Dairy From The Desert: An Update On The Camel Milk Situation (Or Non-Situation)

A recent Dairy Reporter article about Desert Farms, the US-based camel milk company which is planning to expand its production so as to include camel milk ice cream and baby formula, prompted a flood of kashrus questions, with people asking how the kosher
dairy industry will remain free of concern for camel milk content in dairy products. Now that camel milk is licensed by the FDA to be used in a variety of dairy food applications, what is to prevent it from being used in the products that we certify or in the milk that consumers drink?

Before addressing this question, it is noteworthy that donkey milk is also coming into the market (see Fox News), and there is even talk of cockroach milk(!!) eventually being used as a protein supplement in food (see CNN article here). The possibilities of non-kosher milk use in the food industry are endless.

Before getting carried away, let’s get to the facts on the ground and to the facts that pertain to kashrus.

At present, one gallon of raw American camel milk sells for $144, and a gallon of American camel milk powder sells for approximately $1050. And not to speak of donkey milk or milk of any other non-kosher species, which are not sold at all in the US, and whose cost overseas is extremely steep. It is clear that the opinion of the P’ri Chodosh (Yoreh Deah 115:15), who rules that we need not worry about cholov beheimah temei’ah (non-kosher milk) being incorporated into kosher milk when non-kosher milk is much more costly or inaccessible, certainly applies here.

But what about according to the opinion of Reb Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe – Yoreh Deah I:47-49) and other poskim (who by far outnumber the P’ri Chodosh), who require yedi’ah or re’iyah (actual knowledge or halachic verification, visual or otherwise) that milk has no non-kosher contents in order for the milk to be kosher? Although there is really no likelihood that
camel or donkey milk will be present in any regular dairy products, due to the rareness of these non-kosher milks and their prohibitive pricing, is there a need for greater halachic vigilance, or does the heter of Cholov Stam still apply according to these predominant halachic opinions?

In 2009, the FDA emended the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (the PMO, in section 1:S – www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/GuidanceRegulation/UCM209789.pdf) so as to include in the definition of milk (for legal
commercial sale) “Family Camelidae (llamas, alpacas, camels, etc.)… and Family Equidae (horses, donkeys, etc.)”. Prior to 2009, only cow, goat and sheep milk (as well as milk from moose and deer – for which there is no commercial demand) was included in the category of legally marketable milk.

The 2009 PMO emendation would have caused great concern and could have jeopardized the kosher integrity of the United States milk supply, if not for another critical provision (4:3) in the PMO, regarding product labeling: “The common name of the hoofed 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 Hoofed Mammal” milk or milk products respectively.” In other words, only dairy products made from cow milk may be labeled “milk, cheese, butter, ice cream”, etc. Products made from the milk of any other animal species, such as goat, must be labeled as “goat milk, goat milk cheese, goat milk butter, goat milk ice cream”, and so forth.

Hence, even milk which is legal for commercial sale, such as camel milk, may not be present in dairy products unless the animal species of that milk is specified on the packaging. I spoke with senior dairy inspection personnel, who advised me that any amount of non-cow milk would need to be declared on the packaging.

(The initial article on this topic, in Daf Ha-Kashrus 23:4, also noted that the USDA authorizes Grade B milk/manufacturing milk only from cow, goat, sheep and buffalo – all kosher species.)

A few people have asked about raw (i.e. unpasteurized) milk evading milk labeling regulations. Since some states allow for the sale of raw milk under certain conditions, and there may be cases of such milk being sold by farms without regulated labeling indicating the animal species from which the milk was harvested, it would appear that raw milk is able to escape the labeling regulations which otherwise protect the kosher integrity of the milk supply.

This concern is unfounded, though, as raw milk may not be sold for interstate commerce, and, more important for the topic under discussion, the only products in which raw milk may be used as an ingredient are a very limited and specific selection of seriously aged cheeses, as per FDA regulations. These regulations allow only for raw cow, goat and sheep milk to be used. Raw milk from non-kosher species may not be used. This is all enforced through careful inspection of manufacturing facilities and records.

New developments in the dairy industry relating to milk from exotic animals are always of interest and intrigue. However, we are happy to again state that kashrus is unaffected, and we have no reason to believe that this will ever change.

While drinking cholov Yisroel (milk processed under full-time kosher supervision) is certainly praiseworthy, our research clearly shows that Reb Moshe’s permit of cholov stam (regular milk in countries with adequate government regulation) is still very much in effect. Dairy is one of the most tightly-regulated industries, and its production and labeling regulations provide a solid basis for Reb Moshe’s approach to continue to apply without question.

by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer
OU Kosher Rabbinic Coordinator, Dairy

OU Kosher Staff