Raw milk products: healthy or hazardous?
Raw milk and dairy products are considered contraband in many states across the US. Yet, advocates say that the process of pasteurization of milk kills important enzymes, affects vitamins, and contributes to lactose intolerance, allergies, and digestive issues. If raw dairy is more healthy, should it really be banned? Or should people have the right to choose?
What is “raw milk”?
First of all, what is “raw” milk? Raw milk, raw milk products are just dairy products that haven’t been pasteurized. Pasteurization is the process of heating liquids and canned foods to kill microbes and bacteria. The practice of pasteurizing milk began in the late 19th century in order to provide safety measures and increase the shelf life of commercially sold milk products.
Most milk products today are pasteurized using a “flash” pasteurization process where the milk is heated to at least 161.6 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds. This is also called “high-temperature short-term pasteurization.” More recently you may have seen “Ultra pasteurized” milk products in your local grocery stores. This process includes heating the milk to 280 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 seconds; this process kills a larger percentage of bacteria than regular pasteurization and also extends the shelf life significantly.
Raw milk safety
Especially today with many commercial dairy farms, the demand for product goes up but the amount of space for land and growth often remains the same. A number of animal advocacy groups have done spotlights on the conditions that dairy cows live in. Many aspects of these stories are disheartening and disgusting, and you can read about them elsewhere on the web. Yet, one of the main reasons for milk sterilization comes from the treatment of these cows and the milking process (which can leave udders torn, bloody, and infected). Raw milk safety is a significant issue because of the conditions of milking. Additionally, the CDC lists ways that milk becomes contaminated in order to show the benefits of pasteurization. Reasons for contamination include: cow feces, infection of cow udders, dirty environment and processing equipment, and soiled clothing and boots worn by farmers or workers on the farm. However, later on the same page, they say “Adherence to good hygienic practices during milking can reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of milk contamination.” If there are ways to reduce risks, why isn’t there a law regarding milk safety or worker compliance on the farms?
While it’s easy to see why pasteurization of milk for standardization and public health reasons, should it be banned? Advocates say absolutely not. A European study showed that when raw milk is consumed by children in can reduce their allergies. In a 2010 interview with NPR, David Acheson, former chief of the FDA division of food safety, acknowledged that some of the nutrients in raw milk are denatured or killed by the process of pasteurization. If we are losing nutrients during the process of pasteurization, what else are we missing out on?
Raw milk nutrition
Advocates of raw dairy give many reasons why they should be able to choose to buy and consume these “natural” products. Jenny McGruther from Nourishedkitchen.com gives a list of reasons why organic raw milk is good for our health and our economy. She lists natural food enzymes, vitamin-richness, beneficial bacteria, linoleic acid (a good trans-fat), easier digestion (because of lipase, lactase, and amylase), and supporting the local farming economy as reasons why drinking organic raw milk is better than store-bought pasteurized milk.
The debate about raw milk safety is still raging. However, there are some states that do allow farmers to sell their organic raw milk, though it is not available at stores. Until the possible day when raw milk products are available at the supermarket, I predict that organic pasteurized milk and ultra pasteurized milk will continue to grow in popularity as consumers are more health and animal conscious.