont and South Dakota — have adopted stricter standards to regulate the amount of bacteria in unprocessed milk in the past three years, according to the Raw Milk Survey released last month by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
And states have cracked down on small unlicensed farmers selling raw milk to friends and neighbors. Three people were arrested in California last week for allegedly producing and selling raw milk without a license. They ran a herd share, in which several people split ownership because an animal’s owner can legally drink its raw milk without state inspections.
Federal law prohibits the sale of raw milk from state to state but allows states to regulate its sale within their borders. Arkansas and Mississippi allow the sale of raw goat milk directly on the farm where the milk is produced; Tennessee does not permit any sales of raw milk.
Thirty states allow some sort of raw milk sales: 13 restrict sales to the farm, 12 allow for retail sales and the other five have a combination of regulations.
Raw milk enthusiasts say pasteurization — the process of heating milk to kill disease-causing bacteria — kills bacteria beneficial to human health and argue that unprocessed milk is fresher, full of nutrients and tastier.