The Raw Milk Debate

Here in Georgia, it is illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption.  The only ways to get raw milk to drink here are to drive across the border (South Carolina is a nice choice, they sell it in grocery stores), buy yourself a cow, or buy milk labeled for “pet use only” (an interesting situation if you ask me).  Our family usually drinks pasteurized milk from a local dairy, or a national organic pasteurized milk.  In my attempt to feed my family the most wholesome, nutritious diet possible, I am very interested in raw milk.  However, the FDA and CDC have mounted an attack on raw milk producers and consumers that is tantamount to war.  My question is, why?

On one side, you have the government organizations, that argue unpasteurized milk is incredibly dangerous, and that the health benefits of raw milk are unproven.  On the other hand, you have a growing number of consumers that believe raw milk makes their children healthier, less prone to allergies and digestive problems, and with stronger immune systems.

Now I don’t want to be someone who believes everything she reads just because it’s what she wants to believe.  My gut tells me clean, sustainably produced raw milk is better for my family, but what qualifications does my gut have?  So I embarked on a quest to research the raw milk question, and try to come to my own conclusions.  Please keep in mind, I am a layman and not a scientist, but I’ve done my best to answer the following questions:

Is pasteurized milk bad for you?

There has been talk that pasteurized milk causes lactose intolerance, but some more recent studies have put doubt on this claim.  However, many people who thought they were lactose intolerant (but failed the medical tests for the condition) can handle raw milk but not pasteurized, so there may be some evidence that raw milk is better for people with food intolerances.

Is raw milk good for you?

This one is a sticky subject.  A lot of popular raw milk websites tout a myriad of health benefits.  The problem is that the vast majority of evidence is anecdotal, although I did find a few things.  The Wikipedia page on the US raw milk debate lists a few studies that show an inverse relationship between raw milk and allergies in children.  There is also a good bit of evidence that raw milk is indeed easier for some people to digest.  I simply cannot take anecdotal evidence over scientific study, not for this or anything else (yes, I’m looking at the anti-vaccine movement).

Is raw milk dangerous?

The CDC ran a study from 1993-2006 and found that raw milk was much more likely to cause foodborne illness than pasteurized milk.  I’ve heard some arguments that all the cited cases would not have been avoided with pasteurization, but again, I can only take their word for it.  I think that if you’re drinking raw milk, you need to be incredibly careful of where it came from and the processes used to gather it.

Is raw milk more useful?

This is the only place I can give a resounding YES.  Pasteurization kills the lactobacillus bacteria in milk – the “souring” bacteria.  It’s completely harmless and is what causes milk to “clabber” or turn into a yogurt-like product instead of just immediately spoiling.  Also, most raw milk is non-homogenized, so the cream rises to the top and can be used for many different culinary applications.  Raw milk is often more easily made into cheeses because the proteins have not been cooked.  UHT (ultra-pasteurized) milk does not usually set into cheese at all.

Will I feed raw milk to my family?

Maybe.  Probably not at the moment, since it is so hard for me to get.  But in the future, if I have my own milking animal, I doubt I’ll pasteurize it.  And if I were ever near a farm that I could visit and was sure they were clean and healthy, I would consider purchasing it.  I think raw milk (and pasteurized of course) should be frequently tested for bacteria levels.

I do, however, believe wholeheartedly that people should have the right to purchase raw milk and raw milk products if they want to.  I think this is a decision that you have to make for your own family, and for me, I’m just still on the fence.  Where are you sitting?

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10 Responses to The Raw Milk Debate

  1. missybowers says:

    Im like you, i would be very careful about where it came from, but that is with all of our food. It would be the same with locally grown chickens or any other meat too.

    As far as digestive problems, the protiens in cows milk are much larger than the ones in human milk and this makes it harder to digest for some people. If someone thinks they cannot handle cows milk unpasturized (like my dad), they could try unpasturized goats milk. The protiens are much smaller and easier to digest. This worked great for many people i know. and nobody has every had problems.

    I think that the medical industry just thinks too much. They dig too deep. (More money i guess) Dig deep enough, you will find problems with most anything…

  2. oceannah says:

    We are very fortunate to have a certified raw milk dairy to get our milk from. I for one, do not want any milking animals at my age…I want to be free to travel sometimes 😉

  3. Very interesting article. Being lactose intolerant myself this could be useful info. As for goat’s milk vs. cow’s milk , if you are casein intolerant (the protein in cow’s milk), you can drink goat’s milk usually. But with true lactose intolerance, goat’s milk has lactose as well. But I hadn’t heard about raw vs. pasteurized. The pasteurization process could alter the chemical makeup of the cow’s milk. We’ll have to give that a try

    • Jessie says:

      Thanks. From what I’ve read, true lactose intolerance is actually quite rare, and a lot of people are misdiagnosed. Have you experimented with different types of milk to see how they affect you? Of course only if it is safe for you – I don’t know the severity of your reaction.

      • Yes, I’ve tried goat’s milk. Doesn’t work for me. I do take lactase supplements. For the most part they work. But I’m interested in trying raw milk, just to see. I mostly use soy and rice milk. But I’d like to find something that our whole family enjoys. It would make cooking so much easier. And I miss ice cream!

  4. Some raw milk proponents make the claim that pasteurization kills natural enzymes in milk (it does) and that those enzymes have healing properties (there’s no scientific evidence supporting that idea). There’s no credible evidence to back up the claim that raw milk is better for you because of anything the enzymes do in your body. Actually, since they’re proteins, they’re just digested like any other dietary protein. Another claim is that raw milk is less allergenic. But pasteurization doesn’t have an effect on milk proteins or milk sugars, so drinking raw milk doesn’t relieve milk allergies or help lactose intolerance . People who can’t drink milk due to allergies or intolerance will have to avoid raw milk as well as pasteurized milk.

  5. Christi Vaughner says:

    Milk, by itself, somehow saved lives. This is odd, because milk is just food, just one source of nutrients and calories among many others. It’s not medicine. But there was a time in human history when our diet and environment conspired to create conditions that mimicked those of a disease epidemic. Milk, in such circumstances, may well have performed the function of a life-saving drug.*

    Current short article provided by our own blog site

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