The Illinois Department of Public Health is posed to release new, stricter regulations on the sale of raw milk in Illinois this month, several media outlets report. But many small-farm operators are concerned they won’t be able to meet the new standards.
Raw milk sales have only been growing more popular in recent years, and for many customers, drinking raw milk has become a way of life. Supporters say that raw milk has more nutrients and is of a generally higher quality than pasteurized milk. They also claim that it helps protect against allergies, asthma, and diseases related to the immune system.
But the Illinois Department of Health, along with federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, disagrees. Citing research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they argue that pasteurization is the only reliable way to kill bacteria like E. Coli or salmonella and ensure that milk is safe to drink.
But the issue can be reduced to a single question: do individuals have the right to decide for themselves what goods they consume, or should we have to defer to what the government thinks is best for us?
Some of the specific regulations in the new rules add a real burden to raw milk producers. One rule would require cows’ underbellies and udders to be free of visible dirt at all times; dirt inevitably gets on animals living on farms. Other mandates forbid any distribution arrangements for milk sales, and require extensive equipment upgrades, testing requirements and inspection regimens. One small farmer, Shannon Konczal, owner of Justafew Acres, has estimated that the necessary upgrades will cost her $300,000.
The new rules would even require farmers to keep a log of contact information for every customer who buys milk from them at each sale, raising reasonable privacy concerns.
But besides the substantial cost to small businesses, this is another policy area where over-regulation would be a loss for individual liberty. Who has better incentives to make good decisions for themselves and their families; the persons consuming the goods, or distant bureaucrats? Studies have shown there’s a higher risk for contracting illnesses from raw milk than pasteurized milk products. But to put things in perspective, it’s incredibly unlikely to be hospitalized due to raw milk consumption.
Absolute safety can never be guaranteed by anyone. But the responsibility for figuring out when these risks are appropriate should fall with the ones who will enjoy the benefits of their choices or suffer the consequences. And that’s why it’s important that we be free to buy, sell and consume whatever dairy products we choose.