Sales of unpasteurized milk are illegal in Ohio; producers caught distributing to the public face criminal charges and can lose their licenses as well as their livelihood.

But there’s a bigger reason why regulators and researchers urge raw milk drinkers to reconsider: Consuming unpasteurized milk can be dangerous to your health.

Even milk going to processing plants for milk, butter, cheese, or other dairy products is subject to monthly bacteria counts so that production stays within licensed limits.

But raw milk advocates, many backed by guidance from the national Weston A. Price Foundation, are pushing for changes to state laws that prohibit raw milk sales, saying that citizens should be allowed to buy unpasteurized milk from farmers.

They believe non-Holstein breeds (Jerseys, etc.) raised on pasture during the growing season and forage and root vegetables when confined, produce a milk packed with disease- and ailment-curing bacteria that can relieve asthma and straighten teeth. They also feel that pasteurization changes the raw milk into something that is dangerous for humans.

However, regulators know that bacteria such as E. coli can be plentiful in raw milk, causing illnesses ranging from upset stomachs to hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially fatal kidney disease.

In Ohio, the only legal means of obtaining and consuming raw milk is to own the cow of origin. In Wayne and Holmes counties, many dairy farmers choose to drink milk straight from their bulk tanks, where it’s pumped directly from their cows.

Producers who were aware of the risks of food-borne pathogens were less likely to drink unpasteurized milk. But others continue to drink raw milk even after understanding the dangers involved, saying that it was easier to walk 15 feet into their milking parlors and pull a jug rather than driving miles down the road and paying for it.

For farmers and consumers accepting those risks, experts recommend that they refrigerate their raw milk supplies as quickly as possible. And they should think twice about giving it to the elderly or young infants or others with compromised health or to visitors who aren’t used to drinking it.