Raw Milk Myths: Are We Prisoners of Pasteurization? Part 1 of 3

milk pouring into glass

Got (raw) milk? It does a body good, right? Milk is likened to a super-food. In fact, it is considered a nearly perfect food because of its abundance of protein (which contains all of the essential amino acids,) carbohydrates, fats and array of vitamins.

The Masai tribe in Africa consume up to 7 quarts of the stuff a day and have virtually no heart disease, diabetes, arthritis or atherosclerosis. The French eat plenty of cheeses, creams and other dairy products and have one of the lowest rates of coronary heart disease among industrialized nations.

So what’s all the hubbub about?

Raw Milk Myths

Raw milk is nearly a perfect food: not pasteurized. In fact, pasteurized milk has been linked to osteoporosis, heart disease, allergies, arthritis and other disorders due to calcium deficiency.

That’s not the message you’ll hear from the FDA. Raw milk sales have been banned in 23 states. It is illegal for it to cross state lines, in some states it can only be sold from a farm as pet food and 17 states forbid its sale in any manner.

A Maryland state health official told Thomas Bartlett, author of The Raw Deal, that selling raw milk was as bad as selling marijuana and compared raw milk producers to heroin dealers.

How can this be? How can we have gone, in just a couple of generations, from believing milk is a wholesome source of nutrition to considering it a health risk?

Melanie DuPuis, author of Nature’s Perfect Food: How Milk Became America’s Drink says “Americans care more deeply about milk than anything else they consume, precisely because of all it has come to represent.”

What milk has come to represent is dual: both dangerous and vital. We have been indoctrinated to believe that milk is necessary, nutritious: a national resource. We have also been led to believe that it is only safe if it is boiled, broken down, doctored up and made unnatural.

John Robbins, author of May All Be Fed, writes “The modern-day Bessie is now bred, fed, medicated, inseminated, and manipulated for a single purpose—maximum milk production at a minimum cost.”

The truth of the matter is that corporate powers are behind much of what we believe about milk. Health is not what concerns them, profit is. They have done their best to ensure that profit by disseminating false information and lobbying government agencies to do the same.

The three biggest milk myths are:

  • Pasteurized milk is safe while raw milk is dangerous.
  • There is no nutritional disparity between pasteurized milk and raw milk.
  • Pasteurization is in everyone’s best interest.

Myth 1:  Pasteurized milk is safer than raw milk.

Fear is a favored marketing tool. There was once reason to fear for the safety of milk.

In the last decades of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th, as people moved away from farms and into industrialized cities, they were indeed sickened and killed by contaminated milk.

As milk production became factory-produced instead of farm-wrought, little sanitary regulation took place. Milk wasn’t refrigerated, equipment wasn’t sterile, factory-farm owners thinned their milk with dirty water and added things like animal brains to give it body. Cows were fed waste from distilleries (creating “swill milk” or “white poison”.) These city milk centers were often infested with insects and rats and workers were unhygienic.

Tuberculosis spread through cow’s milk, and epidemics of brucella, botulism and cholera killed many.

The rising use of technology created pasteurization equipment. People no longer had to boil their milk at home, small farmers were forced out of the industry or absorbed by rising conglomerates who could afford the machinery.

The use of pasteurization made sanitary improvements unnecessary and increased the production of milk through crowded feedlots, cheap and unhealthy grain-feed and widespread use of antibiotics and growth hormones.

Today, it is E. Coli, Listeria and Cryptosporidium that are the most common food-borne pathogens and these have only emerged within the past 25 years, after the practice of pasteurization has been established.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Disease Control recently issued a public warning about the dangers of raw milk. Siding with corporate dairy and attempting to re-inoculate the public with fear (especially since consumer-interest in raw milk has risen 40% in recent decades), the agencies posted a “reminder” that between 1998 and 2005, raw milk was implicated in 45 food-borne illness outbreaks, 1007 individual cases, 104 hospitalizations and 2 deaths.

When raw milk champions Sally Fallon and Thomas Bartlett went looking for the data that supports these claims, they couldn’t find it. The reference that the FDA and CDC cited, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, provided no such information. No supporting data could be found in any other FDA or CDC document and demands for clarification have not been addressed.

Bartlett asked then-director of the FDA’s dairy safety division, John Sheehan, about evidence linking raw milk to disease outbreaks. Sheehan admitted that in the past 20 years, he didn’t know of a single one.

Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions and president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, admits that there have been cases of illness due to raw milk but points out the number of food-borne illness outbreaks due to pasteurized milk is much larger.

There have been 239,884 documented outbreaks due to pasteurized milk in the past few decades and 620 deaths. The nation’s largest recorded outbreak of Salmonella, which occurred from June of 1984 through April of 1985, killed 18 people and sickened over 200,000.

Fallon compiled a list of government-documented outbreaks of food-borne illnesses for the Deputy Director of Maryland’s Office of Food Protection and Consumer Health Services.

1945: 1,492 cases of food-borne illness due to pasteurized milk in the US

1976: 36 children infected with Yersinia enterocolitica from pasteurized chocolate milk

1978: 68 cases of illness

1982: 17,000 cases of illness

1983: 49 cases of illness

1985: 16,284 cases of S. typhimurium

1985: 197,000 cases of Salmonella in California

1985: 1,500 cases of Salmonella in Illinois

1987: 16,000 cases of Salmonella in Georgia

1993: 28 cases of Salmonella

1994: 105 cases of E. coli and Listeria

1995: 10 children infected with Yersina enterocolitica

1996: 48 cases of Campylobactor and Salmonella

1997: 28 cases of Salmonella

A look at just some of the more recent figures reveals:

2000: 98 cases of S. typhimurim

2004: 100 cases of Salmonella in California and outbreaks in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

2005: 200 cases of C. jejuni

2006: 1,592 cases of C. jejuni

2007: 5 cases of L. monocytogenes

Again, these outbreaks have all been traced back to pasteurized milk. The larger a farm-factory is, the more room there is for error after the milk has been pasteurized.

Fallon says, “The FDA and CDC definitely have a double standard when it comes to raw milk.”

She claims that the agencies don’t report food-borne illness outbreaks due to pasteurized milk in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Fallon found her figures from poring over other publications like the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Quick to link raw milk to outbreaks, the agencies, Fallon claims, then ignore “subsequent tests showing the milk to be clean.”

Her research found that:

  • a 1983 outbreak attributed to raw milk later found that none of the cultures revealed any of the Campylobacter bacteria
  • a listeriosis outbreak that occurred over the years 2000 and 2001 in North Carolina was blamed on cheese made from raw milk, cheese that later tested negative for the bacteria
  • a 2006 E. coli outbreak that was associated with raw milk was later found to be due to spinach
  • a 2007 report of Salmonella linked to a raw milk dairy in Pennsylvania revealed later that none of the milk contained any of the pathogen

Even though more outbreaks have occurred due to pasteurized milk rather than raw as of late, neither the FDA nor the CDC has ever issued a public warning about it.

Factory-farmed cattle have 300 times more pathogens in their digestive tract than grass-fed cows on small dairy farms.

Pasteurization destroys good bacteria as well as bad. The probiotics that occur naturally in milk are destroyed by heat although it is their presence that can naturally kill many virulent pathogens. Probiotics in raw milk prevent the multiplication of these bacteria, which thrive in milk after pasteurization. This is why pasteurized milk becomes rancid after a week while raw milk simply sours.

Due to the widespread use of antibiotics in industrial farms, these pathogens are becoming resistant to present medications.

In 2003 the USDA reported that pasteurized milk causes 29 times more cases of Listeria than raw milk.

Robert Tauxe, Chief of the CDC’s Foodborne and Diarrheal Branch, says that globalization of the food supply, antibiotic use, corn and soy feed and crowded conditions in industrial agriculture has given rise to new food-borne pathogens and, he warns, many more are on the way.

A 2004 study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) found that dairy products, pasteurized or raw, make up less than 1% of all food-borne illness outbreaks. Produce is now responsible for 38% of outbreaks, poultry 20% and beef 16%. Eggs and seafood constitute 13% and 12% respectively.

Dairy farms that produce raw milk are normally smaller, cleaner and more accountable to their customers for the quality of their animals, feed, practices and milk.

There really isn’t evidence any longer that pasteurized milk is safer than raw: it’s more likely that it is the other way around.

Josh Axe

Dr. Josh Axe is on a mission to provide you and your family with the highest quality nutrition tips and healthy recipes in the world...Sign up to get VIP access to his eBooks and valuable weekly health tips for FREE!

Get FREE Access!

Free eBook to boost
metabolism & healing

30 Gluten-Free Recipes
& detox juicing guide

Shopping Guide &
premium newsletter