Real Talk, Real Action: Raw Milk is Not Worth the Risk

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts

Some of you reading this have likely either consumed unpasteurized milk, or know someone who has, and been perfectly fine for the experience.

Ditto for University of Guelph food scientist Prof. Art Hill, a leading authority on milk safety. Some 50 years ago on the family dairy farm on Manitoulin Island, he drank unpasteurized milk as a matter of course. That’s all he knew.

So why is he now suggesting people avoid it at all costs?

Well, that’s because he and other researchers have learned a lot about raw milk in the past five decades.

And as far as he can figure, raw milk is at least 1,000 times riskier to drink than its pasteurized counterpart.

Let me repeat that statistic: at least 1,000 times riskier.

At particular risk are our society’s most vulnerable individuals: young children, elderly people and immune deficient people. And yet we are still having the debate about whether Ontario should permit raw milk sales, and whether processed milk is any good. Why? Part of it may be a misunderstanding of agriculture and food production.

For example, as Canadians, we can easily grasp the idea of how in nature, cold — the kind of long, freezing cold we’re finally leaving behind — kills or controls a lot of nasty microorganisms that can cause significant plant, animal and human diseases.

Likewise for heat. In food processing, procedures such as boiling kill microorganisms.

The heating process for milk is called pasteurization, named after its founder French scientist Louis Pasteur.

There’s nothing sinister about pasteurization. Quite the opposite: Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli. And that’s good, because these bacteria can cause deadly diseases, such as tuberculosis and Q-fever.

In fact, the incidence of these diseases dropped almost overnight here when pasteurization became mandatory here, way back in 1938.

So then, what about nutrition? Pasteurization’s critics say the process zaps milk of much of its natural goodness.

Well, it turns out there’s some truth to that accusation. Pasteurization depletes milk of about 20 per cent of its Vitamin C content, and 10 per cent of thiamin and vitamin B12. But milk is not a significant source of Vitamin C to begin with.

And milk already has high amounts of thiamin and B12. So missing a few per cent is not a calamity.

As well, milk is an excellent source of calcium, protein, riboflavin, vitamins A and D, phosphorous, and a good source of thiamin and B12 (even after pasteurization).  Research has shown that calcium absorption remains unaltered through pasteurization.

But even with all this evidence, scientist Hill doesn’t like to close the door on possibilities  in particular, the possibility of enhancing the understanding between people on both sides of the raw milk debate.

So on April 22, he and others are staging a one-day raw milk symposium at the university called Science to Policy.

To him, the big question – and one that is lurking more than ever in our do-right society — is whether science will be used as a basis for creating policy (such as the milk pasteurization policy in Ontario), or whether science should be damned and citizens be given the freedom to determine their own fate.

Maybe that’s the ultimate in democracy to some people. But to me, it’s a recipe for anarchy.

I’m sure the freedom of choice issue will come up at the symposium. One of the scheduled guest speakers is raw milk rock star Michael Schmidt, a small Ontario dairy farmer who in 2011 sold unpasteurized milk to Ontarians, and ran afoul of the law. His farm was raided, he was charged, he appealed his conviction and late last month the conviction was upheld.

Could that all have been avoided with better dialogue, less entrenched positions and a greater understanding by all parties of the challenges and – according to Schmidt and other advocates  — the opportunities, of pasteurized milk?

We’ll never know, but Hill hopes the event will take the raw milk hysteria down a notch, and generally, lead to measured approaches to policy development.

Others who’ll speak about science-based policy for food and agriculture versus the alternative include a retailer, a dairy farmer and leading academics.

The symposium is open the public; registration costs $65 for the full day but there are other options such as a webinar, or attending the luncheon speaker only. Check it out at http://goo.gl/0tiKSr.

Attend or watch if you can. You’ll have a more informed position on whether the risk is worth it.

For more Real Talk, Real Action columns by Owen Roberts (a weekly feature here on RealAgriculture), click here.

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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15 Comments

daniel wurz

We run a community dairy farm and raw milk is consumed 100% .No dairy farm shall not have a bacterial strain of any kind if used for public consumption. Raw milk contains a enzymes that is killed during pasteurization. Everybody drinks raw milk in our community if it’s pasturized we may as well leave it in the tank mostly I see it as a personal preference. But raw milk in all is far healthier from personal experience

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Garth Wilson

As a farm kid who spent time in the hospital multiple times as a kid due to raw milk, I’ll vouch that Louis Pasteur wasn’t wrong.
Choose what you will, but make it your choice and don’t be deciding for your children. If there is an issue and your choice harms someone else, I hope you can live with your choice.

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Wayne Craig

So Garth, you were hospitalized multiple times due to raw milk. Why did you continue to consume raw milk if you knew it was the cause?? Do you have other health issues?? Typically, campylobacter would only make you ill once since your body would develop resistance. Do you know what bacteria actually made you sick. What about the rest of your family??? Were they also hospitalized?? I think you need to come clean with the details. Sounds highly suspect!!! Also who should be deciding for our children what we feed them??

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richardbarrett

About 20% of or population is Lactose intolerant of which 1 – 2% are allergic to the milk proteins. Also, if the cows have Johne’s disease (which is hard to detect in phase #1 and #2), the cows have MAP in their milk which is not killed by pasteurization and may result in Crohn’s disease. Plus there is a couple of other things that are not killed by pasteurization. Why do many Doctors advise their patients to abstain from Dairy products? Lactase and B-galactosicase are two enzymes which will break down Lactose. These enzymes are killed by pasteurization. Phosphatease is another destroyed enzyme which according to several dentist ,whom I have spoken to, all state that the body needs to aid in the absorption of Calcium. The Test for pasteurization is that Phosphatease is completely destroyed according to the Lab test from the milk taken in the Alberta Raw Milk Raids. Please find out what the levels of Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and Omega 3 levels are in cows fed no grain compared to the cows fed grain. Interesting! Prof. Art Hill stated, “statistic: at least 1,000 times riskier” Where are the facts? When was the last death in Canada which was caused by the fluid Raw Milk and who was it? Riskier is prescription drugs, driving, smoking,etc. and all legal. Pasteurization was not mandatory in Canada in 1938 but just for people in Ontario who did not live on a farm. It still is not mandatory for the farmers. Could Art reveal how many farmers across Canada are still drinking their Fresh Unpasteurized Whole Milk from their bulk tank.
I am requesting that Mark McAfee from Organic Pastures, California be asked to be on the Panel. Guelph University wouldn’t dare ask him. For safety with raw milk go to: http://www.rawmilkinstitute.net/about-rawmi/ or for more info go to a Canadian site started 2 years ago which has over 1000 hits per month: http://www.rawmilkconsumer.ca

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Charlene

Since when you live on the farm the idea is you will be immune to the bacteria there I don’t argue that many dairy farmers do consume raw milk and many are unharmed by the experience.
I am a true believer that for the health of the many the convenience and choice of a few may be limited. For those who don’t have enough information to make a choice and think they do, for the greater good and reduced mortality of all I will stand behind pasteurization 100%. I think the proven benefits far, far outweigh the possible advantages of raw milk.

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keith Kelley

Pasteurizing milk to make it safer but to the detriment of the benefits makes little sense. Especially when it;s not proven to be harmful if dairies are clean and well managed.
i have been dealing with/using raw milk for many years and been in touch with many hundreds that consume it. I have yet to hear of a problem.
i was intolerant to dairy for at least 30 years of my life until switching to raw milk. I now have no issues at all. It was the pasteurized commercial milk that gave me issues.
It makes me wonder who this man may really be working for. He is at least misguided.

Reply
Ken Conrad

Pasteurization nurtures a favorable growth environment for microorganisms such as listeriosis. Beneficial bacteria in raw milk however limit their growth. The CDC’s foodborne outbreak online database reveals that they have not recorded any incidents of listeria due to raw milk. They have recorded 2 incidents of listeria in raw milk cheese, but have also recorded 3 incidents of listeria found in pasteurized cheeses and milk.

Ubiquitous organisms such as listeriosis flourish in cool, damp environments and can be found in variable quantities practically everywhere, in our houses and our bodies. We ingest small quantities of Listeria every day with no ill effect.

“Conservative estimates of the effect of pasteurizing all fluid milk at 82°C rather than 72°C are that annual listeriosis deaths from consumption of this milk would increase from 18 to 670, a 38-fold increase. ” Journal of Food Protection, Number 5, May 2014,
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iafp/jfp/2014/00000077/00000005/art00001

I have been drinking raw milk for 55 years, have raised nine children on it, and shared it liberally with friends, neighbors and visitors to the farm with no ill effect.

Overall freedom of choice, not just “food freedom”, looses when self-righteous utilitarian attitudes such as yours prevail.

Ken Conrad

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Trudy Snyder

First of all, humans are the ONLY mammal on earth that continues to consume the milk of another mammal after it is no longer needed to sustain life. Second, human breast milk is not pasteurized, should human babies not be drinking it straight from the breast?
If a cow is cleaned there are no dangers as breast milk in itself is already sterile. Much like a human mother cleans her breast before feeding her baby. It’s the same concept but I don’t hear any one saying anything about pasteurizing breast milk.

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Trudy Snyder

If it is done in sterile conditions, the cow being cleaned, the equipment cleaned and sterilized, raw milk is 100% safe for consumption. Breast milk from any mammal is sterile by nature, it’s contaminates that occur after that cause the problems. My issue is, why are we not DEMANDING cleaning milking processes over pasteurization?

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keith Kelley

Good comment Trudy.

Have you ever tried putting a pot of milk out into the woods with a camera trained on it? See how long it lasts.

We probably need milk because it has such an easily accessible array of nutrients for our generally low health bodies. For most our bodies are in a baby stage due to poor management, etc..

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MyKLove

The Pasteurization supporters seem to dismiss without adequate study that the nutrition in the milk is modified by their process. The Idea that only a couple of vitamins are lost is erroneous. Both the fats and proteins are affected by heat. Specifically all of the enzymes necessary to properly digest this complex beverage. If you don’t think there is a difference, then please have a look at the following blog post which tests pasteurized vs un by feeding two calves. One receiving Pasteurized milk and the other getting it ‘au natural’. There are some graphic images in this link: http://thebovine.wordpress.com/2010/06/04/the-tale-of-two-calves-one-calf-got-raw-milk-the-other-pasteurized/

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Dick Saunders Jr

We need healthier foods into the community, a real need. Thousands die from Asthma alone, Raw Milk will save at least half these lives, where all medications have failed. The Mayo Clinic had the Raw Milk Diet in the 40’s. Mark McAfee sells 60thousand gallons a month, for years. Raw Milk is widely used in Europe with vending machines also. Raw Milk is classified in Europe as “Low Risk”. All foods have risk, including pasteurized. And with Raw Real Milk, you get all the health benefits.

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Wayne Craig

So I assume Art has a mathematical model to explain his 1000x more risk comment. I think it would be much easier to prove that pasteurized milk is 1000x more allergenic than raw milk.
Art also failed to mention the affect pasteurization has on the three dimensional structure of the proteins in milk. High heat collapses that structure making the proteins much more difficult to digest. I think this is why so many people can drink raw milk, but struggle with the cooked stuff. Perhaps Art could do the research for my hypothesis.
By the way, in that country to your south 9,000,000 people regularly consume raw milk (CDC verified). No one there has died from consuming raw milk in at least 40 years. Pasteurized milk has killed 3 since 2007. Just sayin!!!

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Linda Brokopp

For over 6 years now, my son and I along with hundreds of others that I know have been happily consuming raw milk from Michael Schmidt.
The fact is raw milk is safe to consume and extremely beneficial to our health because millions of people around the world, including the Royal Family, drink raw milk on a daily basis!
Pasteurized milk has already been proven to be one of the causes for osteoporosis….why? because it is dead milk with no benefits and if it is enriched with so called vitamins, these vitamins are man made which are also very detrimental to people’s health.

The reason why milk is pasteurized in North America is because the cows on these farms are absolutely filthy and the bacteria levels are through the roof! Raw milk from these corporations would be extremely dangerous because of unsanitary conditions and lack of knowledge on how to run a natural, sustainable farm! Do these farms have farmers that are as highly educated like Michael Schmidt? I highly doubt it!

The other reason why pasteurized milk is protected is because the milk marketing board would lose millions of dollars and they are trying to protect their interest in all of this.

Do you ever hear of people dieing due to raw milk consumption? NO But, guess what, thousands of people, probably even hundreds of thousands of people die on a yearly basis due to medications, and the complications that arise are costing our system millions upon millions of dollars.

This being the case, we already know that raw milk is safe, so let’s continue to drink raw milk, have small farmers sell their raw milk in a peaceful manner and concentrate on the crisis above?

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