Dairyman Mark McAfee models a t-shirt promoting raw milk in front of his cows at Organic Pastures Dairy.- Sasha Khokha
A sign advertising the products of the Organic Pastures dairy.- Sasha Khokha
After milking, raw milk is immediately chilled and bottled, not heated like pasteurized milk.- Sasha Khokha
Linda Edin with her children in their Clovis kitchen.- Sasha Khokha
A bumper sticker promoting raw milk.- Sasha Khokha
Got raw milk?
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Kai Ryssdal: Tyler Cowen was talking about organic milk and how it costs more, but consumers eventually get used to it. Try getting used to this: milk at 12 bucks a gallon.
That's what you'll pay to get milk raw -- straight from the cow to your refrigerator, no pasteurization provided.
Sasha Khokha reports.
Sasha Khokha: In the Edin family's kitchen in Clovis, California, three year old Emma is holding up her sippy cup. Her mom Linda shakes a jug of raw milk and pours it for her.
Emma started drinking raw milk as an infant after Linda couldn't produce enough breast milk.
Linda Edin: I knew if breast milk is all natural, there has to be another all natural way to feed your baby. She thrived on it.
Edin and other raw milk advocates say it has helpful bacteria and enzymes that aid digestion and boost the immune system. Edin claims it's even helped cure her own asthma.
The milk the Edins drink comes from Organic Pastures Dairy, in California's Central Valley.
Mark McAfee and his crew call the cows from lush fields of organic alfalfa into the milking barn. Then, just like at most conventional dairies, they clean the udders with iodine and hook them to a milking machine. The difference is, this milk is immediately chilled and bottled, not heated like pasteurized milk.
Mark McAfee: Mankind's design is lots of milk, super, super cheap, long shelf life, no liability. We have a sterilized immune system that reflects it. People that get on raw milk start seeing a really, really profound difference in their immune systems when their gut starts to work, their immune system starts to work.
McAfee is a former paramedic turned dairyman who says his sales are growing by a million dollars a year. Organic Pastures milk is sold in more than 300 stores in California, including Whole Foods.
But it's illegal to sell raw milk in about two dozen other states, so some consumers in states like Iowa and Tennessee have turned to the black market or to a cow share, where they own part of a cow rather than paying directly for the raw milk.
The FDA says drinking raw milk is like playing Russian roulette with your health. Dr. Michael Payne agrees. He's with the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security.
Michael Payne: The dirtier the milk, the more likely it is to be dangerous.
Payne dismisses the notion that there's healthy bacteria in a cow's udder. He says any bacteria introduced in milk comes from milking equipment, dirt or manure.
Payne: Would you have your child go ahead and suckle on a cow teat that's been rolling around inside the pasture? Common sense says no.
In fact, two Southern California families are suing Organic Pastures dairy alleging their children experienced E. coli-related kidney failure from drinking raw milk.
Back in her Clovis kitchen, Linda Edin isn't fazed by the arguments against raw milk. She wants the right to choose what to feed her children.
Edin: It's not illegal drugs, it's milk!
Edin may think the government has better things to regulate, but the feds and state agriculture officials are increasingly cracking down on the raw milk trade. California has a new law limiting the amount of bacteria in unpasteurized milk. Producers like Organic Pastures dairy say that might ultimately put them out of business.
From Fresno, I'm Sasha Khokha for Marketplace.