Beginning at around 1893, America’s initial raw milk wars pitted proponents of pasteurized milk against advocates of a complex scheme for “certifying” clean, uncontaminated raw milk. The certification program, unsuited to modern commercial economies of scale, soon faded into obscurity. When a new version of the raw milk movement began gathering strength in the 1970s, scarcely anyone remembered the terms on which a certain amount of rational debate had once taken place. Part of the reason is that over the course of the twentieth century, the scale and structure of the fluid milk industry had undergone drastic changes that turned a highly variable, fragile product into a nearly featureless one poorly understood by consumers, regulators, or polemicists. Meanwhile, new dairying and processing practices had begun creating hospitable conditions for pathogens that were unknown during the first controversies but that urgently need to be considered today. Unfortunately, discussion of the raw milk question is now almost wholly dictated by intolerant ideologues on both sides, in an atmosphere of profound historical amnesia. Given the great complexity of the issues involved and the serious implications for public health, the general tone of debate is at best counterproductive.

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