The milk and milk products almost all Americans consume is pasteurized—heated to 161 °F for about 20 seconds. It’s been widely accepted for nearly a century that this is necessary to kill the disease-causing germs (e.g., Salmonella, E.coli O157, Campylobacter) that can be found in unpasteurized or “raw” milk. In the 1900s, before pasteurization became the norm, milk was a common source of the bacteria that caused tuberculosis, diphtheria, streptococcal infections, typhoid fever, and other illnesses. These illnesses were especially lethal to young children. So who was going to argue back when it was decided that all milk should be pasteurized?
But Is Pasteurization Still Necessary?
As recently as the 1950s, famed pediatrician Dr. Spock advised “no milk” for children after age two, to reduce their risks of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and diet-related cancers. More recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) position was that:
- Raw milk contains many dangerous pathogens.
- Pasteurization is therefore necessary.
- It does not significantly change milk’s nutritional value.
But now, there’s a growing raw milk wing of the eat-natural-and-local movement. Scores of thousands, even millions of people, here and worldwide, are convinced that raw milk is far superior to the pasteurized product: far healthier, not dangerous, and even able to cure a host of illnesses. I’m one of those convinced people. My kids and I drink only locally sourced raw milk.
Why Raw Milk?
How did we decide to take this step? Certainly one of the factors is our growing recognition that mass dairy farms in this country are both physically and morally polluted. The conditions are so unsanitary that cows must be given antibiotics to stave off infections. These have the salutary—for the meat processors—side effect of speeding a cow’s growth to marketable maturity. But these powerful antibiotics also have the disastrous tendency to find their way into local soil and waters, and then on into the ecosystem at large. Ironically, their presence can help pathogenic bacteria mutate into antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.” These are globally recognized as a very serious health threat. As if that’s not enough, mass-processed cows are fed an unholy mix of unnatural substances:soy or cottonseed meal and other commercial feeds, much of it genetically modified, and even bakery waste or chicken manure. These all come with a side of nasty
pesticides that have been linked to a host of very serious diseases. The result? Unhealthy cows, threats to the environment and to us, and nutritionally compromised milk, with essential nutrients like vitamins A and D all but wiped out. And that’s before pasteurization destroys even more nutrients (the CDC is dead wrong in saying the process doesn’t degrade milk’s nutritional value). Finally—yes, it gets even worse—mass dairy farm cows are given bovine growth hormone (BGH) to increase their milk output. This is an unnatural, manufactured hormone that has been known to find its way into milk. It’s a prime suspect for links to numerous cancers and other diseases in humans—so suspect that over 100 countries ban milk that contains it. Research is not yet conclusive but a lot of very smart people are clearly very worried. Our Food and Drug Administration? Not so worried. In fact, it took far too long for our food officials to even permit, let alone require, labeling of milk products as containing no BGH.
Are We Sure Raw Milk is Safe?
Real feed for cows is all natural. No GMOs, no antibiotics or hormones. Just healthy green grass in spring, summer and fall, and dry hay, silage and root vegetables in winter. Cows allowed to feed this way are healthy cows—who give healthy milk. Another safety assurance: a 2003 USDA/FDA report showed that pasteurized milk caused 29 times more
L-mono bacterial illness than raw milk. Finally, when we look at Europe and its exemplary dietary habits, regulations and overall good health (think Mediterranean diet), we see that thousands of refrigerated raw milk vending machines have begun to spring up all across the continent. And let’s not forget the source of some of the world’s finest cheeses: raw, unpasteurized milk.