Got raw milk? Small shareholder dairies run afoul of regulators

Monday, November 28th 2005, 12:32 pm
By: News On 6

VASHON ISLAND, Wash. (AP) _ Kelsey Kozak's kitchen is a dairy wonderland. Fresh cheese, yogurt and milk abound, all compliments of Iris, a gentle tan cow who grazes the family's seven-acre property.

Although only 16, Kelsey runs the tiny Fort Bantam Creamery from her family's home just west of Seattle, offering culinary creations from Iris' unpasteurized milk _ also known as raw milk.

``After you've been drinking raw milk for a while, you can't drink store-bought again,'' Kelsey said. ``It has a lot more flavor and is healthier.''

But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration disagrees, saying raw milk is dangerous and can sometimes carry deadly pathogens, such as campolybacter, salmonella and E. coli.

Now, the state has taken notice of raw microdairies, saying they need to be licensed with the state Department of Agriculture. The order has some operators wondering whether the state has a right to regulate what many consider a private operation.

The Kozaks say they don't consider themselves in the retail business. They sell ``shares'' of Iris, their one dairy cow, to raw milk aficionados, and Kelsey handles the care, feeding and milking.

Chuck Kozak, Kelsey's father, said the family will stop operating creamery if the state sends a cease-and-desist letter.

``That would be unfortunate,'' he said. ``We know the people now and they really love the product and we love sharing it. We definitely don't do it for the money.''

Interest in raw, unpasteurized milk has been on the rise nationwide, part of a growing natural foods movement. Proponents say pasteurization's scalding heat destroys the taste and nutrients.

Selling raw milk for human consumption is legal in 28 states, according to the Weston A. Price Foundation, a raw milk advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. Five states allow raw milk for animal consumption, a loophole that raw milk fans exploit. In some remaining states, including Colorado, Virginia and Wisconsin, raw milk is available through cow-share programs.

In Washington state, raw milk sales are legal if the farm is licensed through the state, which requires monthly testing of the milk and inspection of the farm and milk bottling room.

Also, each bottle must contain a warning label saying it may contain harmful bacteria.

Janet Anderberg, public health adviser with the state Department of Health, said there was an E. coli outbreak last year involving three people in Whatcom County tied to illegal raw milk. In 2003, three people in the city of Yakima and eight in Skagit County became ill from tainted milk.

``No one has died as a result of a raw milk outbreak, but we've had some really sick people,'' Anderberg said.