Raw milk proponents push benefits, but experts say there are safety risks

(WXYZ) - Unpasteurized milk - it’s something most people wouldn’t even think of drinking, but many states and some Michigan farmers say the demand for the all-natural product is increasing.

The big questions are: Is it safe and is it legal?

Also: should we be incorporating raw milk into a healthy diet?

It’s a big debate in the world of nutrition and while it’s illegal in Michigan to buy or sell unpasteurized dairy products, a legal loophole is allowing passionate families to get their milk straight from the farm.

If owning a part if a cow sounds a little strange – well, stick with us here - for Lisa Higginbotham of Livonia, it all started when she put her daughter Elyssa on a no processed food diet to help with allergies.

“She was covered in itching and bleeding eczema,” is how Lisa describes what happened to Elyssa before the switch.

Part of the diet involves eliminating processed foods and that includes dairy.

That’s when she met farmer, Kevin Hicks – the co-owner of Hicks’ Farms.

“There’s a lot of interest, a lot more people doing it, so there is demand,” he says.

Hicks owns a farm in North Branch and delivers raw milk and other farm products to metro Detroit every Tuesday and Thursday. But Farmer Kevin cannot legally sell his raw milk in Michigan, so since 2003 he has been leasing his cows.

“You gotta own your cow because you can’t sell milk,” he says. “You gotta own your cow and then you can drink your milk from your cow.”

It’s called a Cow Share or Herd Share and allows someone to own part of a herd. They also pay for the boarding, care and milking of said cow.

And since they own the cow, they can drink its milk.

So is Cow Sharing legal?

In a word - yes.

In 2012 a group of farmers, attorneys and health care professionals worked together to create a report with recommendations for the Michigan Department of Agriculture. It adopted many of those recommendations in a policy regarding herd shares.

“People see the cost in the store for milk and they don’t want to pay, but the people that want for medicine, the cost isn’t even an issue,” says Kevin.

Kevin’s patrons say its frustrating to have to jump through hoops in order to get raw dairy products they feel should be readily available to everyone.

Finding it was illegal for me to purchase what I consider a healthy alternative, I was a little surprised,” says one customer.

They also tell us they have never gotten sick from Kevin’s milk.

“I have no concerns about any kind of illness or poisoning because I trust the source,” says Lisa.

But clinical dietitian Erin Dolinski with Beaumont in Royal Oak isn’t a fan of this so-called healthy food trend.

“Obviously, most registered dietitians, we preach consuming the more natural less processed foods,” she says. “In regards to this situation, a little processing is not so bad - due to the risks.”

She tells us pasteurization heats the milk up, killing disease causing bacteria like listeria, salmonella and E coli.

As recently as may of 2017 the CDC released a report stating that people who drink raw milk are 840 times more likely to contract a food borne illness.

They say the growing popularity is a public health concern.

Kevin says no report will convince him raw milk can make people sick.

“Propaganda and it scares the heck out of people,” he says. “Years ago, people come to the farm they drank milk, we had milk and no one was afraid to drink it.”

For the CDC’s recommendations as well as information from raw milk proponents you can head to the following links:

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