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?