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7:42 am
Thu September 26, 2013

Return of the Milkman: Oklahoma Lawmakers Study Raw Milk Delivery

Donald Ray prepares a cow for milking on his step-father's small dairy farm in rural Creek County.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Donald Ray prepares a cow for milking on his step-father's small dairy farm in rural Creek County.

The state Department of Agriculture says the number of Oklahomans choosing raw milk over pasteurized is growing.

But currently, the only way to get a hold of any is to physically drive to a dairy farm and buy it directly from the producer.

It’s illegal to deliver or advertise raw milk in Oklahoma — for now.

State Rep. Ken Walker, R-Tulsa, led an interim legislative study Sept. 17 over the impact of legalizing raw milk delivery and advertising, where several Oklahomans testified about the benefits of the unpasteurized product.

Edmond Naturopathic practitioner Michele Menzel says she recommends raw milk to all her patients, and her own family.

“Raw milk was a huge part of my healing, as well as my son, who had frequent bronchitis, frequent high fevers,” Menzel told the legislative panel. “And this changed his little world.”

Mother of four Joanna Francisco credits raw milk with the good health of her children, too.

“In the amount of time that we’ve been using raw milk we haven’t had any sickness. In fact, our kids haven’t been to the doctor in — I think eight years.”

Rep. Walker says he’s been drinking raw milk his entire life, and its health benefits aren’t in dispute. What’s at issue is access to it.

“There is a consumer base for raw milk. More and more, folks are going back to the way it used to be, buying things organic, growing their own,” Walker says.

The state Department of Agriculture's Blayne Arthur says drinking raw milk comes with some risk.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

The state Department of Agriculture's Blayne Arthur says drinking raw milk comes with some risk.

He hears from raw milk producers who would like to deliver to their customers, or at least meet them halfway, like Donald Ray, who’s worked on his step-father’s small Creek County dairy farm for the past three years.

Ray says he has customers from as far away as Norman as he goes through the process of milking the cows, pumping the raw milk into a large vat to be cooled, and pouring himself a glass.

Raw milk is delicious. It’s richer and creamier than grocery store milk, which has all been heated to kill microbes and bacteria, some of which are actually good for you.

But Blayne Arthur at the state Department of Agriculture says there is reason for caution here. Pasteurized milk is almost 100% safe. There are no guarantees with raw milk.

“There are things like E. coli 0157, Campylobacter. There’s also Salmonella, Listeria, Tuberculosis, Brucella. I mean those are things — since there is no pasteurization — I think consumers really want to be knowledgeable about,” Arthur says.

Getting sick off of raw milk is rare. But it practically never happens with pasteurized milk. And Arthur says she isn’t necessarily against drinking raw milk, she just thinks its best for customers to go to the farm and see the milking operation for themselves.

Right now that’s the only way to get raw milk in Oklahoma. There are a few resources online, but because producers can’t advertise raw milk, customers are on their own to find a dairy farm to buy from.


Copyright 2013 StateImpact Oklahoma. To see more, visit http://stateimpact.npr.org/oklahoma/.