Raw milk debate rekindling in Missouri legislature

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 6:35 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Eric Vimont, the owner of Pasture Nectar Farms in Mount Vernon, bottles the milk once all the cows are milked. Kathy Vimont, his wife, will then cool it. A quick cooling is one of the three things Eric Vimont said is necessary for quality raw milk. The other two factors are cleanliness while milking and the type of wheat the cows eat.

JEFFERSON CITY — The cow wandered into the milking parlor and into one of the two stalls available, lured by the alfalfa pellets filling the trough. Her calf, matching her brown-and-white coat, followed slowly behind.

As Eric Vimont prepped the cow to be milked, he extolled the calf's favorable traits. The calf proceeded to investigate his new surroundings, and Vimont's son, Jake, came up to pet him and give him a scratch behind the ear, much like a pet dog.


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Vimont owns and operates Pasture Nectar Farm, which sells dairy products from pasture-raised animals, out of Mount Vernon. He also sells beef, eggs and other seasonal products such as vegetables. The heart of the operation, however, is the production of raw — unpasteurized and nonhomogenized — milk.

"We tend to do a few other things over time, but (raw milk) will always be our centerpiece, and nothing else can take away from this," Vimont said. "If anything makes it so we can't produce the quality of milk that we do today, then we won't do it."

Pasture Nectar Farm is small, consisting of the farmhouse and three other buildings surrounded by grazing cattle. It is staffed by Vimont, his wife and their two children.

"(Raw milk is) one of the few things a family can do in small production," Vimont said.

Milking takes place in a small three-room building. The first room holds a large cooler, a table laden with bottles and a silver cylindrical dispenser into which the milk flows. To the left is storage and straight forward is the parlor. It's in this last room — with two stall-like portions — that the cows are milked.

The Vimont family has been producing raw milk for sale since November 2006. They started with the sale of grass-fed beef and thought that raw milk was the "next natural step."

During pasteurization, milk is heated to a specific temperature for a certain length of time to ensure that harmful organisms and bacteria are killed. It is named after Louis Pasteur, a French chemist and microbiologist from the 19th century. He provided conclusive evidence for germ theory, which states that microorganisms are the cause of many diseases, and developed the process of pasteurization to stop milk and wine from causing diseases.

Homogenization is a process that makes milk uniform in texture by breaking up the fat into smaller particles that are more evenly distributed throughout the milk. It is through this process that milk achieves different fat percentages, such as 1 percent, 2 percent or whole milk.

"Raw milk just comes straight out of a cow, and it's cooled down," said Chris Davis, a dairy expert at MU's Southwest Research Center farm. "Nothing is added to it; nothing is taken away from it. It hasn't been heated; it hasn't been homogenized. It's milk in its pure form."

Raw milk has increased in popularity as more consumers choose organic products.

Vimont said those making this choice are "not rabid environmentalists."

He said it's about providing healthy food for his children and taking care of the land for the next generation. For example, he said, rotation grazing, a method they practice, is better for the soil.

"I think that raw milk stands on three legs," Vimont said. "It's the kind of wheat the cows get, and in our case, that's grass only and the bags there are alfalfa pellets, but it's not grain. The second thing is how clean we keep the parlor, the equipment and how clean we milk the cows. And the third thing is getting that milk into bottles and cooled very quickly. And if you do those three things, you'll have the premium quality of milk. Our milk regularly lasts six weeks. There's no store-bought milk that will ever do that."

Within the law

Vimont was one of seven farmers to receive violation notices from the State Milk Board last year for selling raw milk out of their homes.

Missouri law requires dairy producers to be inspected, certified and licensed by the board if they wish to sell their products through a third party such as a grocery store or at an event such as a farmers market.

The board, which consists of representatives from Health Departments around the state, meets several times a year to discuss and review issues concerning the dairy industry, such as grading or inspections.

The Vimonts, however, only sell their milk directly from the farm or through delivery.

According to an exception in the law designed to give consumers the ability to buy raw milk, "an individual may purchase and have delivered to him for his own use raw milk or cream from a farm."

After further review of the Vimonts' case and other similar cases, the board sent an apology letter, withdrawing its cease-and-desist order.

The violation notices were the inspiration for a bill sponsored by Rep. Belinda Harris, D-Hillsboro, that would clarify the state's position on the sale of raw milk.

"It all started from farmers. ... Their main purpose isn't necessarily dairy, but they have a dairy cow for their own use," Harris said. "And a dairy cow produces a lot of milk. ... It's like six gallons a day, 42 gallons a week; that's a lot of milk. And usually the neighbors and friends and different ones that know about your raw milk, and you can sell it to them. And in the state's statutes, it does state that it is legal to sell milk from the farm and take it and deliver it or someone can come to the farm, and that's totally legal."

The bill did not pass last year.

"It never even got a committee hearing because they felt that the concerns had been taken care of," Harris said. "The state board made an apology, and they felt that was sufficient. But then right after we ended session, the day after we ended session, the Health Department sent out this notice about how dangerous raw milk is, and I thought, well, what's this about?"

Health concerns

Raw milk and related health concerns have been brought up several times. On May 19, 2008, the Missouri Health Department warned that raw milk is not necessarily better for children because of a hemolytic uremic syndrome case in an infant who had consumed raw goat's milk.

During a couple of food contamination outbreaks of salmonella and E. coli, the Missouri Health Department said one can take certain preventative measures to avoid contracting these diseases, which includes not drinking raw milk.

Pasteurized milk is less likely to contain harmful bacteria because the heating process kills bacteria.

According to the Food and Drug Administration's Web site, "these harmful bacteria can seriously affect the health of anyone who drinks raw milk or eats foods made from raw milk. However, the bacteria in raw milk can be especially dangerous to pregnant women, children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has connected 45 outbreaks, from 1998 to 2005, of food-borne disease — including E. coli, campylobacter jejuni, listeria and other serious illnesses — to raw milk or to cheese made with unpasteurized milk. More than 1,000 people became ill, 104 were hospitalized and two died, according to the CDC.

Harris has submitted a new version of the bill this legislative session. Besides clarifying current raw milk policy, the bill would allow the sale of unlicensed raw milk at farmers markets. It would also extend to other dairy products such as butter and yogurt.

"The Missouri law, the interpretation is you can still buy raw milk from a farm, but, of course, it would be uninspected," said Karen Prescott, the administrator of environmental services and a board representative for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. "Personally, I would not buy it. I would not serve it to my children. I think there are too many health concerns."

Vimont said because he is not licensed, the farm is not inspected by the state.

"But we're inspected by our customers every day, and we invite our customers to come out anytime they want," Vimont said. "We're more carefully inspected than any commercial dairy because our customers are here every day."

'Freshest you can get'

Davis said there is this difference between small raw milk operations such as the Vimonts' and large mass production for grocery stores that know their product is going to undergo pasteurization.

"A small dairy that's going to sell raw milk — their clientele is their livelihood, and so they're going to do everything they can to make sure that that product is absolutely clean and free of contaminates," Davis said. "Whereas when you get to these larger dairies, they're going to be a little less conscientious of that."

Harris agreed and said buying local might be safer because customers know who they're buying from.

"These local operations still have the county health department that can come in, and, if someone has a complaint or something, the county health department has the ability to still come into a regular farm and see if the milk is being handled right," Harris said. "But generally, if the customers are satisfied with the raw milk, the farmer keeps selling the raw milk without having to go through a big permitting process.

"Because milk that's sold in a grocery store can be coming from anywhere. It could be coming from California and shipped into Missouri, and so you do need a little bit more scrutiny on how the milk is processed. It takes longer for milk to get to a grocery store because it's being shipped, it's going through handling, it's going through different processing. And so the milk is older, and it needs that extra protection of pasteurizing and all that they do to ensure the safety of the milk, but when it comes from the farm, that's the freshest you can get. It's either been milked that day or the day before."

David Kineaid, one of Vimont's customers, said he chose to switch to raw milk for the health benefits.

"My wife had been doing a lot of research into some more wholesome eating, particularly with children," Kineaid said. "We want to provide our children with the most nutritious food possible."

He drives half an hour north from Aurora to buy the milk, which is more for Pasture Nectar Farm. Their farthest-driving customer comes from northern Arkansas.

The majority of the Vimonts' customers are from the Mount Vernon and Springfield areas.

"We don't market our milk very far from here," Vimont said. "We're a small local business. We would really prefer all our customers come from the local area."

Like other organic products, raw milk is seen by some as healthier because some say pasteurization destroys nutrients and the enzymes necessary to absorb calcium while killing bacteria.

While pasteurization does destroy some nutrients and enzymes, opponents of raw milk say the difference in levels is minimal, according to an article from the September-October 2004 issue of FDA Consumer magazine.

Davis said the results of these studies vary on whose report one reads.

"There's a lot of literature out there that says there is very little difference, and then there are some that say, that swear that raw milk is healthier for you," Davis said. "It's who you listen to. You can go on the Internet and find arguments both ways."

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Mark Foecking March 31, 2009 | 9:29 a.m.

"Louis Pasteur...developed the process of pasteurization to stop milk and wine from causing diseases."

Actually Pasteur developed the process to make production more reliable, and to extend the shelf life of beer, wine, and milk. The bacteria the make wine into vinegar, or milk sour, do not cause disease.

Fecal contamination of teats or milking apparatus is the primary reason for milk-borne disaesas. This can be avoided by meticulous cleanliness. Also, Lactobacilli naturally present in milk can inhibit the growth of pathogens, especially in soured preparations like sour cream and yogurt. It need not be that raw milk is any more dangerous than pasteurized milk.

The nutritional superiority of raw milk is less clear. Commercial milk contains vitamin D, which a lot of kids don't get enough of because they don't get exposed to the sun enough. It's also full fat (unless you skim it). Enzymes in raw milk are inactivated in the stomach, and broken down in the small intestine. They are not active in the digestive tract, and therefore have to health benefits other than their protein value. Any enzymatic activity in the small intestine comes from bacteria (or the intestine itself).

I like the idea of small, humane, local milk production. However, if people are driving hours to get it, every week or more, then drinking raw milk also entails a large energy input, which would be lessened by having more dairies.


(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro March 31, 2009 | 10:21 p.m.

Hey DK,
Did you hear about the cow that couldn't give milk?
She was an udder failure.
(Get it? Udder Failure!)

(Report Comment)
Mahree Skala April 1, 2009 | 9:08 a.m.

Pasteurization protects milk consumers from serious bacterial infections, and is one of the most basic food safety procedures in use. Milk is a wonderful, healthy food, but in its raw state it is a perfect growth medium for bacteria. Serious outbreaks from raw milk still occur, mostly in states that allow its sale. Several outbreaks have struck children after school field trips to nice, clean looking dairy farms to sample the raw milk. I have no problem with people drinking raw milk that they produce, but legalizing its sale would lead to problems we don't need. Consumers deserve more food safety protections, not less.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking April 1, 2009 | 9:15 a.m.

But some people feel the increased health benefits (whatever they are) of the raw milk outweigh the possiblity of getting sick from it. These outbreaks are not very common (45 in 7 years, affecting only 1000 people). I think it's a matter of personal choice - if people want to accept the increased risk, they should be free to do that. Problem is, someone will get sick and sue the farm, put them out of business, and pretty soon no one will sell it anymore.


(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote April 1, 2009 | 11:25 a.m.

Raw milk as well as pasteurized milk are both excellent media for propagating bacteria. Pasteurization kills bacterial and fungal pathogens that have contaminated the milk prior to pasteurization (though heat resistant strains are beginning to become problematic). Following pasteurization, the milk is just as susceptible to contamination as raw milk (it may even be more susceptible as raw milk contains probiotics that can prevent the growth of pathogens). Recently, in Massachusetts, there was an outbreak of Listeria traced back to contaminated pasteurized milk, that killed two people.
As pathogens have killed quite a number of people throughout history, we are not surprisingly fearful of them. However, it is becoming more apparent, that there are many beneficial bacterial strains as well. It is estimated that the human body is comprised of 10 trillion human cells and 100 trillion bacterial cells. It appears that these symbiotic bacteria have numerous and profound effects on a variety of biological processes. 10% of human breast milk is comprised of oligosaccharides (complex sugars) that humans cannot digest but beneficial bacteria (bifidobacteria) can. I think at this early stage in our knowledge of how intestinal bacteria effect our health it would be premature to say that pasteurized milk is healthier than raw milk, as the full benefits of raw milk are not yet known. Human breast milk contains pathogens (in addition to multiple redundant anti microbial mechanisms), would proponents of pasteurization also suggest that pasteurizing human milk is a healthier alternative to simply breast feeding?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr April 1, 2009 | 12:42 p.m.

If Milk is so good for you how come more and more people are turning up as Lactose Intolerant to all Milk based products?

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote April 1, 2009 | 1:22 p.m.

Well let's examine this statement in more detail, Mr. Dudley. Provided you are interested in an answer. First, who says that lactose intolerance is increasing? It does increase with age, and it varies from one subpopulation to the next. However, I am unaware of any study suggesting that the overall rate of intolerance is increasing due to consumption of raw milk for a given age in a specific subpopulation. Second, it appears that of those previously classified as lactose intolerant a majority are able to drink raw milk with no symptoms of lactose intolerance (one caveat is that the sample size for this study is small): ( This article also highlights studies demonstrating health benefits from drinking raw milk: "A growing body of evidence from university research conducted around the world suggests these nutrients help counter conditions as diverse as asthma, allergies, colitis, and diabetes. A study of nearly 15,000 children ages 5 to 13 in five European countries published last year by the University of Basel in Switzerland showed that those who consumed raw milk had lower rates of both asthma and hay fever, and that the earlier in life the children started drinking the raw milk, the more effective the protection was."

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr April 1, 2009 | 1:49 p.m.

Christopher Foote I'm not going by the statistics from some study in Europe which more than likely has nothing to do with the United States.

I am talking about those figures you do not hear about by news media nor study of any kind but by those you only hear by word of mouth from those who have come to realize they indeed are Lactose Intolerant and have changed their over all diet plan and alleviated all symptoms they had before with out the need for case studies nor a doctors consultation.

Those are the stats that you do not hear about.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking April 1, 2009 | 2:31 p.m.

Everyone is a little lactose intolerant - some more than others.

(BBBRRRRAAAAPPPPP!!!!). Sorry - had some cheese with my pizza....

Word of mouth is a singularly lousy way to conclude there is a trend in anything. That's why they have controlled studies.



PS: *fut-fut-fut*

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr April 1, 2009 | 3:19 p.m.

Often times your studies are only of one or a select group of people and not of a major portion of the populous either there Mark.

One must keep in mind those that do not go to doctors nor participate in studies but who are intelligent enough to do their own research on their own dietary needs.

Studies do not encompass all but only select groups of "control subjects" which usually is a very minor portion of any population center.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote April 1, 2009 | 3:45 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
Jill Nienhiser April 3, 2009 | 8:11 a.m.

The story quotes CDC data but if CDC data is looked at for many other foods you find that dairy (raw or pasteurized) is safer than any other food group looked at. Produce is responsible for more outbreaks than anything else but no one suggests all fruits and vegetables be pasteurized. Raw milk from improperly fed, crowded feedlot cows could possibly make you sick because the cows are sick. But that milk is always sold pasteurized. Raw milk from pastured cows, handled properly, is one of the safest foods you can eat. The CDC's data shows on a per serving basis that deli meats are ten times more likely to make you sick than raw milk. Last I checked, hot dogs were still legal.

You can find out much more at In particular, check out the point by point rebuttal to the FDA's PPT about raw milk, here: The fight against raw milk is very political. Pennsylvania was very favorable to raw milk until a former Dean Foods exec took over in PA's Dept of Ag and now suddenly Amish farmers are being arrested and having their property seized. The FDA, USDA, CDC, and state departments of health and ag use threats, scare tactics, and disinformation to keep the public confused. Maybe they MEAN well, but they are so misinformed. Meanwhile, millions of servings of raw milk are consumed without incident every day all over the country. What a waste of resources to fixate on extremely low risk, safely produced raw milk from small farmers (where, even if there WERE a problem, it could only affect a limited number of people), while hundreds or thousands of people get sickened by peanut butter, spinach, lettuce, peppers, and other products centrally produced by large companies and shipped all over the country.

And as Joel Salatin says, you can't legislate integrity. The peanut butter case is an example--the head guy knew it was contaminated and shipped it anyway. How do you stop that? You get out of the way of small, local farmers and food producers--the more decentralized and localized our food is, the safer we all are.

(Report Comment)
Kathy Casey April 4, 2009 | 5:32 p.m.

I have been buying milk from the Vimonts for over a year. I was never able to drink "store bought" milk because it made me feel sick. I remembered drinking raw milk as a child and when I discovered the Vimonts dairy, I tried raw milk again. No gastric distress with raw milk from their farm! After I had been drinking it for a couple of months I noticed an unexpected benefit. I had been suffering from pain in my bones for several years. When I say this, I mean that literally my bones hurt, sometimes badly enough to make it impossible to sleep. After drinking raw milk for a time, the pain is no longer a problem. I can sometimes feel it when I am excessivly active but that is all.

As for any risk from contamination, their dairy is far cleaner than any restaurant you will eat at. I won't eat at fast food or most any restaurants, but am not reluctant at all to drink the Vimonts milk. Any processed food, handled by sometimes hundreds of unknown people, is far more likely to be contaminated than raw milk from a small dairy.

(Report Comment)
John Heggen April 5, 2009 | 10:33 a.m.

I am Lactose Intolerant. Pasteurized milk causes problems with me, but I can drink Raw Milk without a problem.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr April 5, 2009 | 10:50 a.m.

John Heggen good for you I would rather just change my diet plan and try to eat healthier too than to deal with any side effects anymore or ever again.

(Report Comment)
Kristen Watts January 28, 2010 | 4:22 p.m.

If I drink milk of any brand or fat percentage from the grocery store shelf, I become very sick to my stomach. I did not have this problem when I was younger. It has only developed in the last five years or so. I was very annoyed to have to try alternative "milks" such as soy "milk" just to be able to eat "milk" on my cereal in the mornings. It's expensive and yucky. My daughter has always had the same problem with milk from the store but if I buy it for cooking she drinks it anyway and just puts up with feeling sick. We both love milk and I was VERY pleased to find out that we can both drink fresh milk without any problem whatsoever. I've bought nothing but farm milk for the past few years. It is completely incomprehensible to me that there might be a law passed that says I can not buy milk that I can drink, but instead must only have access to milk that makes me so sick that I can not tolerate drinking it. I'm willing to take the supposed "increased risk" of purchasing milk from a farm... I'm capable of judging the conditions of the farm and the personalities of the farmer and deciding if I think it is safe to purchase milk from them...

When my mother was a young teen, it was her job to milk their dairy cow and everyone in the family drank the milk. Her father grew up on a dairy farm. They all drank unpasteurized milk just as everyone else did at that time. My grandfather was a remarkably healthy man who farmed until he was in his 80's. My mother is going strong. Their exposure to unpasteurized milk had no apparent ill effects on their long-term health. In fact, it is my suspicion it may have had a positive effect.

(Report Comment)
JulieMay Johnston January 7, 2011 | 9:41 p.m.

We {mom and me} are small farmers on handed down land, Until June 17th 2010 mom's health wasn't all that grate and I wonted Fresh milk like my grandfather had for us before his passing away, I was determined to find another Good old milk cow. I Did Marry Anna She's Guernsey At lest she has to bee!! She gives golden milk with cream you could fork off the top!
Moms heath is better now, Her doc asked what she was doing different and she told of me and the old cow, Her cholesterol is way down and she's no longer wasting money on soy products. She makes the cottage cheese (like grandma} And I make the farm house cheddar. We like to trade cheese and we both make the butter the same way.
My three boy's wont eat or drink store bought products now.
YES! Raw Milk IS Better For You!!

(Report Comment)
Yves Montclear January 7, 2011 | 10:57 p.m.

Milk is good for your old bones. Many studies have proven that, and older people, especially women, should continue to drink it.

And if you want raw milk, maybe Columbia should allow everybody that wants one to have a cow in their yard, too. Then you will know it is fresh milk, as you pump it out of the teats yourself.

Hey, Columbia, MO already allows chickens in the yard, up to six? Add a cow, too. And then maybe some kangaroos. I hear they are good eatin' if you fatten them up the right way.

(Report Comment)

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