A couple of month ago, I was over at a friend’s house and they had a container of “Raw Milk”. I thought this was an incredible novelty because I’d always thought that it was illegal for unpasteurized milk to be sold in America.

I did a little digging and found out that this is not true. Here is the law:

FDA law CFR 1240.61 states that it is illegal for anyone to transport raw dairy products across state lines “in final package form for direct human consumption unless that product has been pasteurized.”

It turns out that Organic Pastures up in Fresno, CA produces raw milk and it is available at our local Henry’s market.

Little did I know of the controversy surrounding the drinking of raw milk. The two sides can probably best be summarized with these two PowerPoint presentations:

The main arguments seem to be that because we put our cows in such crappy living conditions, they are sick all the time and pumped full of drugs to keep them “healthy”, so we must pasteurize their products so that the pathogens they are living in don’t get passed on to us.

I don’t see this argument being much different than last year when we had that big break out of E. Coli in all the bagged spinach, or the recent tainted beef recall, or today’s recall of cantaloupe grown in Honduras. If you treat your food sources well and it’s clean from the source – shouldn’t it arrive on your dinner table ready to eat? Based on the risks involved in eating foods, should we ban spinach and other leafy greens from our diet? Even pasteurized milk can have problems, such as the outbreak in Massachusetts of listeriosis – which was eventually traced back to the processing plant actually reintroducing the pathogen after the pasteurization process.

In a recent letter to the Colorado Department of Health, Mark McAfee makes a couple of good points:

To study this issue further, Organic Pastures contracted with BSK labs in Fresno to perform multiple challenge and recovery tests on our raw milk and raw colostrum. When 7 logs (10 million counts) of pathogens were added to one-milliliter samples of organic raw milk they would not grow. In fact they died off. The salmonella was so badly out-competed that it could not be found less than 24 hours later. The listeria drop was less dramatic and was similiar to the E. Coli O157:H7 samples that were studied, but they also did not grow and declined substantially over time.

What is it that causes raw milk to kill pathogens? Just in the last 24 months, the FDA has approved lactoferrin as an approved method of treatment for pathogen reduction in beef slaughter plants. Raw milk naturally has levels of this enzyme-based pathogen killer. Pasteurization inactivates this and other enzymes that kill pathogens. These enzymes include lactoferrin, xanthine oxidase, lactoperoxidase, lysozyme and nisin. There are other interrelated enzymes and beneficial bacteria that also act on the pathogens to inhibit their growth. All of these systems are destroyed by pasteurization. It is no wonder that dairy plants that pasteurize must be kept absolutely spotless. There are no remaining safety systems in the processed milk.

The dairy industry does not understand what I have explained here in detail. What the dairy industry believes is that raw milk contaminates pasteurized milk. This is not the case. Pasteurized milk kills the safety systems that control pathogens in raw milk and therefore permit unlimited growth of dangerous bacteria if present.

It’s a pretty good argument and makes some good sense. I don’t know if some of the “miracle cures” they ascribe to raw milk are true (cures cataracts, arthritis, asthma, etc.), but it would make sense that healthy cows can produce healthy milk for their offspring.

Being the techno-geek that I am, and locked away in a cubicle, even though I could not go out and visit the free range farm, I did manage to find it on google maps. And yes, those do look like happy cows on a free range of grass. It’s also interesting to note that they:

tested our milk cow’s fresh manure and did not find any human pathogens. That’s right. . . no Salmonella. She was able to show that when antibiotics are not ever used on the herd (as stipulated in the organic standards) and when cows are not stressed (grass-fed and kept healthy) they simply do not slough off pathogens in their manure.

Which not only is down right responsible of them, but if other dairies followed their practice of keeping happy, healthy, organic cows, a lot of the other outbreaks to our other food sources may not have ever occurred. Several cases of E. Coli in spinach have been traced back to fields to close to the manure dumps of large dairy processing farms.

One of the “miracle cures” of raw milk is the reduction of eczema – Something my wife has in a very mild form on her hands and uses Eucerin for. I’m wondering if switching to raw milk wouldn’t actually save us money in the long run if it means we can stop buying all those tubs of lotion? I wonder if she’ll consent to trying it out for a month?