YORKSHIRE, Ohio — The U.S. Food and Drug administration says raw milk poses a health risk. But those who drink it swear by its health benefits.
Now, some dairy farms are counting on unpasteurized milk to save an industry that's been in free fall for decades.
For more than 100 years and five generations, the Kremer family has been in the dairy farm business.
“We grew up on a small dairy farm of about 70 cows,” says Debra Kremer-Smith of S&D Smith Dairy in Ohio.
Twice a day they milk their cows, four at a time, getting about 25 gallons per milking.
But milk consumption in the U.S. has plummeted 40 percent since 1975, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In the last two months, two major dairy companies — Dean Foods and Borden Dairy Co. — have filed for bankruptcy.
And while milk producers are in the midst of a dairy crisis, the alternative milk market has skyrocketed, according to data from Nielsen.
It’s one reason some farmers, like Kremer, are turning to an emerging niche market she calls “safe raw milk.”
“We do pasteurization for about one-fourth of our milk and then three-fourths is all raw,” Kremer says.
Kremer says simpler processes means better margin, and she insists it’s healthier.
“Our heart lies in raw milk because it's just easier, there's less processing steps,” Kremer says. “It's better, it's more healthy, it tastes great. All those things.”
However, the FDA strongly disagrees.
While raw milk puts all consumers at risk, the elderly, immune-compromised people, children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the hazards of raw milk consumption, the FDA says.
Kremer says pasteurizing milk gives consumers a false sense of security.
“Pasteurization is using heat to kill bacteria that's in the milk,” she says. “And so, that is a good thing. But the bad thing about it is it kills all the good things that are in milk.”
In 1987, the FDA issued a regulation prohibiting the interstate sale of raw milk, though it says it’s up to individual states to regulate sales.
Currently, 40 states have laws allowing some form of raw milk sales while only New Jersey has an outright ban.
Still, Kremer says raw milk can garner three to four times the price of pasteurized milk. Her goal is to eventually sell only raw milk products.
“That is what keeps family farms afloat or to make them viable,” she says.