Pasteurization kills bacteria, some of which could cause serious harm, particularly to growing fetuses.© raw-milk-facts.com
The majority of people with a lactose allergy can drink raw milk without unhealthy side effects. Another enzyme that is very important in milk is phosphatase. Most people drink milk because of its rich nutrient quality, and specifically for calcium. The enzyme phosphatase is needed to release calcium and phosphorous in milk. Advocates say raw milk has a higher amount of digestible calcium and phosphorous than pasteurized milk. And people love raw milk for its anti-microbial agents. The anti-microbial bacteria found in raw milk is said to fight off pathogenic bacteria and serve as a built-in immune system.
Mark McAfee owns a 350-cow dairy, the largest raw dairy in the U.S. It’s in California where raw milk is legal for retail sale. After 24 million servings of his milk there have been absolutely no reported illnesses. That led him to conduct several tests on his milk and on the pasteurized variety. In one test, McAfee in
jected E.coli, listeria, and salmonella in his milk and in pasteurized milk. He says that in the raw milk, none of the added pathogens survived because of the naturally occurring acids and anti-microbial bacteria that fought off these pathogens. The pasteurized milk pathogens were able to grow much larger and spread throughout the milk, he says, because they did not have enzymes to stop their growth.
So if raw milk is much healthier, why do we use pasteurization? The process began after tuberculosis and E.Coli outbreaks in the 19th century. But these outbreaks were due to poor conditions of cattle and unsanitary workers. The problem was not raw milk but unclean raw milk.
Consider this scenario from New York City in 1852: Inside a barn, dairy cows are wallowing in manure, chained and standing side by side. Dust motes drift by the light creeping in through the cracks. Down the road, a domestic liquor distillery creates waste of spent grain called "slop" or "swill."
Slop and swill were commonly fed to cows as an alternative to pasture because it was cheaper and required less manual labor. The slop kept the cows lactating, but they could hardly be called healthy. In 1852, three fourths of the milk sales in New York were from slop milk. Public health began to fail, seen specifically in rising mortality rates among infants. Pasteurization was seen as a godsend; a cheap, easy way to clean up the milk problem.
In simple terms, pasteurization is a method of treating food by heat to bring it to a certain temperature to kill disease-causing organisms. Milk is generally pasteurized by heating it to 161 to 172 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds. During this process many of the vitamins and heat-sensitive enzymes in milk are lost, raw mile advocates say. Once factories began to use pasteurization, the infant mortality rate began to shrink, leading to the conclusion that raw milk was the culprit, rather than the unsanitary conditions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are still quick to warn consumers about the dangers inherent in unpasteurized milk, citing the fact that more than 800 people in the U.S. have gotten sick from drinking raw milk or eating cheese made from raw milk since 1998. The government agency says that the harmful microorganisms that might be present in raw milk—E. Coli, Salmonella and Listeria—can pose a serious health threat, particularly to pregnant women, children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. Warnings are particularly dire for pregnant women, who are strongly urged against ingesting anything unpasteurized—the presence of these harmful bacteria could be potentially fatal to a developing fetus, even if the mother shows no signs of illness.
It is no myth that raw milk from an unsanitary factory farm is unhealthy; however, this does not mean that all raw milk is unsafe. In the 1900s, as the shift from raw milk to pasteurized milk began, there were a number of health and science articles revealing the health benefits of raw milk. Henry Coit, a medical doctor, was the founder of the first medical milk commission and the certified milk movement. In 1929, Dr. J.E. Crew published an article entitled "Raw Milk Cures Many Diseases."
The coals glow dim as Jo and I sit in the kitchen talking about milk. It’s getting on to winter now, and cold floors, wood stoves, and crystal clear nights are becoming more common as the days slide into December and ice forms on surrounding small ponds.
For me, milk used to be just milk and I never gave it a second thought. Now when I look at it I see all the layers beneath, the history behind pasteurization. I see the cows crammed in small barns covered in manure, and I see others grazing in pasture. I hear farmers who talk of their cows like units for production, and I hear those who talk to them as children.
I now look at pasteurized milk as something dead, something we created out of fear of our own actions. And although I may not naturally be a milk lover, I do look at raw milk as full and alive, rich and flourishing, prevailing through regulations and laws supported by people like Jo. It continually amazes me how something as simple as raw milk or local food is so hard to turn into concrete reality. And how crucial people like Jo are in the process of change.
*Some names have been left out or changed to maintain farmer and consumer privacy.
SARAH MORRISON is a student at Sterling College in Vermont.
CONTACTS: The Dangers of Raw Milk; Organic Pastures, 1-877-RAW-MILK; Rural Vermont; Sterling College;