Many Americans don’t know that there is such a thing as raw milk. They think all milk is the same. That it all comes from the grocery store in plastic jugs. Of course, this is exactly what the dairy industry wants. They’re the ones selling pasteurized milk.
Raw milk has been a staple food for humans for many thousands of years. Archaeological evidence shows that as long as 30,000 years ago, ancient people in the Sinai Peninsula were using fences to confine and breed antelope for their milk.
Humans are mammals. A defining characteristic of mammals is that all females nurse their young with milk. The class Mammalia comes from the latin word ‘mamma’ which means breast. We are designed from birth to be milk drinkers. Some people claim that we shouldn’t drink milk, but I think you’ll find that much of the problems identified with milk come from pasteurized milk.
Conventional Milk Should be Pasteurized
In confinement dairy systems the animals are often so sick that only the overuse of antibiotics allows milk production to continue in otherwise intolerable conditions. The most notable affliction is mastitis, which is an infection of the udder. Milk from a cow with mastitis will contain high amounts of bacteria and pus. This is not an uncommon occurrence. The National Mastitis Council states that as many 40% of all dairy cows have some form of mastitis. That’s nearly half. Nearly half the milk coming to a processing plant contains pus. No wonder we have to pasteurize.
Somatic cell count (SCC) can be an indicator of mastitis(pus) in milk. According to a veterinarian at the University of Nebraska: “The normal SCC in milk is generally below 200,000 per ml…an SCC above 250,000 is considered abnormal and nearly always is an indication of bacterial infection causing inflammation of the udder.” The Federal Pasteurized Milk Ordinance allows an SCC of up to three times as much (750,000 per ml). In other words, pus in your milk is okay.
Distillery Dairies, The First Factory Farms
For thousands of years the idea of boiling or pasteurizing milk was unheard of. It wasn’t until the mid 1800s that mega dairies began opening up next to large distilleries making whiskey. The leftover slop from the whiskey production was disposed of by feeding it to the dairy cows. As these diaries grew they pioneered the use of confinement in the production of milk. I consider the distillery dairies to be the first factory farms.
The confinement of hundreds of cows in a single building led to sanitation issues. Dirty, contaminated milk was being sold. People began getting sick. In cities like New York and Philadelphia, the infant mortality rate for children under five went from 25%-30% in 1814 to over 50% in 1840.
When the problems with distillery milk was identified, two solutions were implemented to solve it. Certification commissions were formed to certify milk from approved and trustworthy dairymen. These dairies were inspected to ensure the quality of their milk.
Pasteurization was the other solution. Pasteurization killed off most of the pathogens found in the distillery milk, making is safe to drink. In 1893, Nathan Straus began opening milk depots for the distribution of low priced pasteurized milk. He sold the milk at a loss in order to keep the milk cheap.
This led to the pasteurization of all milk, but certified raw milk. Enforcement of diary hygiene rules was practically impossible. New york city was supplied by over 40,000 dairies. Many other cities were in similar positions. The government couldn’t police all these farms. Pasteurization was seen as a technological fix that would solve the milk problem. If milk didn’t come from a certified dairy, it had to be pasteurized. Certified raw milk coexisted alongside pasteurized milk for 50 years.
In the late 1930s, corporate dairies began a publicity campaign against raw milk. They hired writers to make drinking raw milk seem barbaric. Articles ran in magazines and newspapers across the country. Articles in Ladies Home Journal and coronet claimed that thousands of cases of Undulant fever were caused by raw milk. This was a total fabrication. Record from the US public health service showed no more than 256 cases of Undulant fever between 1923 and 1944.[2, 4]
This campaign eventually worked. Raw milk sales were outlawed in all but a few states. And while pasteurization is an added expense, it’s cheaper than raising cows properly. Pasteurization allowed the distillery dairies to continue abusing their cows. Their inferior and infected milk was suddenly deemed safe for consumption. Instead of fixing their dairies and treating their animals with respect, they simply boiled their milk.
Pasteurized is Not the Same
Pasteurization has been successful in making cheap milk safe to drink. Unfortunately, it also makes it less nutritious, even if it was poor quality to begin with. Claims that pasteurized milk and raw have the same nutrient value is just wrong. The CDC even warns against using a microwave to heat breast milk because excess heat can destroy vital nutrients in the milk.
Beta-lactoglobulin is a protein in milk that increases absorption of vitamin A. Heat destroys this protein and also degrades vitamin A. Vitamin D assimilation is cut in half by pasteurization. This is why vitamin D is usually added back to milk. Studies also show that vitamin B6 and B12 are poorly absorbed from pasteurized milk. These are just a few nutrients that have been studied. But there is more than just nutrients in milk.
Raw milk contains various beneficial bacteria. These lactobacilli are likewise destroyed during pasteurization. Our bodies need good bacteria to survive. They help us to absorb minerals from our food, and much more. I go into more detail about beneficial bacteria in Your Body is not Sterile.
Healthy Cows Make Healthy and Safe Milk
The healthfulness of a cow’s milk depends on what the cows eat. There’s a saying in the technology industry: “Garbage in, garbage out.” You can’t feed a cow slop and expect to get healthy milk. They have to get their nutrients somewhere, and a bag of synthetic vitamins won’t cut it. Cows are meant to eat grass. Grass is full of nutrients. Herbivores are uniquely designed to digest grass, not grain, not animal byproducts.
A Report by the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that dairy cows that graze on grass produce higher levels of beneficial acids ALA and CLA. ALA is believed to reduce the risk of heart attacks and CLA is believed to have many positive effects on heart disease, cancer, and the immune system.
Pasture also has an effect on the safety of the milk. When a cow is moved every day to fresh pasture, they leave behind their manure which may carry pathogens. By leaving it behind, the pathogens can’t spread between animals. The Journal of Dairy Science reported that milk from cows that had grazed on intensively managed pasture had lower bacterial counts than milk from conventional dairies.
Raw milk has been shown to have a beneficial effect on allergies. Children drinking raw milk had 41 percent less asthma and half the rate of hay fever. This was linked to whey proteins in milk which are damaged by heat.
Milk allergies are becoming a big problem. Pasteurized milk has become one of the top ten allergenic foods. Milk allergy is usually attributed to casein intolerance. As I explained previously, pasteurization destroys the beneficial lactic-acid bacteria. These bacteria produce enzymes that break down the casein molecule. Therefore, it stands to reason that raw milk could be consumed by people with a mild milk allergy.
Industrial Cows Aren’t Healthy
An industrial dairy cow’s diet leaves much to be desired. The grain provided is usually GMO and cheap. Feedlots typically put additives in the feed to increase milk production. Animal byproducts are not uncommon. The 1994 Feed Industry Red Book lists common feed additives like: blood meal, hydrolyzed poultry feather meal, fish meal, meat and bone meal, and poultry by-product meal ( necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines).
On the bright side, the dairy industry no longer grinds up whole dead cows to feed back to dairy cows. That practice led to the massive outbreak of mad cow disease. I wonder if feeding these other animal byproducts will lead to another such disease outbreak in the future.
According to the Journal of Dairy Research, “The more milk a cow produces, the more dilute the vitamin content of her milk.” Today’s super milk cows produce twenty times the milk required to sustain a healthy calf. In 1910, the average dairy cow produced just over 2,900 pounds of milk per year. By 2005, the average milk cow produced a whopping 19,951 pounds of milk a year. That’s almost 7 times as much! It’s not possible for this milk to contain as many nutrients as milk from lesser producing cows.
Now let’s talk about living conditions. Modern milk cows are raised in much the same conditions found in distillery diaries of the 1800s. Some dairies tether their milk cows inside a stall for her entire milk cycle. Even the cows in free range barns suffer. Concrete floors found in a dairy barn are are hard on a cow’s hoof. Veterinarians at UC Davis found that hooves wore 35% faster on concrete than on dirt.
Allowing cows to roam freely inside a barn allows for even more damage. Excessive walking on concrete creates concussion damage and leads to sluggish blood flow and edema. Perhaps that’s why some cows are tethered.
As you may have guessed, lameness is a major cause of suffering for milk cows.[2, 13] The combination of bigger cows on concrete floors is a recipe for problems. A report done for the state of minnesota showed that out of every 100 dairy cows, there were 35 to 56 cases of lameness annually. Milk from happy cows indeed.
Pasteurization can’t Fix Bad Milk
Pasteurization in not what you may think it is. First of all, pasteurization is not sterilization. It is not intended to kill all the microorganisms in food. It’s aim is to simply reduce the number of pathogens. This is why pasteurized milk still has an expiration date and stays drinkable only slightly longer than raw milk. Another thing to consider, Bacteria does not simply disappear after pasteurization. Residue of dead bacteria remains in the milk.
But does pasteurization excuse such filthy conditions? After all, it doesn’t matter if the milk is dirty or contaminated, it’ll be pasteurized. It doesn’t matter if there’s pus in your milk, it’s dead pus. Well, most of it. What’s not dead does cause illness on occasion.
In 1985 and 1986 two waves of antimicrobial-resistant Salmonella typhimurium infections sickened over 16,000 people in Illinois. This was the largest outbreak of salmonellosis ever identified in the United States. Surveys suggest that as many as 197,581 persons may have been affected. Nearly 3,000 people were hospitalized and 18 deaths occurred.
The cases were traced back to two brands of pasteurized milk from one dairy plant. The same strain of salmonella was confirmed to have caused both waves, suggesting that the bacteria had persisted in the plant, repeatedly contaminating milk after pasteurization.
This is an example of why industrial agriculture is a problem. When food production is centralized in mega facilities, the amount of people affected is much larger. If a small raw milk dairy has an outbreak, at most a few hundred people might be affected. A widespread outbreak is nearly impossible with small decentralized farms.
Pasteurized milk may have something to do with Crohn’s disease. Paratuberculosis, suspected of causing Crohn’s disease is now routinely found in pasteurized milk (19% of samples tested).
More Dangerous than Raw Milk
Raw milk is hardly the most dangerous food on the market. You are nearly 6,500 times more likely to get sick from other foods than from raw milk. According to a 2011 CDC article, there are 9.4 million episodes of foodborne illnesses each year. With 312 million people in the US, that’s 1 out of every 33 people. According to Dr Ted beals, the average number of illnesses attributed to consuming raw milk each year is 42. In 2008 approximately 9 million people reported drinking raw milk. This would put the illness rate at 1 in 214,285. (214,285 divided by 33 = 6,493 times more likely)
There are 515 times more illnesses from Listeria Monocytogenes due to deli meats and 29 times more from pasteurized milk than from raw milk. Per serving, deli meats are 10 times more likely to cause illness than raw milk. These statistics matter since deli meats are consumed without further cooking.
But food isn’t the only place that bacteria can survive. Salmonella enteritidis can survive up to 9 days on coins and up to 17 days on teflon. E. Coli has been shown to survive for up to 11 days on coins. In other words, wash your hands, and your cookware. And don’t forget, your cell phone is dirtier than your toilet seat.
Yes We Can Drink Milk
There are people who say that humans should not drink milk. Milk has gained a bad reputation in the last few decades. It’s been linked to iron deficiency, heart disease, obesity, constipation, excess mucus production, and other “western diseases”. I think I’ve thoroughly proven that these associations can only be made to pasteurized milk.
In 1929, Dr J. R. Crewe of the Mayo Clinic wrote an article entitled: “Raw Milk Cures Many Diseases.” Dr Crewe used raw milk for over 15 years in the treatment of various diseases such as tuberculosis, cardiovascular and renal conditions, and hypertension. He saw striking results in cases of the heart and kidneys. In other words, Dr Crewe used raw milk to treat heart disease. Keep in mind, the Mayo Clinic was over 60 years old at this point.
Before that in 1909, Charles Sanford Porter, MD published Milk Diet as a Remedy for Chronic Disease. He treated over 18,000 patients in his 37 year practice. Mr. W. F. Kitzele, a city official from Burlington Iowa, wrote to Dr Porter to report that he had lived for more than 50 years on raw milk alone. At the age of two, he drank concentrated lye which damaged his throat. Unable to eat any other food he could only drink milk.
Veterinarians will tell you to never give cats milk. Once again, this is true when referring to pasteurized milk. Dr Francis Pottenger conducted extensive studies involving cats over the course of 10 years. Some cats were fed raw milk, others were fed pasteurized milk. The cats fed pasteurized milk became ill and eventually were unable to reproduce. Conversely, the cats fed raw milk were exceedingly healthy, producing generations of healthy offspring.
Buy Your Milk From a Local Farm
I’m not saying that we should do away with pasteurized milk altogether. If people want to buy cheap milk, that’s fine. But everyone should have the option to buy raw milk if they choose. That said, i don’t think that raw milk should be sold in supermarkets. Because once you can buy raw milk in supermarkets, you lose the connection to the farmer. The disconnect between consumer and farmer has led to the disaster we now have as a food system.
Selling raw milk in supermarkets next to pasteurized milk would most likely lead to disappointment. Raw milk is typically two to three times the price of pasteurized milk. People shopping at a supermarket are typically price sensitive and not particularly health conscious. All it would take is one look at the prices and the raw milk would be left on the shelf.
Buying raw milk doesn’t have to require a three hour trip to a farm miles out in the country. Many raw milk farmers have set up scheduled delivery routes. You simply tell them where you are and they will find a delivery point near you. The farmer doesn’t mind driving 200-300 miles if it means delivering 100+ gallons of milk. It’s a win-win for everyone.
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- US Population on Sep 1st 2011 – 312,097,413 www.census.gov/popclock/
- Interpretive Summary – Listeria Monocytogenes Risk Assessment, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Sept. 2003, page 17
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- Crewe, J. R. “Raw Milk Cures Many Diseases.” Certified Milk Magazine, January, 1923, 3-6