Alaska: Raw Milk Scare Pits Health Officials Against Passionate Consumers
KTUU TV reports additional details about the dairy linked to four Campylobacter cases in Alaska in June 2011:
A controversial glass of milk sits on the countertop of Galen Yoder’s kitchen at the Byers Farm in Point MacKenzie — sweet, creamy, frothy and snow-white. The milk is raw and unpasteurized, and it comes directly from the cows browsing grass in fields beyond the dining-room window.
To advocates, this is “real milk” — fresh, natural and unadulterated, the way milk is supposed to be.
To health officials, it’s a perfect breeding ground for dangerous bacteria, and the culprit behind a recent outbreak of illness.
In Alaska and more than 20 other states the commercial sale of unpasteurized milk is illegal, but a loophole lets hundreds of consumers here get the milk anyway. A cow-share program allows people to purchase a “share” of a cow at the farm, which entitles them to a few gallons of milk per week.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says milk from the Byers Farm has sickened at least four people, and possibly many more with a dangerous strain of bacteria. Raw milk, they say, is inherently dangerous.
“People should consume pasteurized milk,” said state epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin. “If they choose to consume raw milk, they need to be aware of the risks.”
Meanwhile, as news of the outbreak spreads, hundreds of Alaska raw milk consumers are mobilizing in email groups and even consulting with lawyers in response to what they see as a threat to their raw milk, and their dietary choices. All of this has put this farm at the center of a controversy that has pitted Alaska public health officials against passionate consumers who see raw milk as an issue of personal freedom.
The Byers Farm, a tidy, bucolic spread of land with a view of Mount Susitna, is owned by Gareth Byers, who lives in Sterling. The herd of about 150 dairy cows mostly produces milk that is sent to Matanuska Creamery for pasteurization and commercial sale.