I have always looked forward to farm trips with my family. We experienced the countryside, my toddler could run amok, and we got our share of raw milk, raw honey, and wonderful, fresh farm-grown produce. But this was back in 2016 when we were a family of three. With an expanded milk-loving brood, cut to today, there are countless gallons consumed each month and only very few opportunities to make that excursion to the farm.
So, finding out about the latest ruling of The Texas Department of State Health Services(DSHS) regarding raw milk was quite a welcoming revelation.
The efforts of the Texas-based Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance from the past several years have finally translated into some legal changes in favor of dairy farmers. These changes open new opportunities for farmers, address problems with sampling, and provide clear recognition for dairy herd shares.
What’s Special About Raw Milk, You Ask?
Raw milk is essentially milk that does not undergo any heating process. Heating milk to high temperatures may reduce the antimicrobial load present in raw milk. So, raw milk contains more significant bioavailable nutrients than pasteurized milk and a wide array of beneficial enzymes and probiotics known to have benefits on the immune system and gastrointestinal tract.
In terms of taste, raw milk has a richer, creamier taste than its heated counterpart. And each batch of raw milk can have a distinct taste, as the flavor of raw milk showcases what the animal is eating. Once you try it there is really no going back to pasteurized milk which tends to taste watery and bland.
Is It Nutritionally Different from Conventional Milk?
Health-conscious consumers tout its benefits, whereas mainstream health professionals will tell you its all the same. Raw cow’s milk contains around 12 grams of carbohydrates and 8 grams of protein per cup.
While raw milk may be better for your gut, not all milk is fit for drinking raw.
Milk “intended for pasteurization” is usually sourced from a particular type of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Such milk is produced in conditions where animal health is often compromised, and mastitis (udder infection) is expected, for which antibiotics are heavily utilized. Hormones are used to accelerate higher levels of milk production, and the animals are lodged in sheds swamped with manure. And as a result, there exists a high rate of pathogens found in the milk from these operations.
Raw milk produced for direct human consumption is meticulously and purposefully done; its process utterly different from raw milk produced for pasteurization.
Raw milk farmers extensively manage the cleanliness and hygiene of the farm from grass to glass, with much care to guarantee that the animals stay healthy and the milk is clean. Farmers are devoted to taking their farm management to the next level to be certain that their raw milk is safe to consume.
The health of the animals, the sanitation of the milking areas, detailed cleaning processes for the milk line, rapid milk chilling, and regularly testing their milk are some of the several functions raw milk farmers are committed to maintaining.
The Backstory of Raw Milk Sale in Texas
Texas farmers have been selling raw milk directly to consumers for many years by meeting strict licensing requirements (Grade A “raw for retail” license). But raw milk sales are limited to ‘on-farm only’ due to the DSHS rules.
The Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance have been trying since 2009 to get these rules changed at the agency level.
What has changed?
After persistent efforts, an array of favorable outcomes has been finalized. These new rules:
- Allow delivery of raw milk anywhere in the state that the consumers and farmers wish to arrange. While SALE at farmers’ markets is still not allowed, a farmers’ market booth can effectively serve as a delivery spot for pre-purchased raw milk.
- Allow farmers to take raw milk samples to an authorized testing center, and not just their own local labs. This is quite helpful as, in the past, several farmers have had their licenses suspended due to faulty testing. Having their milk sample testing done at any approved lab rather than being limited to their local lab is helpful as it opens up many options for testing and confirming test results. Texas law requires raw milk to be tested twice every six months for milk quality, the presence of aflatoxin, and potential pathogens.
- Acknowledge animal shares and their legality. Up until now, cow/goat/herd shares – under which one could purchase a stake of the animal or herd and then get their portion of the milk supplied by that animal – have worked under a gray area of Texas law. But post this change, as long as the herd share works with a bill of sale and divides milk proportionally (which a fair herd share does anyway), the agency’s new rules accept that it is not a “sale” and therefore, is excluded from the aforementioned regulations.
Other victories in the final rule include
- The meaning of the raw milk products that Grade A licensed producers can sell has been expanded. It includes cream, plain and flavored yogurts, buttermilk, whey, eggnog, and kefir. It does not include frozen desserts, raw butter, or raw cheese that has not been aged a minimum of 60 days.
- Inspections will be carried out “at least quarterly,” which is less regular than the present constraints. Because of the decreased frequency of sampling, two consecutive violations of bacterial counts, coliform, somatic cell counts, water adulteration, or cooling temps are plenty for the agency to take a farmer off-grade.
Along with the general requirements for a Grade A license, farmers are required to maintain cold temperatures, use ice from potable water, and have a temperature-control sample. Farmers should keep records of how much is delivered and the sample’s temps.
Each bottle must have a batch number showing the date the milk was bottled.
Test Results Requirements
Farmers must post their latest two test results in the milk house or storefront and inform customers that testing results are free to access upon request.
The freedom to deliver to customers, especially at local farmers markets, will be a massive lift to the small farms that have relied on customers making the trips to their farms to buy milk.
If you are fond of raw milk, make sure to contact your favorite dairy farms and enquire if they will be hitting the local farmers market with their precious stash! If you are looking for nearby dairies near you, do check out the TexasRealFood dairy listing that that shows all dairy farms in Texas