by Joseph Heckman

New Jersey once had thousands of dairy farms but now has only about 50. While the demand for all types of fresh local foods expands, consumer demand for the pasteurized milk continues to follow decades of decline.

A potential bright spot in the dairy business has been the increasing interest in fresh unprocessed milk, commonly called “raw milk.” Among the many reasons for this trend is TASTE. Surveys have identified that as the number one reason for choosing whole, fresh, unprocessed milk. Other reasons include studies showing that unprocessed raw milk is uniquely associated with protection from allergies, asthma, and respiratory infections.

One of the few remaining dairy farms in central New Jersey has people regularly showing up at the farm gate asking for raw milk. Often times these inquiries are from newcomers to America. In much of the world, raw milk is widely available for sale at the farm. In Europe for example, many dairy farms sell their milk from raw milk vending machines.

Raw milk is currently available in 43 states. New Jersey is one of just seven states continuing to block legal access. It about time for the Garden State to join the rest of the nation and most of the world and permit and entrust talented and hardworking dairy farmers with this business opportunity.

Furthermore, lifting the ban would allow people to buy this special food fresh from their local farmer and thereby forgo a long drive into another state. Maintaining the state prohibition continues a policy that results in an annual loss of an estimated $100 million in dairy revenue for New Jersey. But the economic loss of agricultural revenue is even greater since when people go across the border for raw milk they also spend much of their total food dollar.

The Garden State is blessed with good soils and a favorable climate for growing livestock feed. We have willing farmers and the resources, and with the right education and training, we can do this with safety.

New Jersey is in a good position to do what most states are already doing, providing consumer access to clean, carefully produced raw milk. In fact New Jersey was the original leader in figuring out how to produce it as what was once labeled “Certified Milk.”

Certified Milk was available for over seven decades from the famous Walker-Gordon dairy farm in Plainsboro. This pure, fresh, unpasteurized raw milk was certified under the supervision of a Medical Milk Commission. There were never any recorded illnesses associated with Certified Milk during its many years of operation. Producing certified milk cost about twice as much as regular commodity milk that is intended for pasteurization. The Walker Gordon dairy ceased operation in 1971 for economic reasons.

It must be understood that Fresh Milk — completely unprocessed, just as it comes from the cow or goat — is a distinctly different food from commodity raw milk. It should be apparent that commodity milk is produced under a different set of conditions and with the understanding that it will and must be pasteurized.

While there is no way to guarantee the safety of any food, including pasteurized milk, education can make a difference. Permits for on-farm sales of fresh unprocessed raw milk, can with appropriate regulation, inspection, and producer education, advance the cause for food safety.

Dr. Joseph Heckman, professor of soil science at Rutgers, is the co-author of several books on how to carefully produce fresh, unprocessed milk. He recently published a review of the raw milk movement, “Securing Fresh Food from Fertile Soil, Challenges to the Organic and Raw Milk Movements.”

On Wednesday, June 27, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. he will lecture on the raw milk movement at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Washington Crossing Pennington Road in Titusville, sponsored by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey. Register at www.nofanj.org.

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