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Raw Milk Controversy: The Benefits, Dangers and Legal Issues

Raw Milk Controversy: The Benefits, Dangers and Legal Issues
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Dairy is a staple in diets around the world. For many Americans, dairy, specifically milk, is a part of their daily routine. Usually served cold with a bowl of cereal, milk is consumed without regard to the processes by which it is made, and without awareness of the controversy surrounding those processes.

What is Pasteurization?

Since the work of 19th century French scientist Louis Pasteur, milk has gone through a process known aptly as pasteurization. This process heats milk to a high temperature, thus killing all bacteria. Milk also undergoes another process, known as homogenization, which separates the fat globules present, so that they stay evenly distributed throughout the milk. These processes were implemented because of the dangers of certain bacteria associated with milk. It also was to make the wide-scale distribution of milk easier. Before the advent of Louis Pasteur, milk was consumed without being subject to these preservation processes. Milk that has not been exposed to these processes is known as raw milk. Simply, raw milk is milk that has not undergone the pasteurization and homogenization processes.

What is Raw Milk?

Raw milk is the natural state of milk, with all of its alleged health benefits intact, but this statement would not go unchallenged by food science experts. It is important to note that before the advent of these modern, industrialized processes, milk was consumed without the benefit of these processes. Raw milk may seem to be more healthy or pure; however, this is the subject of intense debate. In fact, raw milk is illegal in many parts of the United States. The reasons for its partial prohibition have directly to do with food safety issues, and the lack of ability to regulate its shelf life.

The Benefits of Raw Milk vs. The Dangers of Raw Milk

Raw milk, precisely because it has not gone through modern preservation processes, may contain dangerous microorganisms that may pose health threats to those who consume it. For example, E. coli can be transmitted in untreated milk. Foodborne illness is the main risk of consuming raw milk. For raw milk proponents, there are benefits to consuming organic milk that has not been subject to the homogenization and pasteurization processes. First, those who drink raw milk claim that it tastes better. This, though, is highly subjective, and conclusions must be made on more scientifically established grounds. Modern preservation processes do, in fact, remove harmful microorganisms from milk. They also, however, remove many of the milk’s helpful nutritional benefits during these processes. Critical health benefits of milk, such as manganese, copper, and iron, are certainly diminished when exposed to heat. The sterilization process also compromises vitamins C and B6. Those that claim that raw milk is healthier than treated milk may have scientific merit. Furthermore, many raw milk proponents report improved digestion when consuming raw milk. Again, this is subjective, and experts have been unable to verify this type of claim.

Is Raw Milk Illegal?

The availability and commercial distribution of raw milk varies across the globe. Some countries have completely prohibited the consumption of raw milk. In North America, it is illegal to distribute raw milk to Canadian consumers directly, In the United States, 29 states currently allow the sale of raw milk. Thus, one’s ability to secure raw milk depends on individual state laws. If a consumer lives in a state in which the consumption of raw milk is legal, the consumer can contact a farm that sells raw milk or by some other farm-to-consumer distribution process.

The debate over processed milk and raw milk will likely continue for years to come. Those who consider themselves "on the fence" in this debate would do well to consider the health benefits of raw milk, but should also be aware of the health and safety issues surrounding it.

Want to learn more about raw milk? Check out the documentary film, "Farmageddon".
Looking for raw milk? Find raw milk at these Agrilicious local farms.

For More Raw Milk Options, Try Agrilicious Partner RealMilk.com

Laura Holt, for Agrilicious!

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tba7799, New Waverly TX
The government will have issues with anything they don't have direct control over. I have a digestive system that will Not allow me to have any dairy milk so my diet & cooking is solely depends on goat products. I've been drinking it & I've had no problemsn. The farm I was buying from has been shut dowm & I am looking for a place close to mem
6/30/2015 2:03:00 AM
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cleanslatefarm, Tully NY
The debate will rage on I'm sure. I only know for the 18 months I drank raw milk I never felt better, lost 15 pounds with no other diet change or change in activity, and wasn't sick one day. Does it taste better? I believe so but that is subjective. I know it tastes better than the low temp pasteurized cream line whole milk I can get now. My raw milk supplier had to stop selling because her insurance company wouldn't cover her anymore. Despite having 4+ years of impeccable testing results from the state of New York. I think Damzil is correct. It's a safety issue.
4/30/2015 2:27:00 PM
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lightnglass, Schenectady NY
Surely, advances in technology prevent farmer's certified to sell raw milk from selling any with E Coli in it. Raw milk contains enzymes that reduce bad LDL cholesterol, in humans by 100 points, and more. Thus, the only real problem I see with the selling of certified organic raw milk is, that the BIG pharmaceutical industry will have loads of statin drugs to through away, and well, let's face it, the drug companies and the chemical companies do not like to lose money. I know that they have no heart, and my best interest is not theirs. ha ha
10/29/2014 3:42:00 PM
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CharlieGilliam, Hayden CO
I had heard (many years ago) that a lower temperature pasteurization would also kill that harmful bacteria though it would take a longer time, and the health benefits might stay intact. I wish I had more background for these statements. I only remember talking with a dairy farmer about it...and that back in the late 70s.
10/24/2014 9:49:00 AM
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Damzil Enterprises, LLC, Education
It is apparent the debate is more a food safety issue than directly about the benefits of consuming raw milk. It would be good to separate the debate into these two main categories: 1) health benefits of safely produced raw milk and 2). the challenges of guaranteeing the safety of raw milk related to mass production and distribution of raw milk.
10/16/2014 1:32:00 PM
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KathyV, Tucson AZ
From the American Academy of Pediatrics: "..claims that consumption of raw milk is not associated with lactose intolerance and that destruction of lactase by pasteurization of milk leads to lactose intolerance have not been substantiated by ..studies…claims purporting links between pasteurized milk and autism, allergic reactions, and asthma have largely been based on testimonials or anecdotes and have not been demonstrated based on scientific data. In contrast, numerous scientific analyses have demonstrated that pasteurized milk and milk products contain equivalent levels of such nutrients."
8/27/2014 10:22:00 AM
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