GROTON -- Proponents of the sale of raw milk in town left a meeting with the Board of Health less than satisfied when members pleaded for more time to consult their health agent and the town's legal counsel.
"We have no intention of interfering with agricultural activities in town but this is raw milk, which pulls the matter in a very serious direction," said board member Susan Horowitz of an inquiry initiated by local farmer Helen Cahen about permission to sell raw milk produced by her goats.
Cahen had first approached the BOH earlier in the month to discuss issues dealing with the sale of raw milk in town, with board members continuing the meeting until their March 17 meeting to give them time to research the issue.
The consumption of raw milk is a controversial one due to questions about safety, with advocates insisting that it is not harmful.
Raw milk is milk from a cow or goat that has not been treated through the pasteurization process.
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 today under government health organizations' recommendation.
However, a growing interest in natural foods has revived interest in raw milk, which some say includes healthy elements eliminated when it goes through the pasteurization process.
Research however, shows little difference nutritionally between raw and pasteurized milk.
Although restrictions on milk continue, many states such as Massachusetts do allow the sale of raw milk.
Discussion at the March 17 meeting turned to the safety of raw milk, something board members wanted to keep the focus on rather than claims about the shortcomings of pasteurization.
Commenting on an article quoted by Cahen dealing with the deficiencies of pasteurized milk, board Chairman Jason Weber said that whatever the truth of the claims might be, they said nothing about the health risks of raw milk.
"That's not part of our discussion as far as I'm concerned," Horowitz told Cahen.
Cahen was supported by a number of other raw-milk advocates in town, including Cynthia Labbe, owner of the Gentle Zephyr farm, where she raises goats for their milk.
Labbe said she had been certified by the state to sell raw milk and wanted to establish a dairy for the product.
Horowitz said she believed that there was a bylaw in town that prevented the sale of raw milk but when it was read, it seemed to simply refer to state law that allowed for the sale of raw milk with proper certification.
"So there's no law against selling raw milk," concluded Labbe. "If we conform to state requirements, we can sell raw milk."
Board members however, were not as certain, deciding that they needed to consult with legal counsel as well as health agent Ira Grossman, who was not in attendance at the meeting.
Disappointed that no firm position would be taken by the board that night, Cahen said she was not appearing before members just for herself.
"I'm doing it in the name of agricultural development in Groton," Cahen explained.
"My interpretation of the bylaw," added George Moore, a member of the town's Agriculture Commission, "is that if state regulations are met, it (the sale of raw milk in town) can be done."
But board members insisted that they intended to take no further action until its consultants could be questioned.
"I won't make a decision without that," said Horowitz.
With that, the board voted to continue the public hearing until its meeting of April 7.
At that time, Weber asked Cahen to supply the board with hard information about the safety of raw milk, particularly for children.
"I think data is the key," explained Weber.