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December 20, 2007

Raw Milk: Telltale Issue of Our Time?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I'm finding it fascinating that raw milk has become a flash-point issue -- one of those possibly-unresolvable conundra that many establishment people wish would just go away, yet that permit some underlying feelings and convictions to show themselves off in more glory than they often have a chance to.

A little background: In most states, it's against the law to sell or buy raw (ie., unpasteurized and unhomogenized, straight-from-the-cow-or-goat) milk because of fears of contamination. Yet some people feel that raw milk isn't just ultra-tasty (having tried raw milk, I agree wholeheartedly with this verdict), it also benefits their health.

So: Perhaps the sale of raw milk should be strictly prevented on public-health grounds -- public-health grounds that we're justifiably proud of, and that we should be completely unyielding about. After all, in pre-pasteurization days, tons and tons of people used to get sick because of milk-borne infections. On the other hand, why shouldn't freedom and liberty prevail whenever possible? Provided that the public is made aware of the risks, why shouldn't people be allowed to conduct business as they see fit? After all, if we permit the sale of cigarettes ...

The controversy seems to be emerging as a newsworthy one. (Here, here.) An informal coalition of hippies, home-schoolers, health buffs, libertarians, local-farming fans, and foodies are pushing the freedom-and-raw-milk cause, while governments are cracking down so hard on the raw-milk scene that they're beginning to make some people think, "Good lord, it's Waco all over again." And editors and policymakers are beginning, if reluctantly, to take note. Whee!

It's also fun that, as with many up-to-date issues -- immigration policy is another example -- traditional notions of "left" and "right" have zero relevance to any of this. After all, what kind of guidance can you derive on the raw-milk issue from saying, "I'm a Democrat"?


How deeply should our governments be involving themselves in public-health matters anyway? If we're OK with our rulers and bureaucrats swinging into action when a plague threatens, how about flus? Smoking? Obesity? Trans-fats? ... School meals? ... Raw milk?

Not that my opinion matters (or should matter) one iota, but I certainly can't see why people who want to buy and drink raw milk shouldn't be allowed to. Tens of thousands are injured and killed every year because of cars ... Leafy greens and salad bars sicken many more people than raw milk ever will ... Yet no one quarrels with the idea that Fords and arugula should be allowed to be sold.

Funny how these flash-point issues emerge, isn't it? I kinda love 'em myself, partly I confess because many respectable people find 'em so annoying. (I like Ron Paul's candidacy for the same reason.) Let's hear it for life throwing the occasional spanner into the everyday machinery. I wonder if the raw-milk controversy will prove to have legs. And I wonder what bizarre issue will be the next one to take us by surprise.

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at December 20, 2007




Comments

Eager as always to show that it is possible to be stuffy and respectable yet to possess a scintilla of common sense, I want to say that I do support people's right to buy and sell raw milk.

Why does this have to be so controversial? If there are real concerns about public health involved in mass-producing raw milk, why not allow producers to sell it to outlets with a warning attached? Like "do not serve to those with compromised immune systems, the elderly, and children under 10"?

I care about this issue because I resent bitterly the fact that it's not possible to buy raw-milk cheeses like Camembert (the stuff you buy in North American, people, is a pallid version of the real raw thing) without smuggling them in or paying a fortune in special exemptions to be allowed to do so. I'm sure this rule varies from place to place, but some form of it appears to be nearly universal across North America.

Posted by: alias clio on December 20, 2007 11:50 AM



Whenever possible, sensuality and the free market should prevail -- excellent! And I confess that, writing this posting, I was looking 'specially forward to hearing what A. Clio would have to say.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 20, 2007 11:58 AM



I am a Raw Milk Drinker and a Raw Milk Advocate, so this is definitely biased:

"After all, in pre-pasteurization days, tons and tons of people used to get sick because of milk-borne infections."
People have been drinking Raw Milk for at least 10,000 years. And we have lots of anecdotal evidence to its benefits for at least 2000 years. Yet, we only started hearing about all of the disease after the start of the Industrial Revolution. Especially after two things, 1.) people started keeping "Family Cows" in places like the Lower East Side and 2.) Large Farms started transporting Milk in these new refrigerated railroad cars.

Yeah, things got real sloppy, real fast. And people really were dieing from it.

What it is sorta funny about many Raw Milk Advocates, is that they, and especially the Milk producing farmers, have gone back to the "old" ways. Family Farms, relatively small production and all that. You know the farmer, you know the cow.

And one thing that really irks me about the Raw Milk debate is how the reporter always, ALWAYS, talks about how the consumer "claims" that the Raw Milk is healthier. These drives me nuts. This is not rocket science. The milk can be easily brought to the lab, almost any lab, and be tested against pasteurized Milk for things like Vitamin content, Enzyme content and Protein Denaturation (amongst other things). And, in fact, this has been done. Many, many times.

Yet, the Raw Milk Advocates are made out to be UFO spotters.

Heck, have you ever noticed that Milk you find in stores has Vitamin D3 as an ingredient. Why don't they list Vitamin A, or B6 as an ingredient?

Easy, Pasteurization destroys the Vitamin D. Which is why it needs to be added back into the milk.

In the past they used to add back Vitamin D2 which is the Plant form of Vitamin D and they would create it in the Lab. This is because it was cheaper and easier to re-create than getting Vitamin D3.

Unfortunately, the D2 was apparently causing problems for quite a few people. So they had to quit doing that.

Jeez, I could go on and on about this stuff. But I fear that I might come off as one of those whack-jobs. So, I will leave it at that.

Oh, yeah, one more thing...it really is delicious. Not just the Raw Milk, but the Raw Milk Cheese, Raw Cream and especially (IMO) Raw Butter.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on December 20, 2007 12:10 PM



Raw milk brie is so different from the stuff we get here, so vastly better, that it tastes like a different cheese (i.e., it tastes!). If public health people have a problem with raw milk, simply develop regulations to ensure that past abuses aren't repeated. Raw milk killed some people, but that was a long time ago, in a different and much dirtier world. An inspection regime could remove those worries, and let us enjoy real milk and real cheeses again.

Of course, the dairy industry in North Am would make sure the new rules gutted any competition, and make sure even raw milk brie tastes like the old familiar nothing. It's almost like they hate pleasure or something!

Posted by: PatrickH on December 20, 2007 12:20 PM



I can't help myself, I must post a few more things.

On modern health: Where I get my Milk from, Hendrick's Farms & Dairy, they now have an automated "Robot" which milks the Cows.

Now, by state law, they need to test for bacteria content every 60 days (or 90 days, I cant remember) which is much more often than "traditional" dairies.

However, with the new Robotic milker (which any customer can see at any time they want), they are able to test EVERY SINGLE MILKING! Every single one is now tested.

Another note: Why does no one comment on which causes more illness: Pasteurized Milk or All Natural Milk. I think that you would be surprised.

And lastly: What causes more food borne illness than anything else, wait for it, ... Washed, Bagged Produce.

That's right, vegetables. Actually, I believe that Produce causes more illness than Meat and Dairy combined.

Who will join me in my fight to ban vegetables from the marketplace. Remember, we are doing this for the Public's Health.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on December 20, 2007 12:33 PM



I grew up on raw milk from the dairy down the road--great stuff, if you're willing to accept the risk of infection. (Dad was gung-ho for it; Mom had her reservations.)

Public health issues aside, I wouldn't be surprised if the restrictions against its local sale are mainly driven by the agribusiness lobby, displaying its usual chokehold on politicians in the interest of protecting its pasteurized, homogenized turf.

Posted by: Steve on December 20, 2007 1:01 PM



Ian's definitely rockin'. If his energy level has anything to do with his raw milk consumption, then I'm a convert.

PatrickH -- The "pleasure" element too often gets overlooked. It sometimes seems like the health authorities won't be pleased until everything is a species of hygienic and tasteless plastic, like an elementary school nurse's office. Blech. Time to assert the importance of sensual pleasure.

Steve -- I suspect that's a shrewd hunch. Where did you get your raw milk, btw? From a farm in western NY? Sigh: my parents weren't into anything remotely interesting, let alone counterculture ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 20, 2007 1:04 PM



As a microbiology grad student who sometimes works with milk in my experiments, I probably have a biased view on all these things--but I would pasteurize the heck out milk regardless of taste or supposed health benefits. Or perhaps filter sterilize it (although that would be more expensive). If one wanted beneficial bacteria, what's wrong with yogurt?

I also wonder if raw milk advocates have actually ever visited a dairy. It's not romantic. Even with workers scrubbing the entire place after each milking, it's still sort of gross.

Posted by: sya on December 20, 2007 1:17 PM



My milk was from a neighbor's farm in Nebraska, back in the '70s. He was just a local farmer we knew and one day Dad asked if he could buy raw milk from him direct. I think Dad mainly wanted the cream at the top of the jugs for his coffee.

Posted by: Steve on December 20, 2007 1:28 PM



On top of the milk regulations, a few years ago, Ohio passed a law that required pasteurization of apple cider, which wiped out quite a few small orchards that couldn't afford the equipment.

Posted by: Greg Hlatky on December 20, 2007 1:40 PM



Sya makes a great point. We were probably damn lucky. The dairy we got our milk from was about as unromantic as you can get. This farmer had three daughters, and there was a standing joke in the community that they bathed in it every day to preserve their beauty. (They were emphatically not beauties, nor particularly clean.)

Posted by: Steve on December 20, 2007 1:46 PM



Sya, I can only speak from my perspective in South Eastern Pennsylvania, but, every person I know that drinks Raw Milk has visited a Dairy...they have no choice. It is the only place to get the stuff (well, that is not completely true).

Also, I am curious, why are you in favor of one set of Natural Bacteria (the ones put in Yogurt) but against another (the ones found in All Natural Milk) ?

Also, the Milk that you were testing, was it from Grass-Fed Grass-Finished Pastured Cows? The reason that I ask is because, again, everyone I know that drinks the stuff demands that their All Natural Milk comes from All Natural Cows on All Natural Grass.

I know, it sounds crazy, but that is how we roll.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on December 20, 2007 2:02 PM



Ian--

In yogurt, the beneficial bacteria outcompete the bad bacteria due to the conditions at which this food is kept (acidic, not particularly warm, anaerobic).

As for milk and what the cow is fed--it doesn't matter what the cow is fed since it only changes the nutritional content of the milk and not the bacterial content. Theoretically (unless the cow is experiencing mastitis), milk *before* coming out of the teat is sterile. Any bacteria present in the milk is due to the outside skin carrying bacteria sloughing off, any bacteria that has managed to get into the teat canal, or bacteria in the mammary gland.

Posted by: sya on December 20, 2007 2:31 PM



The reason why I mentioned the feed of the animal is because, to my understanding, "All Natural" Cows have bacteria problems at far less a rate than Grain-Fed "Factory" Cows.

I understand Correlation does not equal Causation, but it does seem to be that way.

So, how much "bad bacteria" bacteria were you finding in the "All Natural" Cows relative to the "Factory" Cows? Also, how much "Good Bacteria" were you finding in each?

Posted by: Ian Lewis on December 20, 2007 3:13 PM



Ah. Well, I was under the assumption that we were talking about raw vs. pasteurized. Even if natural fed cows had less bacterial problems, the milk that is contaminated would be bad.

I don't directly work on the natural vs. factory fed cow problem although it would be interesting to know the proportion of bad/good bacteria in both (no papers on the topic come up on a cursory search on PubMed).

The current research on organic/conventional and which have less bacterial problems is sort of conflicting right now. Some research say that organic has less bacterial infections, others say both are the same, and yet others say it's conventional. (Just looking through "The Journal of Dairy Research" shows all these different view points.) I suspect there are a whole bunch of other factors that people fail to take into account like exactly what the feed is composed of, the use of antibiotics, etc.

Posted by: sya on December 20, 2007 4:15 PM



The only milk I care to drink is the soy variety :)

Posted by: Peter on December 20, 2007 4:24 PM



"Even if natural fed cows had less bacterial problems, the milk that is contaminated would be bad."

Right. But that means that we are comparing contaminated milk to contaminated milk.

I am sorta making the argument that most Raw Milk Fundies (like myself) are "out there". We are the type of people who actually know the Farmer and actually see the Cows being milked.

(Actually, some places keep Web Cams in the Barn where the cows are milked so that you can see the milking from home or work.)

And, with organic milk, it is important to remember that the grand majority of organic milk is going to be pasteurized. That is, the farmer knows ahead of time that even if a small amount of bad bacteria gets in the milk, well, it is going to be Pasteurized anyway.

Raw Milk Farmers can't have that to fall back on. Also, most Raw Milk Farmers (from my experience) feed the stuff by the gallon to their children. So, they tend to be careful about it.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on December 20, 2007 4:25 PM



"The only milk I care to drink is the soy variety"

Well, techincally, it is Soy Juice, not Soy Milk. Nothing is "milked" out of the Soybean.

Also, lately, research has not been kind to (unfermented) Soy and its negative effects on our health.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on December 20, 2007 4:46 PM



You guys haven't lived until you've tried raw GOAT milk. My goodness, it's better than any raw cow's milk and easier to digest. And there is no comparison...raw goat cheese is as good as it gets.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on December 20, 2007 7:39 PM



Yeah, Raw Milk, whether it is Cow or Goat, is great.

"No Comparison" Guffahw, there are like 8 Gazillion different types of Cow, Sheep and Water Buffalo Milk's Cheese.

I plan on comparing for many, many years.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on December 20, 2007 8:58 PM



I also grew up with fresh, raw milk from the farm down the road (which also supplied my father's garden with fresh cow manure every spring), and never heard of any issues from drinking it.

The flat, tasteless crap that we Americans call cheese is, as many have already stated, a pale imitation of the real, raw milk thing.

Read the chapter on this subject in Jeffrey Steingarten's book "It Must Have Been Something I Ate". He's the food writer for Vogue, and brings back raw milk cheese from France on a regular basis. He goes into great detail about what drives the raw milk ban here, and what is fact as opposed to what is government apocrapha.

Posted by: Brutus on December 21, 2007 1:36 PM



Ian Lewis, there is a sheep milk cheese called Rocastin. Try it. You'll be buying it by the truck load once you taste it.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on December 21, 2007 3:35 PM



"Rocastin"

I can believe it. When I get the chance, I will certainly hunt it down. Thanks for the rec.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on December 22, 2007 2:44 PM



Cars are more hazardous than raw milk; they are also very heavily regulated in how they can be made (air bags, seat belts, crush zones, emission controls). If a manufacturing defect is detected, there is a recall.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on December 22, 2007 6:56 PM



Rich, small distinction, but cars are not dangerous...Highways are.

There are so many example of place that have tons of car-miles driven per day (Shopping Centers, Malls, Apartment Complexes, Manhattan, etc) with tiny death-rates.

Most Malls have tremendous amounts of car-car and car-human "interaction" with basically a Zero death-rate.

But, build a Highway, and the Death will come, so to speak.

Also, if we are looking to regulate Raw Milk (which it already is), then we should regulate Produce, since it causes more disease than anything.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on December 23, 2007 1:21 AM



sya, checkout realmilk.com and the Weston Price organization. Also read "The Untold Story of Milk".

While I understand your search of PubMed, what you will find is that most research is funded by the dairy industry which makes its money from pasturized milk. In my reasearch over the past 8 years, you have to go to old publication that are not digitally available. Dr. Ron Schmid's book is amazingly researched and footnotes are available.

I am 55 yrs old,just so you know I'm not some youngin' and I am in Chiropractic college. I started studying raw milk many years ago and I wish everyone knew how great raw milk is, if only it was available to everyone. I advocate raw milk from grass fed grazed cows, I prefer Jersey's as they don't require growth hormones or antibiotics as a general rule. I also want to deal with small farmers that pull sick cows out of the milk herd.

I am about 3 semister hours from my bachelors of Science and 2 years from my Doctor's of Chiropractic.

I think you would be amazed with the research that is available from the above sources.

Also Ian, according to my sources 33 states allow some form of raw milk sales.

Also goat's milk is great and is the closest to Mother's milk, however the one drawback to goats milk is that if you don't drink it within a week it starts to taste like goat. Normally when I have cow's milk in my refridgerator it will last about 3 weeks. Even if it starts to turn, it is still palatable and is easier to digest. Pasturized milk does not sour, it rotts and I wouldn't touch spoiled pasturized milk.

Posted by: Corbin Fox on December 31, 2007 7:02 PM






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