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August 8, 2007 / Tony

Black Market Milk

The NY Times has a very interesting article about unpastuerized milk today.  Apparently, there is a large demand for milk straight from the udder; i.e. no pastuerization to kill any lurking bacteria.  This so-called “raw” milk is drank because of taste and because of percieved health benefits.  The problem raw milk devotees run into is that raw milk is looked down upon by public health officials and hence, the law.  It cannot be transported in interstate commerce under federal law, that is, a dairy farmer in one state cannot transport the milk to another state for the purpose of selling it for human consumption.  Additionally, it is illegal to be sold for human consumption in 15 states.  Where it is legal to sell for humans, there are a myriad of restrictions. 

In response to the regulation of raw milk, black markets have cropped up and producers have created transactions that do not technically break the law.  My favorite example of this is a company from California that sells its raw milk as pet food in order to skirt the law.  What is striking about the black market and the schemes producers have cooked up is how far consumers are prepared to go along.  Take this example:

“Chip and Susan Planck. . . pay $40 a year plus $25 monthly to own a share in one cow, the only legal way to get raw milk in that state. In return, they get a gallon of raw milk a week. It is technically not a sale but compensation for the cow’s room and board.”

When you run the math on that, the couple is paying $6.54 per gallon of milk, which seems to be a pretty steep price for milk.  But, you know what, people are always willing to pay a premium for what they obsess about.  Take myself for a prime example.  As you may know, I live in West Fargo, ND and it has few foodie comforts.  Most painfully acute to me is the lack of really good seafood and bread.  So, last time I was in the Twin Cities, I made sure to come home with fish and bread.  Transporting the fish, however, was a challenge.  It is about a four hour drive between my home and the Twin Cities so I had to devise a method to safely get my fish home.  I ended up buying a small cooler ($10), ice ($3), and a nice piece of sashimi grade tuna ($9).  Do the math and that’s $22 for 1/2 pound of tuna.  Probably a pretty wasteful way to spend money but the taste really was worth it.  (I made Seared Sesame Tuna without the avocado salsa.)  If I needed it, I’d probably pay $6.54 a gallon for raw milk too. 

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