Minnesota Farmer

Raw Milk
May 28, 2010, 8:29 am
Filed under: Ag education, Farm, food, food safety, Minnesota, science | Tags: , , , ,

Recent reports of e-coli contamination of raw milk comes as no surprise to many of us in agriculture.  We know why milk is pasteurized.  Some people think that the pasteurization process takes out vitamins from the milk, thus they feel that raw milk is better.  Science says that is false.

As a farmer I find the distrust of science in some people disturbing.  Farmers are, after all, scientists.  Why this distrust.  Why do things that generations of scientific study have shown to be harmful.  I just don’t get it.

Yes, in some cases science has moved faster than safety, but that is not the case here.  Processes to protect our food supply, especially those as old as pasteurization, are proven.  It is one of the reason’s we live longer today.

It is unfortunate that every generation must relearn the lessons of the past.  Perhaps that is because some have not been introduced to the reasons for food safety processes in school.  I know we have a lot to teach children in school now days, but where our food comes from, how we protect it, and why we do things like pasteurization should be something every child knows.



3 Comments so far
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Recent reports of e-coli contamination of raw milk comes as no surprise to raw milk advocates as well. It seems that many times there is a pathogen scare, well reported by the media, and never a follow up after lab tests find nothing in the milk.

About the superiority of raw milk in respect to vitamins: As a raw milk drinker, I am not concerned with the SLIGHT reduction in vitamins due to the pasteurization process. Most are concerned about the bacteria, ironically, and the enzymes especially lactase. The bacteria that us raw milk drinkers are concerned with are mainly lactic acid bacteria. You may know them as pro-biotics. They are very common in yogurts these days and are beneficial to gut health. After a round of anti-biotics, you gut needs re-population with these good guys, or you will end up with digestive issues.

Lactase is another legitimate reason for consuming raw milk. Heat destroys enzymes. Many people with lactose intolerance (who don’t produce lactase) will do very well on raw milk because the enzyme lactase is breaking down that lactose for them.

Quality and connection is often a reason too. Raw milk drinkers often know the farmers who produce it. They know the conditions it is produced in, what the animals eat, etc.

Milk isn’t inherently dangerous, just as other foods aren’t inherently safe. Plenty of people have been sickened by lettuce, spinach, packaged peanut butter products, and now potentially spaghetti-Os. Look at the conditions, the processing, and the handling to determine risk.

Also, the pasteurization process was for the intent of preserving the shelf life of wine not for food safety. It was useful and still is useful in preventing disease. CAFOs aren’t too sanitary if my nose is any indication, and I think the real cause of contaminated raw milk comes from poor living conditions and inadequate diet. When ruminants are not subsisting on their native diet of pasture, the pH and mix of microbes in their digestive tract changes, setting them up for health problems. Unhealthy animals are very inviting for pathogens.

As an anecdote, I’ve been drinking raw (grass-fed) milk for 3 years now and have never fallen ill from it. I drink 1+ gallons per week. My sister in-law and her three children, who’s source was Hartmann dairy, had consumed their milk for 6 years without complaint.

Comment by shawn

It’s been most of my life since I actually worked with dairy, but I do know from talking with dairymen that there is nothing to fear from the modern dairy operation, whether a CAFO or not. Unfortunately for cows, pasture in the winter is very hard to come by in the northern states, especially a winter like we just had. Most dairy cows are housed on sand or bedding packs. The sand works really well in the summer, but a bedding pack, piled up crop residue of some kind, is better in the winter. The bedding pack holds heat better. With dairy cows, cow cleanliness is a priority. That darned cow tends to lay down on the milk producing equipment and letting manure onto those udders is not appreciated, they need to be kept on clean bedding.
I think most of the problems with drinking raw milk comes from those who do not let a little bacteria into their life. Our bodies have the machinery to keep us safe from the ordinary stuff if we expose ourselves to it. It’s the hyper clean folks who get sick, and raise a stink in the courts.

Comment by Michael

Thanks for your reply! I also think the “hyper clean folks” get sick more often than those who are clean, but not extreme. This is the conclusion of the hygiene hypothesis. I’m not convinced that raw milk (produced and handled in sanitary way) poses more threat to the “hyper clean” anymore than the average person but if the milk isn’t handled as carefully, a family would likely build up immunity to the pathogens in there. The problem is that raw milk is just a blanket term for a product. It says nothing about the method of production. If we legalized retail sales and created standards for raw milk certification little to worry about.

a side note… the Hartmann’s dairy was tested for e.coli (0157:H7) and the results were negative for every sample of milk. The judge dismissed the case as there was no evidence that the milk caused the outbreak, yet the embargo wasn’t lifted from what I understand. There were a couple of samples of manure that contained the pathogenic e.coli, yet still less than the frequency of conventional dairies which is common in about 1/3 of the cows. What caused the outbreak? Whatever it was, it sure wasn’t the raw milk. As such, I’ll keep drinking!

Comment by shawn

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