Harper’s Magazine features a nice primer on the state of the raw-milk controversy in its April issue.

Unfortunately not available on the Web, “The Revolution Will Not Be Pasteurized” looks at the movement from several angles. Writer Nathanael Johnson profiles small Canada-based biodynamic farmer Michael Schmidt as well as Mark McAfee, a California dairy farmer with a much larger raw-milk operation. In 2006, five children were infected with E. coli bacteria linked to McAfee’s Organic Pastures raw milk, two seriously.

Johnson shows how the raw-milk movement is at a tipping point, with food-research experts like Bruce German maintaining that the bacteria we give up to pasteurization can do more to help us than harm us. Big corporations like Dannon agree, and they’re rushing to develop proprietary strains of bacteria to add to their dairy products. But many authorities and lawmakers are still profoundly skeptical. To show how dangerous many think raw milk is, Johnson quotes a police officer who, during a raid on a raw-milk dairy, actually told onlookers to step away from “the white liquid substance.”

In the end, the problem with legalizing raw milk may be more about perception than reality. As Johnson notes:

A dying child will make people change their behavior. The diseases that might stem from a lack of bacteria are much more subtle. … Businesses that contribute to chronic disease often flourish while businesses that contribute to acute disease get shut down.

Which explains why you often have to join an underground buyers’ club to get raw milk, but you can find a Big Mac in every neighborhood.

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