Milk from Non-Kosher Species and Its Relationship with the US Kosher Dairy Industry
by R. Avrohom Gordimer
Reprinted with permission from Daf HaKashrus (23:4, Shevat 5775, February 2015), a monthly publication of the OU.
At OU headquarters, we occasionally receive such inquires, and those of us who subscribe to dairy industry news media see information from time to time about the potential farming and sale ofחלב בהמה טמאה , milk from non-kosher animals. What are the facts on the ground, and is the kosher status ofסתם חלב, regular milk, in any way jeopardized?
Let’s first look at this all from an agricultural/livestock perspective and then from a legal perspective.
Pigs are impossible to milk efficiently: A pig has 8-10 small nipples, each of which gives very little milk. Pigs are not cooperative when milked. Furthermore, pig milk tastes “gamy”, and there are very serious health concerns, due to pigs’ feed and habitat. The FDA does not permit the commercial milking of pigs or the sale of pig milk.
Although horses are routinely milked in some Asian countries and for exotic food purposes in parts of Europe, lactating (milk-producing) horses yield only 20-33% the amount of milk as dairy cows. This makes horse dairy farming highly inefficient. This low yield, coupled with a very brief lactation period when compared with that of cows, has kept horse milk production in the United States limited to an Amish farm that milks a small herd of horses and uses their milk for soaps and cosmetics.
Despite efforts to introduce donkey milk into the US market, donkey milk is almost nonexistent outside of countries where donkeys are one of the main forms of livestock. This is due to an extremely low donkey population in the US, plus the fact that a lactating donkey only produces about 8-12 ounces of milk per day.
The average camel only produces about two gallons of milk per day, in brief 90-second spurts; camels are known to be stingy and fussy when it comes to being milked by humans. At prices of $80-130 per gallon in the Western market, and the prevalence in the Middle East of infection from MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), whose microbes are carried by camels, plus taking into account environmental factors, the prospects of camel milk ever becoming popularly available as a retail product in North America are about nil. (Furthermore, there are only about 5000 camels in the US, approximately 40 of which are milked. Contrasted with the US dairy cow population of 9,000,000, the camel dairy industry is דליתיה כמאן – a practical nonentity.)
Milk from the above non-kosher animals, as well as from the otherטמאות בהמות, does not separate well into cream (milkfat) and skim milk, and it cannot be used for the manufacture of rennet-set cheese. When contrasted with the dairy cow, which typically yields up to 13 gallons of milk per day, whose milk is ideal for cream/skim milk separation and cheese manufacture, and whose lactation period by far exceeds that of most other mammals, it is eminently clear why the cow is the dairy animal in North America. Aside from its ideal milk situation, the cow is the most manageable of all milk-producing animals and the most adaptable to the climates of all regions in North America. The milk of other animals does not stand a chance of ever gaining market traction in the US so long as there are dairy cows here.
The updated Grade A Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO), which is the FDA’s governing corpus of retail milk regulations, stipulates for the farming and sale of milk from cows, goats, sheep and “Family Camelidae – llamas, alpacas, camels, etc.” and “Family Equidae – horses, donkeys, etc.” PMO Definitions, section T. Hooved Mammals’ Milk enumerates milk from these species and states, “This product shall be produced according to the sanitary standards of this Ordinance.” Although one may initially be shocked to know that חלב בהמה טמאה may be commercially farmed and sold according to FDA regulations, the practicalities and restrictions are another story.
PMO Section 4:3 stipulates that all milk and dairy products from animals other than cows must be clearly labeled as such:
All bottles, containers and packages containing milk or milk products…shall be conspicuously marked with…: The common name of the hooved mammal producing the milk shall precede the name of the milk or milk product when the product is or is made from other than cattle’s milk. As an example, “Goat”, “Sheep”, “Water Buffalo”, or “Other Hooved Mammal” milk or milk products respectively.
This strictly-enforced regulation, which is administered by all 50 states, assures that Grade A milk and dairy products can never containחלב בהמה טמאה without being very clearly labeled as such. This law, enforced by countless layers of dairy farm, transport and processing plant inspections and verification systems, protects the integrity of kosher milk by preventing milk of non-kosher animals from being labeled as “milk” and from its incorporation into kosher milk and dairy products.
(Grade B milk, or manufacturing milk, is subject to USDA regulations, as enforced by all 50 states. These regulations only authorize the milk of kosher animals – cows, goats, sheep and buffalo – but not the milk of camels of any non-kosher species. Readers should also note that states have the right to implement dairy regulations that are stricter than FDA and USDA standards. Thus, many states do not approve the farming or sale of any milk other than that of cows, goats and sheep.)
Many states require that any milk from animals other than cows, goats and sheep be totally segregated at all points, due to fear of contaminants. Dr. Stephen Beam, Chief of Milk and Dairy Food Safety Branch of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, wrote to me that:
A regular milk processing plant licensed by CDFA could process camel milk provided it was clearly and effectively segregated from any cow’s or goat’s milk also being processed in the facility in order to prevent commingling of milk across species. The camel milk would also have to be screened for the presence of drug residues prior to processing as required by law.
The reason I contacted the California Department of Food and Agriculture is that California is the state in which the nation’s only commercial camel milk company is based. (This company operates a handful of farms consisting of six camels each.)
I also contacted Mr. Gregory Kulzer of the New York State Department of Agriculture and the Lewis County Legislature, who wrote to me likewise that:
NYS has a regulation in place that does not allow the commingling of any other hooved mammal with cows’ milk. This would be handled during the routine inspection program for dairy farms. There also labeling rules in the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance 2013 on page 18 that requires the proper labeling of non-cow milk.
It is clear that federal and state dairy regulations keepחלב בהמה טמאה out of the kosher milk supply. Milk is the most regulated of all foods, and current statutory law, which is very unlikely to ever be modified toward leniency in this respect, maintains the requisite מירתת upon which the kashrus of סתם חלב is based.
As was explained in previous installments of Daf Ha-Kashrus, contemporary US dairy regulations by far exceed those in place when Rav Moshe Feinstein זצ”ל penned his famous תשובות over half a century ago (אג”מ יו”ד א:מז-מט) in which he endorsed the kashrus of regular US commercial milk. Today, unlike in Reb Moshe’s time, every single dairy farm that provides milk to the commercial market is licensed and inspected; so too for every single commercial dairy transport vehicle. And every single milk shipment from every single farm is bar-coded and scanned at the dairy processing plant to verify that the milk came from a licensed, government-inspected farm. The entire system is one of thorough verification from farm to bottle.
The OU does not tell consumers that they should or should not consume סתם חלב. That is up to each consumer and the halachic guidance that he receives from his personal רב. What the OU can tell you, though, is that the regular milk supply chain is eminently monitored and protected from the unknown presence of non-kosher milk, and that the debate regarding סתם חלב versus ישראל חלב is one of Halacha – how did ל“חז formulate the גזירה of עכו”ם חלב? Did they require a דין of ראייה (i.e. the halachic equivalent of observing the milking), or did they require actual, physical-personal ראייה (observation)? The status of סתם חלב is based on this halachic question and is not based upon weakness in enforcement of dairy regulations. (It is my opinion that the halachic discussion about ישראל חלב versus סתם חלב depends on the ראשונים מחלוקת elucidated in my article about video supervision of milk and cheese in the new issue of Mesorah, with the logic of the minority position there equally applying to the issue of סתם חלב.)
Through an analysis of the facts on the ground and the relevant statutes, the kosher consumer can rest assured that the kosher integrity of the regular milk supply remains fully and forcefully intact.