Raw Milk: What’s the Big Deal?

02 Oct 2006

The process of pasteurization – as described by Thomas Bartlett in this weekend’s Washington Post Magazine – was invented by Louis Pasteur in the 1860s; it basically involves heating milk at over 160 degrees Farenheit for 15 seconds to kill bacteria. Though not widely used immediately after its invention, the procedure achieved widespread prominence in the late 19th century, when high infant mortality rates in cities could be traced directly to the ingestion of contaminated milk. Now, in many states, pasteurization is no longer a preference but an imperative, and since 1986 it’s been a federal crime to transport raw milk across state lines.

The FDA, for one, urgently stresses the health risks of raw milk, listing the presence therein of such bacteria as campylobacter, escherichia, listeria, salmonella, yersina and brucella, and claiming that it can cause any number of diseases from strep throat to polio and tuberculosis. Pasteurization obviates such risks, the agency asserts, hence the requirement.

But it also kills vitamins and enzymes, and advocates of raw milk complain that the process reduces not only the health value but the tastiness of the milk.

Furthermore, devotees of raw milk contend that its health effects are exactly the opposite of those the FDA documents: that pasteurized milk is “toxic” and that feeding raw milk to children can ensure that they grow up healthy and can even cure some diseases. Raw milk advocates blame the conditions under which raw milk was stored in cities, not the beverage itself, for the health problems it was seen to have caused early on. Laurie Winn Carlson notes in her book Cattle that milk in that period was frequently thickened with a variety of additives, including “carbonized carrots, grilled onions, caramel, marigold petals, chalk, plaster, white clay and starch. To replace the cream that had been removed, emulsions of almonds and animal brains were used to thicken it.”

The author refrains from espousing either side of the raw milk debate. He concludes, however, by pouring himself a glass.

Source: The Washington Post Magazine

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