INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — In a summer noted for extreme heat, Indiana is about to wage war over cold milk.
The battle lines are being drawn over whether to legalize the sale and consumption of the raw version of the dairy product.
The Indiana Board of Animal Health is holding a “virtual” public hearing — soliciting comments online — on an Indiana law that treats unprocessed, unpasteurized raw milk like contraband.
Hundreds of emails have flooded the agency’s inbox, and their contents reveal just how pitched the battle is: The most vehement of raw milk lovers are demanding government regulators get out of their refrigerators; raw milk foes predict a public health disaster if they do.
“It’s a hot-button issue,” said Denise Derrer, public information officer for BOAH, the state agency that regulates dairy farms.
Indiana is one of 20 states that ban the sale of raw, unpasteurized milk to consumers, citing concerns that it could harbor harmful pathogens — the reason why milk is pasteurized in the first place. But BOAH officials say they’ve given up trying to enforce the law, and acknowledge there’s a thriving black market fed by people who want to drink milk fresh from the cow.
Alan Yegerlehner, a sixth-generation dairy farmer who sells raw milk, said he’s doing it legally: Indiana law bans the sale of raw milk for human consumption, but doesn’t prohibit selling it as pet food. His containers are marked "Not for human consumption."
But it's not cheap. A gallon of raw milk can run $6 to $8, twice or more what it costs for a gallon of the pasteurized version.
The Indiana State Department of Health is on record opposing raw milk sales in Indiana. Officials there point to a February report by the Centers for Disease Control that found that 60 percent of the 121 dairy-related disease outbreaks in the last 13 years were caused by raw milk products.
“We oppose raw milk sales,” said Jennifer House, the veterinary epidemiologist at the Indiana State Department of Health. “There’s no research to say that’s good for human health and a lot of research that says that it isn’t.”
One person said it’s time to put politics aside. “This isn’t the first time government has had to regulate food,” she wrote. “Let’s look at the risks and regulate accordingly.”