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Raw milk has been a hot topic in the news and media for the last 10 -20 years, and with good reason. It’s a subject that is very important to become informed about, but not because drinking it will make you sick.

This article will discuss the history of pasteurization and the health benefits of raw milk as discussed by health professionals, two journalists, and a steward-conscientious dairy farmer.

The reason why raw milk is so important is because of its value as a nutrient-dense and versatile food that has been consumed for thousands of years by people all over the world to maintain health. Now more than ever, raw milk is a symbol of our freedoms and rights as citizens of this country, to preserve our abilities to be able to have access to real food that nourishes our bodies.

If you aren’t familiar with the struggles happening over raw milk and the right to sell, buy, and produce it, now is a good time to become acquainted with what’s been going on. Raw milk has received an unfair reputation for many years as being a food that carries disease and harmful bacteria. The is, raw milk from healthy cows on pasture contains life-giving nutrients and probiotics – something we are lacking more and more in food choices in the modern world.

Processing, packaging, heating, denaturing, and the adding of preservatives, chemicals, antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, and other toxic substances is destroying the value of nutrition in foods we know today. The integrity of milk as nature’s most perfect food has never been in such jeopardy as it is in modern times.

The history of pasteurization

Pasteurization came about as a result of urban dairies springing up in the late 1800s and early 1900s to supply milk to the growing population, and to control disease conditions occurring during that time period.

According to Nina Planck, author of Real Food:

“It was a response to an acute and growing public health crisis, in which infectious diseases like tuberculosis were spread by poor-quality milk [from these dairies]. Previously, milk came to the kitchen in buckets from the family cow or in glass jars from a local dairy, but soon, urban dairies sprang up to supply the growing populations in or near cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati.”

Owners put the dairies next to whiskey distilleries to feed the confined cows a cheap diet of spent mash called distillery slop. For distribution, the whiskey dairies were inefficient: in 1852, three quarters of the milk drunk by the seven hundred thousand residents of New York City came from distillery dairies. The last one in New York City (in Brooklyn) closed in 1930.”

The quality of “slop milk”, as it was known, was so poor it could not even be made into butter or cheese. Some unscrupulous distillery dairy owners added burned sugar, molasses, chalk, starch, or flour to give body to the thin milk, while others diluted it with water to make more money. Slop milk was inferior because animal nutrition was poor; cows need grass and hay, not warm whiskey mash, which was too acidic for the ruminant belly. Cows on fresh grass produce more cream, a measure of milk quality.”

Conditions were un-hygenic, too. In one contemporary account cited in the Complete Dairy Food Cookbook, distillery cows “soon became diseased; their gums ulcerate, their teeth drop out, and their breath becomes fetid.” Cartoons of distillery dairies show morose cows with open sores on their flanks standing or lying in muck in cramped stables. Bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis were common, and cow mortality was high. The people milking the cows were often unsanitary and unhealthy, too. Dairy workers could taint milk with tuberculosis and other diseases.”

This contamination, a prevalent occurrence in commercial dairies, caused outbreaks of various diseases – typhoid, scarlet fever, undulant fever (brucellosis), and tuberculosis. The blame for sickness went to the tainted milk. In looking for a solution, public health officials finally decided that pasteurization was the perfect solution to eliminate the problem of contamination. Use of this practice essentially gave license to dairies to continue unsafe and unsanitary production practices in their milking and animal-raising methods.

As Ron Schimd highlights in his book The Untold Story of Raw Milk, mandatory inspections and cleanliness were neither considered nor required to maintain sanitation and health safety in producing and selling milk to the public. Through the years, the milk itself was continually put in the doghouse as the culprit of the public’s health woes by various health experts and milk distributors. Why not require farmers to keep cows on grass and manage their care and health properly to avoid disease and illness in the first place? But this did not happen. Ultimately, this resulted in President Roosevelt appointing a panel of experts who required all raw milk to be pasteurized in 1914 in New York City. The requirement to pasteurize spread from there and by the 1950s, it was the law most everywhere.

It should be obvious as to where the problem originated. Raw milk is not dangerous to drink because it is inherently unsanitary. It becomes a threat to human health and the environment when dairies continue to use hazardous substances like pesticides, antibiotics, GMOs (genetically-modified organisms), are not required to maintain healthy standards of animal and land stewardship, and are permitted to treat animals like commodities instead of living creatures that should have access to pasture, sunshine, fresh air and clean water.

In this day and age when we possess the knowledge and capability of superior animal nutrition, sanitation, testing, storage, and transportation of the milk that comes from cows, it only makes sense to combine the best of nature and technology to enable our species to have access to the most healthful, nutrient-dense, and safe food available. Pasteurization only puts us back in the dark ages of our history, and does not acknowledge the supreme domain and ability to preserve our health and future that nature ultimately possesses.

What progress has pasteurization made?

It has provided commercial dairies with the ability to not be accountable for producing a clean product, and if harmful bacteria are present – which they always are, they are simply obliterated through heat, and so are any good bacteria that might be present in the milk. Then those bacteria can be masked (at least some of  the time) with pasteurization practices. It has also provided big agricultural business with an efficient way to sell products far and wide and keep them on the shelf longer, thus making more profits. All at the expense of our health, of course.

What’s left in pasteurized milk is simply dead bacteria. So when you drink pasteurized and processed milk, you are drinking bacteria that has died. That’s the reason there is a shelf life on pasteurized milk, because at some point the milk goes from being dead to completely toxic. You can’t drink pasteurized milk past its date without health problems, but raw milk simply grows more and more plentiful in helpful bacteria and can be used for many things – buttermilk, yogurt, kefir, cheese, kefir, clabbered milk and a variety of healthful foods.

Did you know that pasteurized milk is routinely tested – but for coliforms, not pathogens? What’s the difference? Coliforms are a species of microorganisms which comprise most of the intestinal flora of an organism, while a pathogen is a disease-producing agent.

Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures, the largest raw milk dairy in the nation (Fresno, CA) discusses coliforms in a recent article from the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation Journal (Volume 42 Number 1, Spring issue) states the following:

“It is impressive to see that the average coliform count for RAWMI dairies is less than 2 per ml, with most having counts of 1 per ml or less. In contrast, pasteurized milk is supposed to contain less than 10 coliforms per ml, and the FDA allows up to 750 per ml if the milk is going to be pasteurized. Coliforms are not dangerous but are used as a measure of general sanitation.”

From the Organic Pastures web site:

“These [coliforms] include Para TB,  viruses, bacteria and spores that survive pasteurization. This is something that the dairy industry and CDFA will not share with you. These bacteria do not exist in raw milk for human consumption. They are eliminated by specialized testing of raw milk cows and by other sanitary methods not used on conventional dairies.” Because of this fact, a person can contract a foodborne illness from milk even if it has been pasteurized.

Yes, you read that correctly.

In the state of California, raw milk undergoes testing for pathogens thousands of times annually. To date, no pathogens have ever been found in milk from either Organic Pastures (Fresno) nor Claravale Farm (Paicines).

Not only is raw milk better for your health, it is also safer than pasteurized milk. In his book The Raw Milk Revolution, David E. Gumpert revealed that in the state of Massachusetts no deaths are on record from drinking raw milk. But pasteurized milk containing the pathogen Listeriosis was responsible for the deaths of 3 people in 2007.

An In These Times web site article disclosed the following CDC data: from 1993 to 2006 there were 116 illnesses annually connected to raw milk , “or less than .000002 percent of the 76 million people who contract food-borne illnesses every year in the United States.”

From the RealMilk web site: (2017, with references provided):

“Mark McAfee from Organic Pastures Dairy in California has compiled a list of all the outbreaks from pasteurized milk and pasteurized milk products since 1966. During this period there have been 153,657 illnesses, 188 hospitalizations, and 73 deaths from pasteurized milk and pasteurized milk products.2 The average number of illnesses per year over the fifty-year period is 3,073.”

“While it might be difficult to come up with a precise comparison of illnesses per person for raw versus pasteurized milk, it is abundantly clear that raw milk is not more likely to cause illness than pasteurized. The key point is that there has never been a confirmed death from raw milk, but there have been more than 70 deaths from pasteurized milk and pasteurized milk products.”

There’s milk, and then there’s milk

There are actually two types of raw milk. According to Mark McAfee, here are the primary differences between them:

1) There’s the raw milk intended to be consumed raw


2) There’s the raw milk intended to be used for pasteurization. 

Contrary to popular belief, they are NOT the same. When you consider purchasing raw milk, you must be certain to find milk that has been produced with the intention of being consumed raw, and not just raw milk from conventionally-raised cows that hasn’t gone through the pasteurization process yet.

There’s a vast difference between the quality and safety of milk from organically-raised, grass-fed cows, and conventionally-raised, grain-fed livestock. Cows fed on grain, soy, corn, and other inappropriate feeds develop an acidic digestive environment and eventually become ill. Cattle are ruminants, meaning their digestive tracts are designed to consume grasses, not grains. When a ruminant consumes grains, all bets for healthy milk are off. This is why farmers administer antibiotics to their herds – because the feed causes the internal environment to develop pathogenic bacteria and this makes the milk harmful for consumption. 

Want real milk? Ask your farmer important questions that will yield answers as to whether he or she uses mindful practices and offers raw milk from healthy cows on pasture. 

Health benefits of raw milk

Raw milk that is organically-sourced from cows on pasture is naturally rich in healthy bacteria, including lactobacillus and acidophilus. There are also several coliform families of bacteria present in raw milk that are important for health. What most people don’t know is there are actually over 230 different kinds of E. coli. Of those, only two or three of them are actually pathogenic and will cause sickness. The rest are extremely beneficial to your immune system and digestion.

Raw milk also contains vitamins, which are virtually eliminated by the pasteurization process of commercial milk. But it’s the presence of beneficial bacteria are what make raw milk such an outstanding food source to promote the growth of healthy bacteria in your intestine, which in turn has a significant, beneficial impact on your overall immune function.

Other health promoting ingredients in raw milk include (source, Dr. Mercola with guest Mark McAfee):

From Dr. Al Sears, M.D.:

I come from a family of farmers, and milk was a staple of my diet growing up. We’d have it delivered to the house in glass bottles and go through a gallon a week per person. When I’d go to my grandma’s, she’d pour me a glass straight from the bucket…straight from the cow.

Back then, we never worried about whether milk was raw or pasteurized, and we were healthy, strong, and never sick a day. Today, you won’t find raw dairy products in your local grocery store. It’s against the law in some states.

Raw milk from grass-fed cows has been used for disease prevention since the time of Hippocrates.

Grass-fed raw milk builds immunity. Any time you build immunity, you help prevent disease. When you build immunity high enough, you set up a protective shield around you that prevents germs and viruses from attacking. You can walk into a room full of cold and flu victims and never catch a thing.

Grass-fed raw milk is a good source of important disease fighters like vitamins and minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids, and good bacteria to strengthen your immune system. When you pasteurize milk, the heat destroys all of the immune-fighting properties. Grass-fed raw milk also contains the most important health-building ingredient of all: enzymes. Enzymes are inflammation fighters and immune builders too. But they are destroyed within minutes by heat during pasteurization.

Here’s a sample of what is lost:

  • Amylase: breaks down carbohydrates in food as it is digested
  • Catalase: a strong antioxidant that protects cells
  • Lactase: what’s missing when people develop lactose intolerance. Lactase makes it easier to absorb other nutrients as well.
  • Lipase: breaks down fats like triglycerides and improves the way your body uses them
  • Phosphatase: helps your body absorb and use the calcium and phosphorus in milk.
  • Lactoferrin: helps protect you from disease. Lactoferrin defends the body against invasion by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Lactoferrin has the same protection-fighting power as mother’s breast milk for an infant.

What if I am allergic to dairy or have lactose intolerance? 

There are far fewer “lactose intolerant” people than the health and medical establishment would have us believe. You may be reacting to the casein in milk, which can cause digestive symptoms and other issues, particularly from conventionally-raised cattle living in confinement conditions. When milk is pasteurized, fragile enzymes and proteins that are necessary for digestion are destroyed.

You may also have a compromised digestive tract from consuming processed foods and a non-optimal lifestyle, which makes digesting most foods properly a challenge (which is the case for many people). In any case, you  won’t know until you try it to find out. Everyone in our family was either diagnosed as “dairy intolerant” or had noticeable challenges consuming pasteurized dairy. Those issues cleared up when we began consuming raw milk.

I don’t like milk or drink it. Why would I drink raw milk?

Besides being a nutrient-dense, easy-to-digest traditional food, you might change your mind if you had clean, healthy raw milk from cows grazing on green pastures. If you try it and still find you don’t care for it, put it in a smoothie with some berries or banana, a bit of raw honey, a raw egg yolk from a pastured hen, coconut oil, and an avocado. Preparing this will provide a nutrient-dense, delicious, “fast food” breakfast that will rival any breakfast you’ve likely eaten in terms of nutritional content and providing a satisfying, filling meal that will sustain your body for hours. You can also make yogurt, kefir, sour cream, buttermilk, cream cheese, and many other dairy foods that are delicious and healthy.