Raw Milk Is Not the Answer

I'm writing in reference to Frank Cagle's Sept. 22 column entitled "Farm-to-Consumer Movement Ought to be Promoted by State, Not Stifled."

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has supported and worked to promote farm-to-consumer opportunities for decades through its Pick Tennessee Products campaign. Pick Tennessee Products was started during the Alexander administration and has been supported by every administration since. The program seeks to build farm income by helping consumers identify locally grown and processed products either through retailers and farmers' markets or through direct farm sales of locally produced meats, organic fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and Christmas trees, just to name a few. I encourage your readers to support local farmers by visiting our website at


Since 2006, through the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program, the department has invested nearly $6 million in hundreds of projects to help Tennessee farmers diversify to new and emerging farm opportunities, including agri-tourism, grape growing, honey production, organics, and value-added production of dairy and other products. There are numerous examples where Tennessee farmers are finding success through direct-to-consumer sales by producing high quality and safe products. Additional investments have been made in developing farmers markets and other infrastructure, and promotions to support direct-to-consumer sales.

One item for human consumption you won't find on our website is raw milk. To suggest that raw milk is the answer to today's fast food society and the lingering ills of the state's dairy industry is not only naïve and a threat to our existing dairy farmers, but it's dangerous. My grandparents drank raw milk, too. But, the difference is my grandparents didn't have a choice. They were simply trying to survive. Also, they weren't marketing a potentially hazardous product to unsuspecting consumers all the while living in fear of Undulant Fever, tuberculosis, and a host of other diseases transmitted through raw milk.

Raw milk is especially dangerous to the young, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems. Earlier this year, state Health officials investigated E. coli O157 infections that required several children to receive medical care in East Tennessee. Raw milk was strongly suspected as the culprit after the parents admitted feeding their children raw milk labeled as "Pet Food." And, it only takes one outbreak to give the whole dairy industry a black eye, not just raw milk producers.

Today's consumer wants to know where and how their food is produced, and we need to do all we can to help our farmers take advantage of this growing market opportunity. There is no doubt that the industry and food safety officials have a challenge when it comes to ensuring integrity in today's complex food system. Food safety should be a priority for both small and large enterprises. But selling raw milk and farming like my grandparents is not the answer to food safety or growing Tennessee's farm economy, and it won't feed a growing world population expected to reach nearly nine billion by 2050.

Tom Womack

Director of Public Affairs

Tennessee Department of Agriculture