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There's an excellent article in Salon about the controversy over raw milk. As the article makes clear, the FDA, CDC, and AMA have branded raw milk as dangerous, even though people all over the world have been drinking it that way since time immemorial. How is that the entire population of India didn't become extinct before pasteurization?! Hmmm...
The article is full of valuable info on the health benefits of dairy in its original state, but it is also a reminder of the flaw in allopathic medicine in the broader sense. The dependence on the "disease model" often negates any discussion of true health. The FDA says pasteurized milk is non-pathogenic and therefore healthy. But for some of us the absence of germs in our food is not enough. We require that there also be some nutrients that the body is capable of using. Nature still makes food better than technology does, and raw milk is a prime example.
Among the health benefits of raw milk from pastured (grass fed) cattle is a reduction of allergy symptoms like asthma, hay fever, and eczema. A number of the subjects of the Salon article came to raw milk as a last resort for those afflictions and turned their conditions around. And as reporter Hannah Wallace points out:
A compelling new study, published in the June 2006 issue of the Journal of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, seems to lend support to what these three already know to be true. Researchers at the University of London analyzed the diet of 4,700 children in Shropshire and found that those who lived on farms and drank raw milk had significantly fewer symptoms of asthma, hay fever and eczema. Children who drank raw milk were 40 percent less likely to develop eczema and 10 percent less likely to get hay fever than their non-raw-milk-drinking peers. Blood samples showed that they had 60 percent lower levels of immunoglobulin E, an antibody released by the immune system when it's confronted by allergens. (IgE, in turn, causes cells to release histamines, which is what causes an allergic reaction.) In their conclusion, study authors Michael Perkins and David Strachan surmised that the lactobacilli found in raw milk protect against eczema. They also stated, "Unpasteurized milk is known to be rich in a variety of gram-negative species and their lipopolysaccharides, and it is plausible that a persistent exposure to a diverse milieu of bacteria from an early age is likely to have an effect on the developing immune system."
For some of us the worst allergy is to dairy itself. I was diagnosed as dairy allergic many years ago, and I noticeably react to dairy products... unless they're raw. Allergic reactions to food occur because the body can't digest and process them properly. Pasteurized milk is effectively dead and, in the attempt to kill off any lurking pathogens, all the enzymes necessary to its proper digestion are also killed. Raw dairy, rich in the enzymes and cultures nature intended, is far more digestible, which means the body can actually utilize its protein, vitamins, and nutrients.
Breezing through some of the blog entries and letters in response to this article, I'm unsurprised to find that many people are just terrified of raw milk and sure that it's very, very dangerous. But as the article makes clear, E. Coli and other dangerous pathogens have been found in a number of foods that have not been made illegal; like spinach. Taco Bell hasn't been closed down, despite it's recent traffic in contaminated food. How is that the FDA is so quick to demonize raw milk, but rely on testing and regulation for other foods that are at least as likely to be contaminated? The answer probably lies in the demands of industrial agribusiness. Pasteurization is a blanket solution to the problems of mass produced milk from sick cattle.
"Pasteurization is an excuse to produce dirty milk," says Los Angeles raw milk activist Rahman Dalrymple, citing the outbreaks of salmonella, listeria and Campylobacter that have all been traced to pasteurized milk. In California, accepted bacteria levels for Grade A raw milk are fewer than 15,000 colony-forming units per milliliter; accepted levels for raw milk destined for pasteurization is 50,000. (Post-pasteurization, milk in California can contain 15,000 CFUs per milliliter. States that adopt the FDA's Pasteurized Milk Ordinance allow pasteurized milk 20,000 CFUs per milliliter, one-quarter more than California's raw-milk limit.) Dalrymple, who credits raw milk with curing his asthma, emphasizes that he would never drink raw milk that's destined for pasteurization by a large industrial dairy. Not all raw milk is created equal, Dalrymple says. "Raw milk is dangerous -- if you get it from one of these industrial dairies that have fecal matter and pus and blood in their milk. I would absolutely not drink that!"
This distinction -- between raw milk that's destined for pasteurization and raw milk from a small, spotlessly clean dairy that's kept to higher standards precisely because the milk won't be pasteurized -- is a crucial one, and it's lost on public health officials like Sheehan, who seem to lump all raw milk into the same pathogen-contaminated vat. Industrial farms are dirty -- as the recent agri-exposés "Fast Food Nation" and "The Omnivore's Dilemma" have proved. When Sheehan thinks of raw milk, in other words, he's thinking of milk from cows crowded together in barns, eating a diet of corn, and standing in their own manure. All the raw milk advocates I spoke to are against drinking this type of raw milk.
In fact raw milk may be less likely to be infected with pathogens than it's mass produced, pasteurized counterpart, because pastured cattle, using their four stomachs the way nature intended, produce milk that naturally defends against contamination.
Another reason no pathogens have ever been found in his milk, McAfee believes, is that it contains a host of active antibacterial components -- not just proteins like lactoferrin, but enzymes, bacteriocins, colicins and at least 25 beneficial bacteria, including lactobacillus and bifidus, the same probiotics that are found in most yogurt. And all of those components, McAfee says, are destroyed during pasteurization. (In her book "Nourishing Traditions," WAPF founder Fallon concurs: "Pasteurization destroys these helpful organisms, leaving the finished product devoid of any protective mechanism should undesirable bacteria inadvertently contaminate the supply.") To prove his theory, a few years ago, McAfee sent his milk and colostrum to a private lab and had both injected with high levels of the three pathogens. The bacterial counts of all three bugs decreased over time. And the conclusion of the scientist at BSK Labs? "Raw colostrum and raw milk do not appear to support the growth of Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and Listeria monocytogenes," stated the lab report. McAfee is so proud of his below-normal bacteria counts that he posts annual averages on his Web site.
The exact opposite is true of the corn-fed cattle that are the stock-in-trade of big, commercial farms.
Cows, like all other ruminants, are meant to eat grass. Yet, at the vast majority of U.S. dairies -- even organic ones -- cows subsist on corn feed. In "The Omnivore's Dilemma," Pollan explains how eating a high-starch diet acidifies a cow's rumen, making the animal sick and eventually allowing bacteria to enter its bloodstream. A cow's corn diet can also make us sick: E. coli O157:H7 has been around only since the early '80s, when it likely evolved in the acidic guts of corn-fed cattle. (E. coli O157:H7 is so lethal because human stomachs, too, are acidic. We can kill off microbes that evolve in the neutral pH of a grass-fed cow's rumen, but not the acid-resistant strains such as E. coli O157:H7.)
I'm fortunate to live in a state where producing and selling raw dairy products is legal and the farms certified to bring it to market are scrupulously inspected. And let me tell you there is no going back once you've experienced what milk, yogurt, and cheeses are supposed to taste like... and digest like.
Meanwhile, the FDA has just announced that it's safe to eat meat and drink milk from cloned animals. In such an Orwellian universe, where raw milk from cows that have two biological parents is considered dangerous, while pasteurized milk from cloned cows is safe -- is it any wonder that a growing band of consumers don't trust FDA decisions?