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October 09, 2006

Raw Milk

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Raw milk: risky food fad or good-for-you delicacy? And, in either case, should the FDA really be spending time and money chasing down people who sell and drink the stuff? The WashPost's Thomas Bartlett pulls his collars up high and infiltrates "the raw-milk underground." (Link thanks to Kirsten Mortenson.) Back here, I recommended Nina Planck's book "Real Food." Nina Planck likes raw milk too.



posted by Michael at October 9, 2006


I find the taste of cow mucus, er, milk, just plain gross. It's not due to a general dislike of dairy products per se, as I enjoy cheese and yogurt and don't mind butter. It's just something about fluid milk. If I'm going to drink milk at all I'll choose soy milk, which has a pretty good taste even though it carries a risk - if drunk in large quantities soy milk can shrink your cojones.

Posted by: Peter on October 9, 2006 11:44 PM

Questions of enforcement vs. laissez faire aside, the raw milk cult strikes me as one of the loopiest around. Diseases really did used to be transmitted by raw milk, and pasteurization ended that. The loopy thing for me is that raw milk enthusiasts are health nuts -- if they were doing it for flavor, like people who eat raw fish, I'd understand better.

Just recently two children in Washington state were hospitalized with an E coli infection from raw milk. One permanently lost some of her kidney function. In Washington they do license raw milk dairies, but the risk is inexcapable and can be eliminated with pasteurization.

Posted by: John Emerson on October 10, 2006 6:57 AM

I've been consuming raw goat milk from a trusted supplier for over three years now. The taste is astonishingly good and demonstrably better than cow milk, especially pasteurized cow milk. And what is really surprising is how much longer I can keep my raw goat milk: up to a month in a refrigerator. Try that with a quart of pasteurized cow milk. I don't drink my goat milk as a beverage ( fattening), using it instead on cereal, in coffee and tea, and for cooking. Check it out if you can find a trusted source.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on October 10, 2006 10:36 AM

John Emerson is right about the reality of the diseases. But then, as now, it seems that the most important thing is whether you are getting your milk from a trusted source.

On the benefits of Real Milk (i.e. Raw Milk): it still has the Lactase and Vitamins that get destroyed when the milk is pasteurized. The Vitamins are important for obvious reasons. The Lactase is important because it is the enzyme that breaks down the sugar Lactose. Hence, the rise of Lactose intolerance during the age of pasteurization.

One more benefit: Studies have shown that getting calcium every day helps with Fat-Loss (i.e. lipolysis). And that getting 3 serving compared to 1 serving had a significant effect on greater fat-loss. And that getting the calcium from actual dairy as compared to getting it through a supplement was also significantly better. Granted, I am not sure what difference there is between getting Calcium from Real milk as opposed to pasteurized milk.

Oh, one last thing: Real Milk is an EXCELLENT source of Amino Acids (possibly the BEST source). And anyone who is looking to build or maintain muscle will definitely appreciate that.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on October 10, 2006 11:34 AM

Thanks for the link, Michael!

John, the point is not that raw milk can't be a vector for pathogens. The point is: is pasturization the most healthful way to keep milk clean? As a reductio ad absurdum argument: spinach can be a vector for E coli too. So do I dress my spinach salad with Clorox? It would work, sure, but then I'd be eating bleach. No thanks.

The problem is that pasturization is a top-down, centralized, "public health" decision which has made it impossible for any individual to evaluate benefits and accept risks on his own behalf. We can't legally buy real Camembert in this country, for crying out loud. That's just not right.

Posted by: Kirsten on October 10, 2006 2:48 PM

Kirsten – RE: The problem is that pasturization is a top-down, centralized, "public health" decision which has made it impossible for any individual to evaluate benefits and accept risks on his own behalf.

Only one person has died, and a couple of hundred sickened in the recent e. coli spinach outbreak. Not a large number given the population of the United States. Are you suggesting that public health officials should not have shut down sales of spinach and simply advised consumers to evaluate the risk of eating contaminated spinach?

Most libertarians and conservatives I have read or spoken with talk about “risk” as a philosophical concept, but cannot accurately calculate the statistical risk of many activities (e.g., the risk of dying in a car crash or the life expectancies of different age or gender groups), and also have an unrealistic grasp of their own ability evaluate and respond to potential hazards.

I think that people should be able to buy raw milk, but too many raw milk advocates deny or mis-represent the dangers of drinking these milk products. I wonder how many people would really want to risk illness and hospitalization for the taste thrill of organic milk?

Here is a news story about people sickened by raw milk:

Two children have been sickened in another episode of E. coli infection, this time from drinking raw milk from a Whatcom County dairy.

A 5-year-old boy from Issaquah was still hospitalized with the illness Thursday, while an 8-year-old girl from Snohomish County was recovering at home, said state health officials and a spokeswoman for a store that sold the milk.

At least 18 people were sickened last December by raw milk from Dee Creek Farm, near Vancouver, Wash., including three children who were treated in intensive-care units. A state health official said that outbreak stemmed from poor sanitation at Dee Creek Farm.

Here is another interesting bit from a web site which discusses the risks of drinking raw milk:

Michael Osterholm, M.D., Minnesota Department of Health epidemiologist, described the investigation of a current mysterious disease outbreak in that state. After months of investigation, in which 94 families have been contacted, the investigators know only this: The causative agent has not been identified, but the method of transmission is undisputed. Unpasteurized milk produced by one dairy had been drunk by all 122 victims during the three weeks before onset. Some have been sick for months. For those under age 18, the median is 76 days' duration. Children have recovered more quickly than adults, but only 11 (9%) have fully recovered. The producing dairy has voluntarily stopped selling raw milk products.

Posted by: Alec on October 10, 2006 4:29 PM

The raw milk people think that raw milk is healthier, whereas as far as I can tell, it isn't -- more or less the opposite. I tried to stay away from the nanny state issue. (Raw milk is legal in both Oregon and Washington.)

Posted by: John Emerson on October 10, 2006 4:50 PM

Milk is a better medium than spinach.

One of my beefs with libertarians is that they sometimes take aim at public health, which is one of government's triumphs (it should be "unquestioned triumphs", but isn't).

A friend of mine died of polio recently. She was past 50, and had the late conditions which are common to polio survivors. She should be one of the last.

Posted by: John Emerson on October 10, 2006 9:19 PM

Raw milk advocates should be required to read one of the great Flannery O'Connor's most amusing short stories, i.e. 'The Enduring Chill'. Quite of few of the salient issues are addressed . . . .

Posted by: mr tall on October 10, 2006 9:52 PM

On the issue of Raw Milk vs Pasteurized (and Homogenized) Milk when it comes to health: I think that many Raw Milk advocates nowadays would say that the current state of Raw Milk, on average, is much healthier than Pasteurized Milk.

True, it can still be handled poorly and cause problems as noted in previous comments. But that, on the whole, it is much healthier. And one of the specific reasons is that it does not cause Lactose Intolerance (as noted in the WaPo article) because the Lactase is not destroyed through pasteurization.

Of course, the coounter-argument is that Raw Milk can be handled poorly and that Pasteurized Milk is unlikely to carry any bacteria (good or bad).

Posted by: Ian Lewis on October 11, 2006 9:21 AM

I have no use for raw milk, but I do for raw milk cheese, which is also prohibited in the U.S., unless the cheese has been aged for at least 60 days. The only outbreak in the U.S. tied to raw milk cheese (the worst incidents have involved pasturized cheese) was traced to cheese from Guatamela. I don't know how that is supposed to implicate brie, but then maybe Europeans are suffering from a hitherio unknown epidemic of cheese-bourne illnesses. I smell a coverup!

Posted by: CyndiF on October 11, 2006 10:27 AM

One other thing to note about the idea of Good Raw Milk vs Bad Raw Milk is that it seems, by my reading, that America did not start to see problems with it's milk until after the Industrial Revolution. That is, that most people got there milk from either local farms, or there own farm.

But after industrialization, Milk was likely to travel for up to 30 hours, unrefrigerated, in dirty trains. Or be had by family cows kept in the growing slums.

And all of this sorta gets back to one of the "positives" of Real Milk. That you should be getting your milk from a local farm and a trusted source and not relying on large faceless corporations. Which is all in line with the original intent of the Organic movement.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on October 11, 2006 10:58 AM

E coli infection depends on presence of E Coli, though. And the cow's E Coli vent and her milk vents are about 2 feet apart.

I am in favor of keeping raw milk legal on general principles, but I doubt the idea that it's more healthful. I haven't had a teste for milk since I was 18 or 20, so it's sort of moot.

Posted by: John Emerson on October 11, 2006 2:41 PM

Ian – RE: Many Raw Milk advocates nowadays would say that … raw milk, on average, is much healthier than Pasteurized Milk.

Raw milk advocates have never demonstrated exactly how much healthier raw milk is than pasteurized milk. Like many activists, they are weak on science, and fall back on wobbly declarations, as in the WaPo article when an advocate says that the risk of drinking raw milk is “very, very, low.” Also, the WaPo article does not note that raw milk is a remedy for lactose intolerance since the author never provides a diagnosis for the mother’s problem or her baby’s. It is not even certain that he tried to verify her anecdote about her condition or one doctor’s supposed false diagnosis. The article is good, but has hints that neither the writer nor the editor has a strong background in science journalism, which is not quite the same thing as investigative journalism.

RE: America did not start to see problems with its milk until after the Industrial Revolution.

This is a good point. Health problems associated with food have a social history context. Some of the recent problems with spinach may arise from bagging and the demand for convenience. One researcher noted that previously, some people got ill from spinach, but it was from a single piece of spinach that they bought at the market and brought home. Bagged spinach contains parts from many different pieces, so the risk is escalated somewhat.

Bagging spinach and other vegetables was also an attempt to find a way to market organic and fresh products to consumers who don’t want to take the time to wash, shred and prepare their own vegetables (the spinach was grown in California and marketed nationally).

The other day I watched a bit of an Oprah show where she and her friend Gail drove past a region with large herds of cows. The stench apparently was unbearable and Gail threw up. So I think it is not just a matter of untrustworthy faceless corporations providing less healthy milk, but that local farms cannot easily provide products to large cities, nor would many people be willing to put up with the fragrance from large dairy herds moved closer to cities, and, most important, no one seriously thinks that we are going to de-industrialize anytime soon.

Posted by: Alec on October 11, 2006 3:03 PM

"The stench apparently was unbearable and Gail threw up."

That's sort of funny. A city girl.

There's a dairy within 5-8 miles of downtown Portland, so distance isn't a problem. And in general, milk production and marketing is efficient enough that milk is safe. In large part because of regulations.

Pork apparently is safe now too. Trichinosis is down to

Posted by: John Emerson on October 11, 2006 3:32 PM

"Trichinosis is down to

Posted by: John Emerson on October 11, 2006 4:45 PM

Trichinosis is down to less than 20 cases per year in the US, almost all from wild game (bear and boar), a little from free ranges pigs.

I used the less-than caret and it blanked out part of my posts.

Posted by: John Emerson on October 11, 2006 6:03 PM

Raw milk advocates have never demonstrated exactly how much healthier raw milk is than pasteurized milk.

You are probably right that there has yet to be some documented "Net Benefit" to Raw Milk. However, simply comparing clean Raw Milk, with it's vitamins and enzymes intact, to Pasteurized Milk, I find it hard to think that Pasteurized Milk would win when it comes to health benefits. Granted, this is not science, just an assumption.

Like many activists, they are weak on science...

In my experience, that is how these things usually progress. I can remember when people were saying that Organic Grass-Fed (and Grass-Finished) Beef was healthier than the more common Grain-Fed beef. But, there as little science. Now, we know that the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids is much better in the Organic Beef as compared to the more common beef we find at the stores.

In other words, early on, most of the talk and energy comes from those who are most religious about it.

... as in the WaPo article when an advocate says that the risk of drinking raw milk is “very, very, low.”

My guess is that he is comparing how many documented illnesses have come from drinking Raw Milk when compared to the number of people who drink it. But, that is just my guess. journalism, which is not quite the same thing as investigative journalism.

Great point. But a little off-topic for this post. But it reminds me of a fascinating interview with a Science Journalist who said that he preferred Science Journalism because they seemed to care so little about "Balanced Viewpoints" and "Objective Journalism". They simply focused on Facts, Results, and accurate explanations.

... no one seriously thinks that we are going to de-industrialize anytime soon.

I hope that was not implied in my comments. I just simply meant that there were some growing pains that came with industrialization.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on October 12, 2006 10:15 AM

As I understand, ingested enzymes are digested and no longer function as enzymes.

Posted by: John Emerson on October 12, 2006 2:13 PM

I think I pointed out in another thread that the Waldorf farm in Harlemville (Dutchess County) sells raw milk. I don't know if their stand in Union Square sells it.

Posted by: john massengale on October 15, 2006 10:44 PM

hey john,
you digest them like everything else you eat and thereby the point of eating

really the question here is do we eat live, vitalized food or do we eat dead, sterilized food? if you think theres no difference then i have an idea for you. you can use your body as a test lab, keep eating that processed garbage, and in 20 years or maybe less as you are all falling apart from degenerative disease and you come to me or someone like me and ask me to save your life, then you can wonder where all the degenerative diseases came from all of a sudden. Heck you can experiment with all the modern 'foods' that our ancestors knew better than to eat (well they would have if they existed). so when i introduce natural foods to your diet and it starts to undo the 20+ years of foolishness you may start to wonder what your life may have been like if you had followed your good common sense in the first place.

I dont think its my common sense but maybe my good nature to assume that everyone has common sense if they would just use it.

true, vitamins are enzymes
synthetic vit D as is added to pastuerized milk is just the skeleton of a vitamin and actually leeches nutrients from the body

the whole idea of pasteurization began with an incidence near milwaukee, where the dairy farm was near to breweries, and the cows were drinking waste runoff from the breweries.

THere was a big debate at the time that that particular dairy should be shut down as the vast majority of dairies were safe and clean adn the effects of pasteurization were unknown.

yet that disgusting dairy was allowed to remain open while our entire milk supply was devitalized and sprayed with synthetic vitamins.

homogenization also may be a health risk. study the interaction of xanthine oxidase with the dispersion of butterfat. i forget where i saw that but you can look it up

Posted by: bjorn on October 18, 2006 4:01 AM

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