Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why raw milk?

Many people are under the misconception that raw milk is dangerous.  It is not.  So why do we pasteurize our milk?  A little history here.

At one time, milk did spread disease, in particular from city dairies that housed cows that were not pastured and were kept in dirty circumstances.  How did that happen?  As populations grew in cities, the need for dairies close to the consumers rose, and city dairies became common. The cows were inside - no room for pastures - and they were fed offal from the greengrocers and breweries, to name two of the mainstays of their diets. There was a great deal of filth in these dairies, and it was a prime breeding ground for diseases such as brucellosis and tuberculosis. Cows infected with brucellosis pass it on, as undulant fever, to humans.

When the Pasteurs came up with a method for heating milk to kill pathogens, it presented a way to prevent the spread of disease without cleaning up the dairies.  Let me repeat that - without cleaning up the dairies.  They had a choice, clean up the dairies or pasteurize dirty milk.  The latter was much cheaper, and so it was chosen.  And that is the reason we must pasteurize our commercial milk today - dirty milk.  The number of pathogens allowed in commercial milk is extremely high because they are going to be destroyed anyway.  No matter that precious vitamins and minerals are destroyed or greatly minimized at the same time.  No matter that the good bacteria, which comprise the far greater percentage of the bacteria in milk, are also destroyed.  And now, with ultra-pasteurization, even the enzymes are killed.  You cannot make cheese with ultra pasteurized milk.  It is dead milk, the very life of it destroyed with a blast of heat.

You might be thinking it is worth it to get rid of those bad bacteria.  Here is what you are giving up - enzymes that make milk more digestible.  Mother Nature, in all her wisdom, provided an animal that can convert cellulose (which we cannot digest) into milk (which we can).  I have heard the argument ad nauseum that we are the only animal that drinks milk from another animal, and that is just so silly!  Cats, dogs and chickens will drink milk from any animal.  Has anybody milked a chicken lately?  They love milk and their species doesn't even produce it!  Mother Nature also made sure we could digest it by adding valuable enzymes to the milk.  Many people who think they are lactose intolerant have no problem with raw milk, in which all of the natural aids to digestibility remain.  And you are giving up the good bacteria.  It boggles the mind that people buy Activa, made with a patented bacterium, to get those "probiotics" to make their gut healthier when they could have gotten them with raw milk.

Ah, but what about the bad bacteria that go along with the good bacteria?  Listeria is a very nasty bacterium, and it has been responsible for the majority of deaths from dairy products.  All of those deaths have been from pasteurized milk.  That bears repeating - all of those deaths have been from pasteurized milk.   The good bacteria that naturally occur in raw milk eat listeria, and therefore control it.  Mark McAfee, who owns a large raw milk dairy in California (where it is legal to retail raw milk), proved it to a board that was trying to stop the sale of raw milk.  He deliberately injected listeria into raw milk, and then tested for it the bacterium again 48 hours later.  It was gone.  However, if by any chance listeria infects pasteurized milk, there is nothing to stop it.  It has no natural predators, and it can proliferate to the point of being dangerous to people with compromised immune systems.  About 2% of pasteurized milk contains minute but measurable quantities of listeria, by the way.  One of the reasons that pasteurized milk rots rather than gently souring as it ages. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are still quick to warn consumers about the dangers inherent in unpasteurized milk, citing the fact that more than 800 people in the U.S. have gotten sick from drinking raw milk or eating cheese made from raw milk since 1998.  Not deaths, but illnesses.  In eleven years, no deaths from raw milk. Over a thirty year period, 620 people died from consuming pasteurized milk products.  And yet raw milk producers are often hounded by government agencies as if they were pushing drugs or had meth labs in their barns.  Five people died from an outbreak of e. coli in spinach.  Several people died from eating radish sprouts.  If one looks at the total number of food related illnesses, produce comprises nearly 40% of them!

When you buy milk from the store, it is heavily subsidized, and you are actually paying less for it than the cost to produce it.  Our raw milk more accurately reflects the true cost of milk.  We get no subsidies.  In fact, the government - and agribusiness - would like nothing more than for us to just go quietly away!  I'm not sure why.  It just seems to me that the demand for raw milk is so low that they shouldn't be worrying that we are depriving them of their profits.  But maybe they worry it is the first chink in the armor.  Puzzling.  I will continue to drink raw milk.  I believe in the health benefits, and it sure does taste better!

Tonight there are fifteen chickens roosting happily in the Moop, three calves, three heifers (they broke out of the paddock twice today, but they are where they belong now), six milkers (Lucy continues to improve), one bull, three dogs and a cat.  All is well on the farm.

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