GROTON -- After being asked to consider approval of the production and sale of raw milk in Groton, the Board of Health decided to take a wait-and-see attitude, giving themselves more time to study the sometimes controversial issue.
The board's action followed a discussion with local farm owner Helen Cahen who approached members to find out what they thought of raw milk and its potential sale in Groton.
Cahen said she is allergic to some dairy products and has begun to drink "raw" milk from a pair of goats she owns.
The Martins Pond Road resident said she has discovered that her goats produce more milk than she needs and is considering selling the surplus.
But though board members said they have "open minds" on the subject, they willingly admitted that they did not know enough about it to make an immediate decision.
The subject of raw milk is still a controversial one in scientific circles with natural/organic food advocates insisting that its consumption is safe.
Raw milk is milk from a cow or goat that has not been treated through the pasteurization process.
At one time, all milk consumed was raw. It was not until the development of germ theory and the pasteurization process that it became possible to remove from milk bacteria that could transmit such diseases as tuberculosis directly to humans.
Pasteurization was first introduced in the United States in the 1890s, and because there was no way to discover which cows or goats carried bacteria, to be safe, all milk was ordered pasteurized. A practice that continues to the present with government health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control all recommending continued pasteurization.
However, a growing interest in natural foods has revived interest in raw milk, which some say includes healthy elements eliminated when it goes through pasteurization.
Research, however, shows little difference nutritionally between raw and pasteurized milk.
Although restrictions on milk continue, 28 states allow the sale of raw milk, including Massachusetts.
Members of the BOH, however, were unclear regarding details of the law in Massachusetts but were willing to hear Cahen out.
"I don't have any problem with goats," said board chairman Jason Weber who suggested that the issue could be one of personal liberty versus public health. "The problem I have is with its being raw. I need a whole lot more information before I can make any kind of decision."
Weber characterized the issue as somewhat of a "controversial topic" and suggested that if the board were to allow the sale of raw milk, likely it would require more than simple labeling with more information than simple ingredients.
"We don't really have enough information yet," agreed fellow board member Susan Horowitz.
Cahen was supported in her effort to sell raw milk by Economic Development Committee member Russell Burke who urged board members to keep open minds and consider the importance of agriculture in the local economy.
Burke was joined by Agriculture Commission member George Moore who vouched for Cahen's reputation.
"Her operation is somewhat of a model among agricultural proponents in town, said Moore.
Having only received information provided on the subject a couple of days before the March 3 meeting, board members said they needed more time to study the matter and continued the public hearing until March 17.
Also at its meeting of March 3, the BOH:
* Assured Parks Department representative Robert Flynn that it would delegate health agent Ira Grossman to contact the Central Massachusetts Mosquito Control Project to place the town's playing fields at the top of the list of places in Groton to conduct mosquito control efforts. But whether the group would be conducting mosquito suppression in Groton at all was an open question as $219,000 voted at town meeting to pay for a three-year membership has recently been thrown into question. Due to the need to find money to help the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District find $2.7 million to balance its books in fiscal 2015, the town manager plans to approach spring town meeting to recommend to voters that their earlier decision to provide the membership money be rescinded. If that happens, Flynn's request will be moot.
* Continued a hearing with 11 Cedar Road homeowner Frank Wojtas, allowing him to check into the relative costs of installing a new septic system on his property or connecting to the town's water main. The question came up after Wojtas applied to the board for a variance allowing him to install a new septic system with tight tank within 50 feet of the property's well. But due to a question of water quality and the existence of nitrates in the soil, Grossman said the only way to be sure of water safety would be to connect the site with the town water main which lies about 500 feet away. Cost for the septic system would be about the same as hooking up to the water main: $16,000. Continuing the hearing till the board's meeting of March 31 would give time for the applicant to explore the feasibility of connecting to town water.