[Originally Published on 08/16/2010]

Attention has been brought back to the raw milk debate recently. A great deal of information tends to fly back and forth between both sides of the argument, but as with any debate the facts on the matter tend to get blurred by overheated levels of interest. Farmers and consumers alike want to buy and sell the products they want without hindrance by outside opinions. Private and government agencies try to represent consumer interest yet they become befuddled by the likes of special interest groups which tend to leave small, local economies confused as to who can be trusted. To the untrained researcher, uncovering some of the hard, mutually agreed upon facts can be extremely difficult. But using both resources available to the general public as well as private scholarly data bases we have tried to sum up the issue.

The laws regarding pasteurized milk date back to the early 1900’s in Chicago, Illinois. To help curb the spread of tuberculosis, the city imposed a law stating that all milk that wasn’t produced by certifiably tuberculosis free farms had to be pasteurized. By 1916 all milk in the Chicago area was required to be pasteurized. Pasteurization laws spread throughout the U.S. as part of a social reform led in part by an organizer for the Chicago Democratic Party, Nathan Struass. Struass went on to donate pasteurization facilities to cities throughout the U.S. (Czaplicki, 2007-10). Today the sale of raw milk in the U.S. is highly controversial, and as such it’s is illegal in many states as it’s thought to lead to many food borne illnesses, primarily E.coli.

According to an often cited article in the Journal for the American Medical Association:

“Meaningful differences in nutritional value between pasteurized and unpasteurized milk have not been demonstrated, and other purported benefits of raw milk consumption have not been substantiated. Conversely, the role of unpasteurized dairy products in the transmission of infectious diseases has been established repeatedly” (Potter, Kaufmann, Blake, & Feldman, 1984).

Most of the scientific community appears to back this claim. In another article by the Journal for the American Medical Association, an E.coli epidemic is described in scientific detail that took place in Clark County, Washington. 45 families participated in farm-share arrangement where they paid monthly dues to receive raw milk from a supplying farm. Within 43 of the families that were interviewed, 18 cases of E.coli were uncovered and 8 of those cases (44%) went on to be laboratory confirmed. Of these cases reported, 5 individuals were reported as being hospitalized (Escherichia coli O157:H7 Infection Associated With Drinking Raw Milk—Washington and Oregon, November- December 2005, 2007).

In a study done on Philadelphia farms, 248 raw milk tanks were examined for forborne pathogens. The test confirmed that 32 of the tanks (13%) were in fact contaminated. Of the pathogens found the most prevalent were; Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli (E.coli), Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, and Yersinia enterocolitica (Jayarao, Donaldson, Straley, Sawant, Hegde, & Brown, 2006).

On the other side of the coin, of course, lie the potential health benefits. In the interest of journalistic integrity I must note that much of the scientific information supporting additional health benefits of raw milk appears to be mostly speculative, and I have found no actual supporting journal articles advocating the mass production of raw milk. The CDC does make a foot note to the outbreak article that does report that:

“Some believe that it has potential benefits (e.g., vitamins that are present naturally rather than added, enhanced fertility and protection against tooth decay). However, the validity of any health or nutritional benefits from consuming raw milk has not been proven scientifically” (Escherichia coli O157:H7 Infection Associated With Drinking Raw Milk—Washington and Oregon, November- December 2005, 2007).

A website called Raw Milk Facts.com, which appears to be run as an independent site that claims ties to the Weston A. Price Foundation (a charity that supports natural food and healing arts), make several unsubstantiated claims about the health benefits of raw milk. It does not state that pasteurized milk does not contain the same benefits. The anonymous author mentions that vital, heat sensitive proteins are cooked out during pasteurization. S/he also makes claims about the homogenization of milk that;

“Homogenization is the process of forcing whole milk through small orifices under very high pressure. This breaks the fat globules into much smaller particles and prevents the cream from rising to the top. The intense pressure also subjects the milk to high heat for a second time, alters color, flavor and, very likely, nutritional value of the end product” (Heatlh Benefits, 2010).

Many of the reference sources used on the health benefits page of Raw Milk.com are extremely dated. One source, for example, dates back to 1929. Many other sources listed are non-peer reviewed websites.

Ron Schmid, ND, of Real Milk.com also makes health claims for raw milk. Schmid, a naturopathic physician states;

“I was quite ill with gastrointestinal problems. I began living mostly on seafood, fresh vegetables and salads, and raw milk and eggs purchased from a local farmer, with a little meat and whole grain bread. My health problems, which had been intractable for years, disappeared” (Schmid).

Schmid does not at any point within the article detail or name his infliction. Schmid adds that he recommended and prescribed raw milk to several of his patients.

While it does appear that instances of forborne pathogens in raw milk are not very common, the potential health risks are in fact quite severe. If you’re a consumer that actively enjoys your right to purchase raw mil,k please keep in mind the old adage: buyers beware.

Works Cited:

Czaplicki, A. (2007-10). “Pure Milk Is Better Than Purified Milk”:Pasteurization and Milk Purity in Chicago, 1908-1916. Social Science History , 31 (2), 411-433.

Escherichia coli O157:H7 Infection Associated With Drinking Raw Milk—Washington and Oregon, November- December 2005. (2007). Journal of the American Medical Association , 1426-1428.

Heatlh Benefits. (2010). Retrieved 07 19, 2010, from Raw Milk Facts.com: http://www.raw-milk-facts.com/raw_milk_health_benefits.html

Jayarao, B. M., Donaldson, S. C., Straley, B. A., Sawant, A. A., Hegde, N. V., & Brown, J. L. (2006). A Survey of Foodborne Pathogens in Bulk Tank Milk and Raw Milk Consumption Among Farm Families in Pennsylvania. Journal of Dairy Science .

Potter, D. M., Kaufmann, D. A., Blake, M. A., & Feldman, M. R. (1984). Unpasturized Milk; The Hazards of a Heatlh Fetish. Journal of the American Medical Association (15), 2048-2052.

Schmid, N. R. (n.d.). Health Benefits of Raw Milk From Grass Fed Animals. Retrieved 07 19, 2010, from Real Milk.com:http://www.realmilk.com/healthbenefits.html

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