Milk: the raw wars

I have friends who travel miles to purchase raw milk. I know farmers who won’t touch the milk they produce in their own barns, preferring to purchase their dairy beverages from the local supermarket–pasteurized, homogenized, stable-ized for long shelf-life. For many, this is a big deal: raw milk vs. processed milk. A really big deal. It’s even made it to the NPR Ombudsman’s column.

I’m not much of a milk drinker, but I owned a family Jersey for many years, making butter, buttermilk, fresh cheeses and yogurt in an effort to use all that milk. Friends would pick up a jug of milk from time to time, all gushing about the joys of raw milk. (Again, I’m not a milk drinker, so raw milk appealed to me only as the starting point for other dairy products.) My old neighbors all made “cottage cheese” from their cows’ milk (set a dish of milk over the heat register overnight…voila! cottage cheese); or, they’d pour some cream in a jar and shake the daylights out of it until it turned into butter, pouring off the sweet buttermilk as a favorite drink.

Okay, the gate is open: what do you think about the raw milk wars?

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19 Comments on “Milk: the raw wars”

  1. Pete Klein says:

    First, why must everything be a war?
    As to raw milk, when we lived in Schoharie and were surrounded by a dairy farm, we drank some raw milk from the farmer and never had a problem. My kids are still alive.
    Speaking of pasteurized, same is true from back when cider wasn’t pasteurized.
    Then again, I’m one who will eat anything so long as it doesn’t try to get of the plate.
    And by the way, I heard on the news today where Starbucks will no longer use a beetles to color some of its drinks because the non eat meat folks objected. Now they are switching to tomato for color. Did they stop to think some people are allergic to tomatoes?
    And by the way some more, ever notice how all the smart animals are meat eaters and all the dumb ones eat grass?

  2. Ellen Rocco says:

    Oh, Pete, maybe it’s not a war, but it is hot and serious. Farmers who sell raw milk have served jail time in some states. The issue of government regulation of raw milk sales raises flags for many libertarians, small farm and local food advocates, organic foodies, and others. For those who feel passionately about opening up access to raw milk, it is a symbol for all that’s wrong with our government and/or modern agriculture. There are definitive political battlegrounds around this issue.

  3. Paul says:

    If we really want to base our decisions on science than raw milk is something that you should stay away from. I just saw there was a new outbreak of e. coli infections from raw milk. Luckily one toddler that drank contaminated raw mild survived but she will require dialysis for the rest of her life. The risks far outweigh the benefits (like I said if you follow the science).

    From the CDC:


    “Can drinking raw milk hurt me or my family?

    Yes. Raw milk can cause serious infections. Raw milk and raw milk products (such as cheeses and yogurts made with raw milk) can be contaminated with bacteria that can cause serious illness, hospitalization, or death.”

    The benefits:

    “Does drinking raw milk prevent or cure any diseases, such as asthma, allergies, heart disease, or cancer?

    No. There are no health benefits from drinking raw milk that cannot be obtained from drinking pasteurized milk that is free of disease-causing bacteria. The process of pasteurization of milk has never been found to be the cause of chronic diseases, allergies, or developmental or behavioral problems.”

  4. Ken Hall says:

    Back in the 50’s when I worked on farms and we filtered the milk into cans, I could see the cow manure filtered out of the milk going into the cans, I would drink a dipper of the warm milk for a quick pick me up whenever I needed one.

    In the late 70’s to mid 80’s I kept goats on my farm in Peru, NY and one of my step daughters and I drank nothing but the raw goats milk; her mother and sister would have nothing to do with it.

    What I found interesting about the goat milk was that it came homogenized right from the goat. If one left it in the refrigerator for a few days a thin layer of cream would separate; but, nothing like cows’ milk.

    Me thinks humans have become so enamored with the concept of a guaranteed long and happy life that the thought of any threat to such is anathematic. How did we ever survive the long evolutionary road from Lucy to Cro-mangan?

  5. PNElba says:

    I too pine for the good old days of unpasteurized milk, water from the local creek, and no sewage system. Seriously, clean water, sewage treatment, and yes, pasteurization, have done more to increase the lifespan of humans than any other medical discovery including antibiotics and immunization.

  6. Ellen Beberman says:

    I believe in the right to drink raw milk; however I would not do so (even if I were not lactose-intolerant.) I’m unconvinced that raw milk confers health benefits above and beyond pasteurized milk. In the negative column is this from

    “Among dairy product-associated outbreaks reported to CDC between 1973 and 2009 in which the investigators reported whether the product was pasteurized or raw, 82% were due to raw milk or cheese. From 1998 through 2009, 93 outbreaks due to consumption of raw milk or raw milk products were reported to CDC. These resulted in 1,837 illnesses, 195 hospitalizations, and 2 deaths. Most of these illnesses were caused by Escherichia coli O157, Campylobacter, or Salmonella. It is important to note that a substantial proportion of the raw milk-associated disease burden falls on children; among the 93 raw dairy product outbreaks from 1998 to 2009, 79% involved at least one person less than 20 years old.”

  7. Pete Klein says:

    Here’s a thought. When I was a kid, my dad told me you have to eat a pound of dirt before you die. What has that to do with anything? I sometimes wonder if we haven’t gone a bit overboard with the cleanliness thing. It seems now-a-days there are more and more people who are allergic to this, that and the other thing. I could be wrong but I wonder if a little dirt can strengthen our immune systems.
    Not saying not to clean and be careful but are we setting ourselves up to get clobbered because our immune systems are hardly ever tested?

  8. Paul says:

    PNElba, what a great comment! Now I want the thumbs thing back! I just see no reason to endanger your health or the health of your child just for the sake of nostalgia. But if you are crazy enough to do it get a cow and get as close to the source as you can. Ken some of the strains of dangerous bacteria that we have now are new.

  9. Kent Gregson says:

    You cannot legislate intellegence. You can only leave room for it. Raw milk should not be illegal since folks like Ellen use it to make their own “value added” products in their homes. Whether someone would drink the milk raw or not could be addressed in the same way that we use to keep people from drinking paint. I suspect that the guys who actually make the money on milk(the middle men) would like to keep being in the middle and not have people getting their milk without their “value added”.

  10. Paul says:

    Kent, I agree you can’t legislate intelligence. What scares me are these unintelligent people who don’t know what they have and feed it to their unsuspecting children for the sake of no benifit. At least the paint can says “do not ingest”!

  11. Anita says:

    Quite a few years ago, we regularly drank raw milk from a near-by farm. That milk made fabulous yogurt, too! It was mostly a matter of local and affordable for us (although I was also somewhat influenced at the time by the ideas of the Weston A. Price Foundation, which advocates for raw milk). We also trusted the farmer, who was a good manager. When the nearby farm stopped producing milk, we resumed drinking supermarket milk because we don’t travel miles out of our way to buy food. We’re very reluctant to spend our precious hours and carbon on any foodstuff where there really isn’t a strong scientific case indicating increased benefit to us.

  12. PNElba says:

    A few comments.

    First, pasteurization does NOT kill all bacteria. Several genera survive including Lactobacillus (good) and spores of Bacillus and Clostridium (very very bad). Read more here:

    Second, yes Pete, there is some evidence that being “dirty” (but we are generally talking about intestinal worm infections) is important for proper immune system development. It is called the “Hygiene Hypothesis”. Read more here:

    Third, I would take advice from the Price Foundation with a grain of salt. They are discussed in quackwatch under “holistic and biological dentists”. Read more here:

  13. Ken Hall says:

    Why thinks ye that of all the fauna on Earth humans are more susceptible to such a variety of pathogens? How many of Earth’s non human critters wash peel and cook their edibles when left to their own devices? Is it possible that that, old debble, evolution has transformed humans into gastronomic wimps? This possibility appears to be gaining some traction with those confronting the sharply rising rates of asthma among Europeans and Americans.

    There are those in the medical community that consider human consumption of milk after the ages of 2-3 illogical; but, have you ever observed the frothing at the mouth by the purveyors of milk when these propositions are put forth?

    Unpasteurized milk akin to paint; surely you jest.

  14. tootightmike says:

    Too many people on the planet. Perhaps a little joyous life span shortening would be good for us all. Those later years suck anyway.

  15. Ellen Rocco says:

    Wait a minute, wait a minute, tootightmike…what are “those later years?” 65? 70? 85? 90? My mother lived independently until 92–I could never reach her on the phone at night because she was out (pick one) attending a lecture or the opera, visiting friends, having dinner with relatives, going to a symphony concert, etc etc. She was active in cultural and political organizations, kept in touch with family and friends. In other words, she did a heck of a lot more than some 30 year olds I know. And she walked a couple of miles a day until 90. Maybe we should start at the other end of life…with a reduced global birthrate. But that’s a whole other ball of wax. (Please: do not pick up on this thread here…if the issue of population control is of interest to you, let me know and we’ll start a separate thread.)

  16. PNElba says:

    There are those in the medical community that consider human consumption of milk after the ages of 2-3 illogical

    Maybe that’s because tolerance to lactose is a relatively recent phenomenon (~10,000 yrs.).

  17. john says:

    This seems like the vaccination and climate change debates all over again. The science is what it is. In climate science, 99% of scientists on the planet agree that change is happening and is likely human-made. Only 60% of the public agrees. We have parents not getting their kids immunizations for preventable diseases, evan as Bill and Melinda are running all over the globe and spending their fortune to bring vaccines to third world countries. Why? Because some quack wrote a book and for some reason, government supported research is to be distrusted while academics who write books are to absolutely be believed at all times. Raw milk? Many people will drink it and suffer no ill effects, but their odds of suffering ill effects will be much greater. PLaying roulette with your children’s health and lives is sometimes thought of as child abuse. You’re entitled to your opinions, but not your facts. The science is pretty clear about raw milk. E coli? Listeriosis? Typhus? Coliform? Not present in pasteurized milk. Present in a percentage of raw milk. You’re playing the odds. Just because you’ve been lucky doesn’t mean that the science is wrong. Gotta watch that coincidence and causality stuff … one is not necessarily the other.

  18. Kassandra says:

    While some can debate if raw milk is any healthier for you than pasteurized, I myself would just like to legally be able to choose to drink it. I know that there are dangers to drinking raw milk, however statistically speaking they are extremely small. I’m pretty sure the soda, chips, highly processed ‘foodstuffs’ ( whatever they may be?) and store purchased spinach is a lot more dangerous for us, however they are all perfectly legal to eat/drink?

    Times have changed, the health and cleanliness of those dairies that I WOULD want to drink from are superb and to support what they are doing seems like a natural conclusion. It would also weed out those farms that anyone with eyes would naturally stay away from.

  19. AmandaLP says:

    I drink raw milk because 1) it doesn’t upset my stomach like pasteurized milk does, and 2) it is cheaper than the other grass fed milk options near me.

    I think raw milk should be legal, just as spinach, tomatoes, and cantaloupes are legal. Dairy, raw and pasteurized, cause less than .05% of all foodborne illnesses, yet we seem to vilify raw milk. Yes, people can get sick, just as people can get sick from pasteurized dairy, or any number of raw products sold in grocery stores. People eat raw meat, but there are not any calls for banning raw meat sales.

    In short, people can make the decision about what to feed themselves and their families.

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