So I know this vegetarian… She’s recently gotten into non-pasteurized milk as the next phase of the “grass-fed”, “free-range” fad – actually this is more accurately compared with the “pink slime” kerfuffle. They call it “raw” milk.
Now, disregarding my initial thought, “Wow, that is bat-shit crazy, have you considered that you might be nuts?” (as I did to maintain the friendship because she is otherwise a very intelligent person and a dear friend to my wife); I offered the question with a touch more tact. “Wow, really? And are you aware that they’ve been pasteurizing milk for like 100 years for a reason?” (The first tests of pasteurization were performed 150 years ago while commercialization of the process came about 90-115 years ago).
Now I never bothered to actually look into pasteurization, beyond what I learned in grade school (in, what, third grade?): Pasteurization, the process, was invented by Louis Pasteur more than 120 years ago because people were getting ill and dying from drinking milk straight from the cow. Now, that’s about all I knew about milk – I lived by a dairy farm and was very good friends with two of the boys whose dad owned the farm (though I did help milk the cows, clean the equipment and feed the cows so the boys could get done with their chores faster, but most of the time I spent there was playing). So even though I’m highly skeptical of the new raw milk fad, I decided to become more knowledgeable about the pros and cons. Who knows, I may learn that they’re not so crazy after all, because the one thing I do know about this friend of my wife’s, she cares deeply about the health of her kids – even if that care seems misguided at times.
Pasteurization is very simple: You heat the milk up for a very short period to kill most of the pathogens often found in raw milk. In fact, unpasteurized milk is touted as the most dangerous food known to man because generally you have an animal that isn’t afraid to lay down in its own shit, and you take milk from the udder of that animal, put it in a bucket then drink it.
Now, contrary to what the “raw milk fad” people say, the actual pasteurization process doesn’t use chemicals. Nor does the Extended Shelf Life (ESL) method which super heats the milk for one second, then cools it rapidly. There is a another process that uses ultraviolet light – and that’s used to kill all of the pathogens in milk giving it a shelf-life of up to two months from what I’ve read, but that is currently only under review by the FDA – it is currently being used in Africa and parts of Europe – the pro raw milk literature usually misleads people by calling this “irradiation” and making it seem as though it is used in the US. So if we’re just talking about heating milk up, why the hub-bub, bub?
Like the pink slime scare that got so much press, the raw milk argument relies on about half of reality to turn the pasteurization process into a ridiculous marketing scam. You see, folks of a certain ilk get there jollies off of misinforming people because of a hatred of good, orderly decency and because they can’t come to grips that putting mass amounts of food to market is not always a pretty, harmonious operation. Americans require a little more fat in their burger which matches their desired taste – there’s a shortage of useable fat from the trimmings so they come up with a safe process to use fat that would usually be tossed in the garbage – we call this recycling in other applications, or using all possible parts of a particular animal to avoid waste… In other words, this is usually desirable. Pink slime was created and for years, all were happy, until some group decides to make it the horror topic of the day and everyone (except me and maybe 75% of the rest of the US population) loses their mind. Well, enter raw milk. The rewrite of history claims that Louis Pasteur created pasteurization to sell spoiled wine as if it never went bad – and the claim is that it was applied to milk later on for the same nefarious reason, as if you can unspoil milk. If I had to guess, somebody went through his old notes and misread tests on sour milk and spoiled wine to mean that this was the intended purpose – from there they just went nuts… If you have a desire to delve into the underbelly of milk pasteurization misinformation, start at rawmilk-dot-org. It is pure spun bullshit. The yahoo who put together the site even claims that pasteurized milk causes obesity, while raw milk does not. You can’t make this stuff up.
In the end, and humorously enough, this all boils down to whether or not you believe that the Canadian and US Governments require pasteurization to help the “big business” dairy industry make milk harder for the small farmer to bring to market or that those governments require pasteurization to actually prevent diseases. Now having worked sparingly on a dairy farm as a kid, I can tell you there are more than a few ridiculous claims made by the proponents for raw milk. First is that dairy cows live 90% of their lives in a barn with concrete floors. This simply isn’t true, I’ve seen it with my own two eyes… And it gets even deeper into the weeds from there.
In the end several studies that show that 5-6% of all samples, good farms or bad farms – it makes no difference, contain harmful bacteria – E-coli, Listeria and Brucella, Campylobacter and a bacteria that causes tuberculosis (the orignal reason that they came up with pasteurization in the first place). Still other studies have shown that there is literally no nutritional difference between pasteurized milk and raw milk, other than slight reductions in some vitamins (like Vitamin C).
Now, for my children’s sake, I went all out and spoke with the American Dairy Farmers Association and the Michigan Department of Agriculture – and because I called them as a private concerned citizen and not Big Daddy Jim of Fit Recovery I won’t quote them, but let’s just say that the discussion was what I figured. As for the charge that “big farming” is manipulating the system to make it more difficult for smaller farmers to sell their milk by requiring them to pasteurize their milk, this is simply not true as well. In fact, co-ops are available for smaller dairy farmers who cannot (or will not) purchase the equipment. Milk is pasteurized to keep you from getting ill – period.
After reading as much as I care to read on the subject, what this really comes down to is risk. Recent studies have shown that no matter how clean (or dirty) the farm no matter grain fed or grass-fed, every farm carries a 5%-6% risk of contaminated milk samples – and that’s just the risk of turning in a bad sample. You get a bad sample, the cow is bad – and most testing is done on a quarterly basis. Pasteurization does not completely remove this risk, it just kills enough of the harmful bacteria that it cannot adversely effect the human body. Pasteurization is the one thing done to milk that can reduce the risk to as close to zero as humanly possible – and the important thing to remember here, if you do get a bad gallon, those most likely to die are not the fit and healthy middle-aged folks – it’ll be your children in a hospital bed fighting for their life. Is standing over your kid in a hospital bed, praying to God to spare your child, worth the risk?
Not to me.
Now, there are people out there who report fewer allergic reactions or symptoms of asthma disappearing because they now drnk raw milk. I do believe this is plausible. Read that again, slowly… Right – from what I know about allergies and asthma, this actually makes sense.
Here’s the trick… Many allergists believe that the culprit for increased asthma and allergies is that homes are too sterile. The body’s immune system doesn’t have anything bad to fight, so it ends up fighting itself – and you wind up with allergies and/or asthma (I wrote about this here). In fact, the allergist I spoke with back when my youngest was born specifically recommended that we keep two dogs in the house for at least the first three years after her birth. The dogs shed and create dander, giving off “things” for the immune system to battle, thus you wind up healthy. Now, if your body’s immune system needs something to fight and you introduce raw milk with all of its bacteria and microorganisms, what does your body get? Something to fight… Allergies and asthma symptoms then may appear to clear up.
Now, the question is do you want to try to fight off E-coli, Listeria, Brucella, Campylobacter or pet dander? And therein lies the rub.
Next will be a complete debunking of this “supposed news” story which is so rife with misinformation it actually could take six months to get all the way through it.
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