Though it’s illegal in Ohio to sell or distribute to consumers, federal and state agriculture officials are aware raw milk is being used by farm families.

In Ohio, about 30 million pounds of the 4.5 billion pounds of milk produced last year was used on farms, including 25 million pounds fed to calves and 5 million pounds "used for milk, cream and butter" by farm households, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

As the debate continues among state legislators, regulators and natural-food advocates, local farmers are going about their business and drinking their own raw milk in the state’s top dairy-producing region.

Many Grade A dairy farmers contacted by The Daily Record drink the milk their cows produce twice or three times each day. A few pasteurize fresh milk before using it in their households, eliminating dangerous microorganisms but retaining much of the creamy flavor and consistency.

But nonfarm families apparently are drinking raw milk regularly, too. State inspectors have actually found money jars left next to bulk tanks they suspect are used by consumers purchasing milk straight from farmers. Though they aren’t staunchly opposed to changing state laws to allow such sales, none of the farmers interviewed said they have sold or would want to offer supplies directly to customers.

They are concerned about the risks involved should a customer fall ill from bacteria such as E. coli, such as the recent West Coast outbreak. The debate continues though, although it’s pretty apparent that additional regulation and inspecions are helpful in keeping contamination down.