This is a question I hear quite frequently, and from educated people who spend much time and money promoting their health. We have all been taught how bad raw milk is for us, how deadly it is, how dangerous… Why in the world would ANYONE want to drink that when perfectly safe milk is available at any grocery store? Let’s take a moment and look a bit deeper than just what mainstream media tells us.
First off, pasteurization of milk is a relatively new idea. Documentation of milk used for human consumption dates back to Biblical times. Milk and milk products are mentioned about fifty times in the Bible. This milk was not treated, or changed other than if to make cultured products. Cows, sheep, goats, camels, horses, and other ruminant mammals were milked; it depended upon what animals were present in a particular location. They all were outside eating a natural diet of forages present in their climate.
Here in the US, things began to change here after the war of 1812. This ended the import of whiskey from the British West Indies and led to the beginnings of distilleries in the US. More cities were springing up and it was getting harder to find adequate pasture close to the cities and someone had a “bright” idea. When whiskey is distilled from grain, there is a lot of sludge-like waste left over. Someone along the way decided see if it could be used to feed animals. They began to house cows next to the distilleries and feed the cows the hot slop directly as it poured off the stills. It was discovered that this swill did nothing towards fattening cattle, in fact it made them sick and emaciated. But, when given to dairy cows in large amounts it did create a nice volume of milk, even though the cows did not survive very long. The make-shift milking areas next to the cows and distillery were often unsanitary, as were the employees doing the milking, the cows were diseased, and there was little or no cleansing of buckets or utensils. The milk that resulted from the cows being fed slop alone was bluish in color, so additives were created to help it look like milk. It's not surprising that people began getting sick and were dying from drinking this “milk”.
Pasteurization was brought as a solution to the milk problem in cities in early 1900. At this time, there was also the beginnings of a medical milk movement in which doctors were insisting upon certified raw milk for their patients' health rather than pasteurized swill milk. The Medical Milk Commission was founded and consisted of physicians who worked together to certify dairies. They founded the Certified Raw Milk program. The program consisted of dairies that were regulated with certain standards that must be met. All cows were to be on a pasture based diet, kept out on pasture rather than in lots, and standards were set for clean milking conditions and equipment. The certified raw milk and pasteurized milk products co-existed peacefully for years with both options available in cities and most people in rural areas purchased their milk from a local farmer. Things began to shift in 1940 when the numbers of certified farms were so small in comparison to non-certified farms that many states simply began to outlaw raw milk sales.
Many are surprised to learn that in the first half of the twentieth century raw milk was widely used a treatment for many illnesses. The Mayo Clinic even had a raw milk diet prescription for many issues including IBS, autoimmune issues, and Crohn's disease. For centuries raw milk was cherished as a life giving food and it only took less than 50 years of industrialized farming techniques to denature it and change the way we view milk.
Now, let’s look at the differences between raw milk and it’s pasteurized counterpart. Pasteurization does far more to milk than just kill any potential pathogens. This was discovered early on in its use. In 1916 The American Journal of Diseases in Children released a study in which researchers discovered that scurvy often resulted when pasteurized milk replaced raw milk in an infant's diet. In 1925 the Journal of Biochemical Chemistry published a study that showed how heating milk results in a loss of calcium and phosphorus and it was in proportion to how high the milk is heated. There were articles and studies showing differences in children on raw milk versus pasteurized milk and the marked differences in dental health and tuberculosis infections. There were no more studies on the nutrient differences between raw and pasteurized milk after 1950. The solution seemed to be to add vitamins back to pasteurized milk, so no more studies were funded. During the 1930's and 40's there were several magazine articles claiming widespread illnesses from raw milk and while founded in fiction, they did their job of spreading fears and pasteurization became the gold standard. Even today, the FDA has web pages and brochures touting the dangers of raw milk and disputing the negative affects of pasteurization on the nutrient content of milk.
Big AG has taken over and the cost has been the end of the family farm. Fifty years ago, most farms had a dairy cow or two and most raised their own livestock and even sold a bit of milk or meat to neighbors, family, or friends. Most family farms are now devoid of livestock, the family dairy cow is a rarity, millions of acres of beautiful pastureland have been turned over to corn and soy. Dairy cows are no longer housed next to distilleries and fed swill but their diets consist mainly of corn and soy and they spend their lives in dry lots rather than peacefully roaming grasslands. Today, a small dairy is defined as one milking less than 300 cows, it's practically impossible to range that many cows. Right now, the federal government is waging war on raw milk and looking to make it unobtainable in all 50 states. Why? In my opinion, the answer is simple. Ten years ago, the organics movement was gearing up, it was easy for big Ag to compete there... all they had to do is switch the dairy cow ration to organic grains but today the raw milk movement is growing as fast as organics was back then. There is simply no way that the large dairy to compete... their business model is dependent upon pasteurization! As was proven back in 1900 you CANNOT place a cow on artificial feed and drink it's milk raw. Cows have a four chambered stomach, full of rumen which is required to break down the proteins and fiber in grass. When a large amount of non-grass based feed is given to a cow, the pH in the rumen changes so as to facilitate the growth of e-Coli as well as other pathogens. Today's modern dairy cow has been bred and fed to produce an unnaturally high volume of milk; their udders are generally so huge they can hardly walk. Because of this, they usually require antibiotics to keep mastitis down and to keep them well. Most milk today (even Organic milk) comes from a cow that has spent its entire life indoors, never touching a blade of grass.
So, let's look at WHY I would want to drink raw milk. First off, raw milk from grass-fed cows is full of many nutrients essential to my health that are not easily found in modern processed foods. Vitamins A and D are naturally present and its naturally high in Vitamins B6 and B12. It is also contains all of it's natural butterfat. The butterfat is rich in short- and medium chain fatty acids which protect against disease and stimulate the immune system. The butterfat also contains glyco-spingolipids which prevent intestinal distress and conjugated linoleic acid which has strong anticancer properties. Lastly, raw milk has not been heated so it contains all of the natural enzymes that aid in the assimilation of the proteins and sugars naturally found in the milk. The naturally occurring beneficial bacteria in raw milk helps to feed our immune systems and in my opinion is one the most key ingredients to keeping my family healthy. Raw milk, unlike pasteurized milk, contains no additives. It sours naturally, never turning putrid like pasteurized milk. The standards are different; the quality of the milk is different. Typical large dairies have extremely elevated white blood cell counts in their milk, so much so that when the milk is pasteurized the processors must use centrifugal methods to spin out the resulting pus and slime.
Another important reason why we choose raw milk for our family is that we have a dairy allergy. I spent most of my adult life dealing with stomach pains and nasal congestion related to a dairy allergy. My oldest daughter was colicky as a baby so I removed dairy from my diet and she improved. I later learned just how allergic she was when she was given her first bite of ice cream and her lip blew up looking like she had been boxing. We were dairy-free for years. I could not find a replacement that was even close to comparable so just gave up my beloved cheese and ice cream. I happened to stumble upon an article about the healing properties of raw milk and allergies. We gave it a go, starting slowly with yogurt I made from the milk. There was no adverse reaction from either my daughter or myself. We moved onto fresh milk and the result was the same. We have never looked back.
Crewe, J. E. Raw Milk Cures Many Diseases, article, 1929
Porter, S. Charles Milk Diet as a Remedy for Chronic Disease, 1905-1923
The Lancet, May 8, 1937, 1142
Thomson, James C. “Pasteurized Milk, A National Menace: A Plea for Cleanliness.” Kingston Chronicle, Edinburg, 1943