Raw Milk: To Drink or Not To Drink

by Michele Jacobson

It’s a dichotomy.

Picture a pastoral farm, dairy cows grazing peacefully on organic pasture. When the cows are milked, the fresh, frothy substance they produce is known as raw milk. Fresh from the farm, directly from the cow, raw milk is nowadays sought out for its purity and unadulterated health benefits.

Google “raw milk” and you will find articles extolling the the health benefits of what some claim is an elixir, but also of the FDA issuing warnings to avoid it. Since the 1987 Federal Ban On Raw Milk For Human Consumption – which prohibits any unpasteurized milk or milk product crossing interstate lines – and the 2006 FDA enforcement of that ban, there have actually been dozens of armed, federal raids of dairy farms, including families held at gunpoint. All because they have either provided, or attempted to purchase, raw milk.


Difficult to imagine. Armed federal raids of bucolic dairy farms.

Why would the U.S. Government seek to ban its citizens from partaking of a substance as basic and pure as farm-fresh milk? Hasn’t every American schoolchild seen storybook pictures depicting dairy cows being milked for this food of sustenance? Don’t most of us buy milk at the supermarket anyway? Isn’t it the same thing?

Not at all.

The milk you buy at a supermarket has been pasteurized and homogenized. These two processes, which effectively superheat the milk to kill off harmful pathogens and bacteria, have been utilized for over one hundred years to safeguard the public from food-borne illness. The milk still has a limited shelf life, as indicated by a date stamped on the packaging, but it has been prolonged by the processing.

Raw milk, on the other hand, is…well, raw. It is fresh, unheated, untreated and highly perishable. Raw milk contains beneficial bacteria and enzymes which are said to have an inverse effect on allergies and asthma[1,2] a claim that has been supported by numerous medical studies, but is still challenged by the FDA. In any case, it’s what accounts for the current rage for raw milk consumption. While raw milk can be the stuff of picture books – you head on down to a farm, see the pretty cows and get it from a farmer – you really need to know that farmer to ensure that safe handling practices have been adhered to. Pathogens are not something to be taken lightly.