For Stephanie LeDoux and her family, it was important to be able to have the choice to drink unprocessed milk.
Now that the North Dakota House made it legal for people to drink raw or unpasteurized milk if they have a registered purchase for a share in a dairy cow, it is possible for her to make that decision.
LeDoux and her family live in Driscoll and after a move from California three years ago, she decided to start living a healthier lifestyle with her husband, four children and now their grandson. It started with chickens and grass-fed beef and now the family only consumes milk that is unpasteurized.
“To me, raw milk is real milk,” she said. “The stuff in the grocery stores is just water.”
LeDoux worked at a local dairy for months milking cows, learning the process and witnessing firsthand where her milk was coming from.
“We changed our entire lifestyle,” she said. “Knowing what’s in what we eat and drink is an important part of our lives and who we are.”
LeDoux and her husband own a chicken farm with about 700 chickens, and she also delivers unpasteurized milk to families in the Bismarck area for Prairie Diamond Ranch, which is where she purchases her own milk.
Alicia Lepp, foodborne surveillance coordinator with the North Dakota Department of Health, said raw milk can contain a wide variety of impurities, some of which can be pretty severe like parasites and viruses.
“The only way to drink milk safely is to drink pasteurized milk. Raw milk is never a guarantee to be a safe product,” she said. “You wouldn’t eat raw meat; the same goes for raw milk.”
In North Dakota from 2009 to 2012, there were 15 cases of enteric diseases reported, Lepp said. Twelve were campylobacter, one of the most common bacterial infections, two were E. coli and one was salmonella. Enteric diseases are infections that develop in the intestinal tract and can be caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites.
“It was reported that these people had consumed raw milk, but it can’t be said for sure that it caused the diseases,” she said. “But there is a link.”
According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dairy-associated disease outbreaks continue to occur. In reviewing dairy-associated outbreaks nationwide from 1993 to 2006 it was found that 75 percent of the outbreaks occurred in 21 states that permitted the sale of nonpasteurized products.
“Nonpasteurized products caused a disproportionate number of outbreaks and outbreak-associated illnesses,” the report said. “States that restricted sale of nonpasteurized products had fewer outbreaks and illnesses.”
Regarding possible illness and disease from the consumption of unprocessed milk, LeDoux said she and her family have never had any issues.
“We properly handle our milk,” she said. “Now if you do not know how to take care of the milk you’re getting, then you probably will get sick.”
Proper handling of unprocessed milk involves the storage of milk in a glass container, which LeDoux said is better for the taste, and keeping it at a cold temperature at all times.
While Renee Gabbert and her husband Kevin of Bismarck drink unprocessed milk for the nutrional benefits and the taste, she also drinks it for health reasons.
Stemming from childbirth complications, Gabbert has had difficulties with digestion of many foods as well as her cholesterol. Raw milk, and cheese made with raw milk, helps her cholesterol issues.
“My cholesterol has been the best it’s ever been for the first time in my whole life,” she said.
Gabbert, who already eats a healthy diet, said the only thing she has changed over the years is the use of raw milk in her diet, and she said June will mark one year since she’s been in the hospital, which is the longest period of time she’s been out of the hospital since her medical issues began.
Gabbert and her husband started buying raw milk from Prairie Diamond Ranch about one year ago and they have shares in two cows.
“Nutritionwise it makes a difference, but for the health reasons in my life it makes an even bigger difference,” she said.
Gabbert couldn’t make any of the meetings about the recent legislation involving the selling and purchase of raw milk, but she did call in to voice her opinions.
“It is so difficult for someone to sell their product,” she said. “They act like it’s going to poison somebody.”
LeDoux attended the meetings discussing the state law regarding the selling of raw or unpasteurized milk.
“I testified at those meetings,” she said. “If they had made it illegal (to purchase raw milk), our children would not be drinking milk at all.”
More than unpasteurized milk being a part of her family’s lifestyle, LeDoux said it’s also her right.
“I want to be able to choose what I give my children,” she said. “We don’t want our rights taken away.”