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Why Are People Promoting Raw Milk?

Earlier this month, the Louisiana capitol echoed with the sound of approval as the House unanimously passed HB467, a bill that legalizes the sale of raw milk in the state. The Senate also endorsed the bill, paving the way for Republican Governor Jeff Landry to sign it into law, aligning Louisiana with the majority of states where unpasteurized milk can be legally bought and sold. Despite requirements that labels must caution against human consumption and acknowledge potential bacterial risks, Louisiana lawmakers acknowledge that enthusiasts of raw milk are likely to drink it regardless.

Recent months have seen a resurgence in advocacy for raw milk among conservatives, anti-establishment figures like Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and homesteaders celebrated on social media, including their high-profile supporter, Gwyneth Paltrow, who proudly includes raw cream in her daily coffee ritual. While the vocal support for unpasteurized milk isn’t new, the debate has intensified, particularly since the detection of the H5N1 avian influenza virus in US dairy cows earlier this year. This prompted warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and National Institutes of Health (NIH) against consuming raw milk.

Recent controversies, such as Turning Point USA’s sale of “Got Raw Milk?” T-shirts featuring a bull instead of a cow, have further ignited discussions. However, for those unfamiliar with the latest trends on platforms like TikTok, the opposition to public health guidelines might seem sudden. Here’s a breakdown of raw milk—what it represents, its safety concerns, and why it has become a focal point of resistance against established health practices among the MAGA crowd.

Raw milk refers to milk directly from a cow’s udder, without pasteurization or heat treatment, according to Bryan Quoc Le, PhD, a food scientist and faculty research fellow at Pacific Lutheran University. This consumption trend is part of a broader social and political identity for the extreme right, explains James Fitzgerald, PhD, whose research includes conspiracy-led extremism and disinformation. He notes that advocating for raw milk aligns with other alternative lifestyles and ideologies resistant to mainstream medical advice, reminiscent of the resistance seen during the COVID-19 vaccination campaigns.

Céline Gounder, MD, an infectious disease specialist at New York University, sees the promotion of raw milk as a political statement and a response to broader healthcare distrust. She draws parallels to her experiences during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, where some resisted basic hygiene practices as a form of protest. Supporters claim various health benefits, such as higher nutrient content and potential relief for autoimmune conditions, but these assertions lack robust scientific backing.

Despite claims of nutritional superiority, experts like Le and Gounder emphasize that pasteurization is critical for reducing microbial risks in milk, safeguarding against pathogens like E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. Data underscores these risks; a CDC study reported that raw milk and cheese were responsible for 96% of dairy-related illnesses from 2009 to 2014, despite being consumed by a minority of the population.

The motivations behind promoting raw milk extend beyond health claims, touching on cultural, financial, and political factors. Fitzgerald suggests that embracing raw milk aligns with resisting perceived threats to personal freedoms and supporting traditional ideals and dietary preferences. These movements capitalize on social media platforms to disseminate their message, blending nostalgia with assertions of individual choice and autonomy.

As Louisiana moves towards legalizing raw milk sales, the debate surrounding its consumption underscores broader societal divisions over health, science, and personal freedom. While raw milk enthusiasts celebrate a return to “natural” dietary practices, public health experts emphasize the significant health risks associated with consuming unpasteurized dairy products.

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