Raw Milk: To Drink or Not To Drink

by Michele Jacobson

These are no CAFO cows, by the way. Integral to the health benefit of raw milk is the healthfulness of the cow. Antibiotics, pesticides, growth hormones (rBGH) and GMO feed are not part of the cows’ regimen.

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The fact that most cows raised to provide raw milk graze on grass, as opposed to grain like commercial dairy cows, changes the composition of the fats in the milk, especially the CLA content.

Raw milk provides nutrients not found in pasteurized milk, including beneficial bacteria such as lactobacillus acidolphilus.

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State laws on the sale of raw milk vary widely. Options include:

  1. a total ban
  2. farm sales
  3. farmers’ market sales
  4. cow share programs, where the consumer owns a share in the dairy animal or the herd, and can be considered to be consuming milk from their own animal
  5. health food stores and supermarkets in which raw milk sales are specially allowed. Some states allow a variety of choices.

However, the Interstate ban holds fast. New Jersey is one of only eight states and Washington, D.C., that enforces a total ban on raw milk. The law states “No person shall sell or distribute to (the) ultimate consumer milk that is not pasteurized.” (To view all the state laws in detail, see https://www.farmtoconsumer.org/raw_milk_map.htm).

But armed raids? What is the FDA literally up in arms about?

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As gatekeeper of public health and safety, the FDA (as well as the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services, and numerous other agencies) claim that raw milk, and raw milk products, are conduits for contaminants that could cause massive outbreaks of food-borne illness, such as Listeriosis, Salmonella and E. coli. As such, they claim that these unpasteurized products are public health hazards. Furthermore, the FDA claims that pasteurized milk provides extra nutritional value, as it is fortified with vitamins A and D. The claim is disputed by raw milk proponents, as these are the very vitamins that are initially destroyed during high heat processing, only to be added back as “enrichment.”

The FDA reports, “according to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 1993 and 2006 more than 1500 people in the United States became sick from drinking raw milk or eating cheese made from raw milk. In addition, CDC reported that unpasteurized milk is 150 times more likely to cause food-borne illness and results in 13 times more hospitalizations than illnesses involving pasteurized dairy products.”

Opponents of the FDA claim that there are actually very few illness outbreaks caused by raw milk or raw milk products. This information was most recently challenged in May, 2013, in a report titled Raw Milk: Myths and Truths.[3] This report gave evidence that raw, “unpasteurized milk is a low-risk food, contrary to previous, inappropriately-evidenced claims suggesting a high-risk profile.” Indeed, the report goes on to present evidence that green leafy vegetables are the most common cause of food-borne illness in the U.S. today. The report finds a “forty-year worldwide absence of listeriosis cases from raw milk” though it does support continued rigorous practices to minimize risk.

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