The Raw Milk Movement: Healthy or Hazardous?

Safety-TheRawMilkMove-600x626More and More People See Advantages in Drinking Untreated, Unprocessed and Unpasteurized Milk

By Gigi Stone and Arash Ghadishah

REALMILK.COM NOTE: We have included this story written by ABC News as the basis for their broadcast on “Nightline” and “World News Tonight.” However, we have included our rebuttal to some of the statements that they make, and our links to more information to fill in what they leave out of the story. RealMilk.com rebuttals and additions are indented and colored blue.

Added 09 JUN 07: See the ABC News segments, interspersed with our comments. Windows Media Player files for download, abc-comments-small (18MB) or medium (35MB)

Once a week on a suburban driveway outside of Tampa, a society of Floridians gathers to defy health warnings and purchase a product they have been repeatedly warned could kill them.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to get the milk,” said Steve Moreau, who said he drives three hours to get his hands on the product. But he’s not searching for regular, grocery store milk.

Moreau and many others, ranging from parents to professionals, are buying raw milk — untreated, unprocessed, unpasteurized, straight from the cow.

Watch the full story tonight on “Nightline” at 11:35 p.m. EDT

And raw milk drinkers say that it’s not just a few people who are drinking it. They say it’s a movement of people who want to feel healthier.

Drinking unpasteurized milk for good health might sound peculiar, especially in the age of deadly spinach. The process of pasteurization kills germs that cause salmonella and E. coli.

And according to the FDA Web site, “Raw milk can harbor dangerous micro-organisms that can pose serious health risks to you and your family.”

RealMilk.com rebuttal: It is POSSIBLE for raw milk to harbor dangerous micro-organisms, but it is possible for ANY food, raw or pasteurized, to harbor dangerous micro-organisms. We do not advocate drinking unpasteurized milk from modern Holsteins, bred to produce high volumes of milk, injected with recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), and raised in commercial feedlots where they are crowded and stressed and given antibiotics to keep them from being sick. That milk DOES need to be pasteurized to lessen (not eliminate) the possibility of food-borne illness. We advocate the drinking of raw milk from old-fashioned breeds of cows raised on pasture, with plenty of green grass, sunshine, and room to move. Properly raised and milked in clean conditions, this milk is extremely unlikely to harbor dangerous micro-organisms…in fact, less likely than commercial, pasteurized milk. See our page Two Raw Milks for comparison. Also note the second comment below regarding the relative safety of ALL dairy compared to other foods.

In the last decade the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has documented more than a thousand cases of food-borne illness and two deaths, all caused by unpasteurized dairy products.

RealMilk.com: This statement is incorrect. The CDC’s reminder that the ABC reporters are quoting cites a single reference, the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for the week of March 2, 2007 (MMWR for 03-02-07), provides no such information; nor is any such information found in any other FDA or CDC document. Numerous requests to the FDA for clarification have not been answered.

Even assuming they eventually provide evidence for their statement, the CDC is stating only that raw milk was IMPLICATED in these cases of food-borne illness. An association with raw milk is not the same as saying that raw milk CAUSED the food-borne illness, as the ABC reporters have stated. It means that in each of the outbreaks leading to the cases of foodborne illness, one of the foods that many–not necessarily all–had eaten in common is raw milk. The FDA and the CDC have a double-standard when it comes to raw milk, and they may stop looking for a cause as soon as they can claim an “association” with raw milk. See our press release “FDA and CDC Bias Against Raw Milk–No Facts Provided in Recent Reminder about Raw Milk Consumption” for more information about this.

Meanwhile, this ABC story also leaves out the fact that the CDC has data showing that ALL dairy, raw or pasteurized, is actually far less likely to be a source of food-borne illness than nearly any other food. Dairy accounts for only 1% of all food-borne illnesses. The number one source of food-borne illness, accounting for 38% of all cases according to the CDC’s data, is produce--think of the recent spinach outbreak. From 1990 to 2004 the CDC documented 31,496 illnesses from 639 outbreaks due to produce. Examples of the much higher risks of illness from other foods are also listed in the Press Release cited above. See also our PowerPoint presentation.

But raw milk devotees say the benefits outweigh the risks.

Christine Tyrell has been feeding her family raw milk for three years. “I really do feel we’ve seen medical benefits from this. My children are not as sick as they used to be.”

Some people argue the changes felt by drinking raw milk might be psychosomatic.

“I don’t deny that. They might be. All I know is I feel better,” said Alan Petrillo, another raw milk drinker, who says raw milk cured his digestive problems.

RealMilk.com: We get letters regularly from people attesting to the health benefits that they are seeing from switching to raw milk. Read our raw milk testimonials as well as additional testimonials in ourJune 2006 Campaign for Real Milk appeal. The Foundation’s membership includes many medical doctors, dentists, chiropractors, naturopaths, acupuncturists, and other health professionals who drink raw milk and recommend it to their patients.

The Law Behind the Raw

Though most doctors say there is no good science to back up these claims, raw milk drinkers believe pasteurization destroys beneficial proteins and enzymes that help with digestion and strengthen the immune system.

RealMilk.com: There are many valid scientific studies on the health benefits of raw milk. For a very small sample, see our Abstracts on the Effect of Pasteurization on the Nutritional Value of Milk. These studies date to the 1940s and earlier. When all farmers were encouraged to switch to modern Holsteins bred to produce great volumes of milk, take their cows off pasture, raise them in barns, and give them inappropriate feed (all as a matter of obtaining the greatest volume of milk at the lowest cost, regardless of the quality of the milk or health of the animal), later studies did NOT show a significant nutritional difference between raw and pasteurized milk and the government stopped studying the issue. However, animal and human studies carried out in the early part of the century–when most cows were grass-fed–showed that raw milk was superior to pasteurized in building strong bones and teeth, promoting optimal growth and development, and protecting against disease. In addition, newer research is beginning to emerge that validates these older studies.

To cite just one example, a 2006 study published the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reported that childhood consumption of unpasteurized milk resulted in large reductions in the incidence of asthma, eczema and hay fever. Blood tests revealed that drinking raw milk cuts levels of histamine, a chemical produced by the cells in response to an allergen, by more than 50 percent. This study corroborates numerous reports of asthma in children–a life-threatening condition that is increasing in frequency–clearing up after the introduction of raw milk into the diet.

But the problem for devoted milk drinkers is that it is illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption in 23 states. Laws vary from state to state so raw milk drinkers around the country use loopholes to legally get their milk.

In Ohio the law only allows people to drink unpasteurized milk from a cow they own.

“We can’t all own a cow much as we maybe would like to,” said Maria Rethman, a cow herdshare owner, “so we see this as a perfect opportunity for a family like ours.”

Rethman is one of the 150 owners of a well-cared for herd of dairy cows in Versailles, Ohio. “The kids enjoy it. We always laugh, there’s our cows. We call ‘em our cows.”

None of these owners are actually farmers, but as members of a “herdshare” program they each own a percentage of these cows, which means they can legally drink the raw milk produced here.

RealMilk.com: While in recent years more and more herdshares (also known as farm shares or cow shares) have been established as a way for people to legally drink raw milk, it is a serious mischaracterization to call this a “loophole” in the law. It is actually a very long-standing arrangement called an agistment, in which one person pays another person to keep and tend his or her livestock. This has long been recognized as a valid contractual arrangement. The fact that it has not been commonly known and that more people are discovering it in no way makes it a “loophole” to get around milk pasteurization laws and regulations that apply to milk intended for retail sale. The fact is simply this: if you own a cow or part of a cow, you can drink the milk from that cow legally. Period. In fact, courts in Ohio recently reaffirmed the legality of herdshares. Read more about that on our What’s Happening–Ohio, March 2007 page.

Still the state warns unpasteurized milk is rarely safe. “Milk can be contaminated at the cleanest farm and in the cleanest sanitary conditions prior to pasteurization,” said Louis Jones, chief of the Dairy Division at the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

RealMilk.com: Milk can be–and HAS BEEN–contaminated after pasteurization. Many other foods have also become contaminated during or after processing. Organic Pastures of California has sold 40 million servings of raw milk without a single reported illness over a period when thousands were sickened by properly pasteurized milk and other foods. See this table Reported Outbreaks of Food Borne Illness for comparisons.

In Florida raw milk drinkers don’t have to buy the cow to get the milk. The law there permits raw milk to only be sold for animal consumption, so consumers say they are buying it as pet food.

An Absolute Demand

While consumers have certainly jumped through hoops to get their raw milk, most of the legal burden has fallen to the relatively few farmers who produce it. Dennis Stoltzfoos’ quiet life as a Florida dairy farmer was interrupted two years ago when armed state agents raided his farm.

“I felt violated. It was awful. I didn’t know if I was going to lose my livelihood,” he said. “We had two girls, my wife was pregnant with number three and I didn’t know if I was going to lose everything.”

RealMilk.com: Dennis Stoltzfoos is not the only raw milk farmer being harassed by the authorities in an age where tons of food with dangerous additives is processed either here or abroad (think Chinese pet food imports!) and then sold to unwitting consumers with little government scrutiny. Read about the undercover sting and police raid that happened to farmers in Kentucky and Ohio. Even IF–and it’s a big if–patrons of an individual raw milk farmer became ill from his or her milk, the people affected would include a small group of people who are educated about raw milk and have freely chosen to drink it. Meanwhile, when consumers become ill from pasteurized commercial milk, hundreds or thousands are often sickened. The largest outbreak of food-borne illness from pasteurized milk occurred in March of 1985 when there were 19,660 confirmed cases of Salmonella typhimurium illness FROM CONSUMING PROPERLY PASTEURIZED MILK. Pasteurization is no guarantee of milk safety, and in fact, raw milk destined for pasteurization is allowed to have more bacteria in it both before and after pasteurization than raw milk that is destined to be consumed raw. See this comparison of the health regulations for raw vs. pasteurized milk in California.

Despite government pressure, Stotzfoos pressed forward. “We did not stop. Customers would not allow us to stop. There’s an absolute demand for raw milk. They will not allow us to stop.”

Dennis now sells his milk as pet food, but he also feeds it to his own family. He said his milk is safe because he treats his 21 dairy cows with such care. They eat fresh grass, not processed grain and are free to roam pastures instead of being confined to pens. But health officials maintain milk can be contaminated in the cleanest sanitary conditions.

“I know there’s a risk. It’s a very small risk. We know our farmers,” said Michelle Ruchener, a raw milk drinker.

The raw milk movement is an outgrowth of an exploding national preference for organic versus processed foods. But these “lacto-fermentation scofflaws” as they’ve been called, say that at the heart of this controversy, there is a more important issue at stake.

“As an informed consumer I feel it should be my right to have access to the product,” said Petrillo. “To that extent I don’t feel I need their protection.”

That sentiment has helped propel raw milk drinkers into a national movement, one that extends from the farm to the occasional clandestine gathering in a suburban driveway.

RealMilk.com: Reader Robert Kissel of Hamden, Connecticut saw the ABC news report and read our comments above when first posted. He had this to say, “The ABC program portrayed milk-drinkers as a sort of lunatic fringe who choose to drink milk because of some Bermuda-Triangle superstitions about phantom health benefits. Well, there are plenty of us who drink it because we like the flavor of real milk–rich, creamy, and above all, FRESH. I started drinking raw milk because I got so annoyed, one day, at bringing home a carton of milk from the store, and detecting that unpleasant intrusion of stale, metallic ‘stored-in-a-refrigerator’ taste that commercial milk often picks up, somehow, in its long travels before getting to me. That day, I said to myself, ‘this is stupid: there’s a dairy farm within easy driving distance–why do I bother with supermarket milk?’–and like they say, once you start, you never go back.”

Mr. Kissel continues, “I think it’s FAR cleaner to get milk that has had less ‘done’ to it. Connecticut is one of three states where you can purchase raw milk in the grocery store. Once, a woman who saw me picking up a bottle asked me whether I didn’t find it disgusting to drink milk straight from the udder–shouldn’t milk come from a machine? I asked her if, when breast-feeding an infant, she would even consider placing her milk into a ‘machine’ first, and THEN giving it to the child.”

Mr. Kiseel is right about milk that is destined to be drunk raw being cleaner than pasteurized milk–precisely because of the pasteurization machines themselves. In addition to pasteurized milk being allowed more bacteria both before and after pasteurizing than raw milk, modern commercial milk is shipped in tanker trucks and processed in large factories where miles of pipes ship the milk through the various high-temperature processes. These pipes must be cleaned out by various solvents and industrial cleaners—and residues invariably end up in the milk. Lowfat and fat-free milk also typically has nonfat milk powder added to give it more body. High-temperature drying of milk into powder oxidizes the otherwise beneficial cholesterol (see westonaprice.org for more on the benefits of saturated fat and cholesterol) and overdenatures the milk proteins. This unhealthy additive does not have to be declared on the label.

Freelance cameraman for ABC News enjoys a glass of raw milk.

ABC hired freelancers to tape hours of footage for their short Nightline segment and even shorter World News Tonight segment. The producers selected quotes from consumers that fit the narrowly focused piece they wanted to portray. No doubt many of those consumers spoke of the freshness and flavor of raw milk (or would have if asked) but those statements were not aired. Jim Roberts, a Weston A. Price Foundation member who attended the eight-hour taping at the Ohio farm, said that by the end of the day there were two new raw milk drinkers–the freelance cameraman and producer sent by ABC news to gather the footage.

Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures

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15 thoughts on “The Raw Milk Movement: Healthy or Hazardous?

  1. Pasteurized milk from the grocery store makes me very sick. I have been diagnosed as lactose intolerant, I was told to avoid dairy, but I am not that stupid. I drank milk straight from the cow my entire life on my aunt’s farm. My uncle milked the cow and my auntie poured a glass for me every single morning still warm and with foam and cream on top.

    I was never lactose intolerant then and I never got sick. I started to get sick from dairy when I no longer had access to the “real milk” and had to buy the poison from grocery stores. Milk provided by factory lame sick cows, abused and sick cows–they abuse the cows, stuff them full of hormones to give chain births so they give milk around the year, they live in disgusting conditions, stand and eat in their feces, making them sick, and then stuff them full of antibiotics to make them what? better?, except they don’t get better, they get sicker, their immune system gets immune to the antibiotics and they get weaker and sicker… they tell us THAT milk is better, THAT milk is legal and SAFE???

    I will always choose the milk from cows from farmers, who love their animals keep them clean and feed them natural healthy foods and give them names, pet them and let them keep their babies. Every since I stopped drinking grocery store pasteurized garbage milk I am no longer lactose intolerant. I drive 70 miles each way and buy 3 gallons every weekend from Melinda and I will continue to do so. Thanks to RAW MILK, I can even enjoy ice cream and cream and butter and all dairy, my body will not tolerate ANY dairy I try from the store, I get cramps and pain within minutes. Never from dairy from my favorite farmer. They attack raw milk but how many items did they have to recall and take off the shelves just this year from the stores? Their grocery FDA approved foods are so SAFE for us several people died.

    You know why they attack raw milk? Because once people realize the benefits, over the poison they pass off as dairy and milk to us at the stores, they are afraid they will lose millions of $$$, if people smarten up and stop buying their crap completely. It’s about the millions they will lose, not about people’s health. Money rules these greedy ******, it has nothing to do with safety, or health.

    They know their milk is poison, I also found out, most of the people in the government, who are imposing these rules on US, will not give the store bought milk (or any dairy) to their children and they do not drink it themselves, they buy raw milk. It’s true. They buy milk from the local farmers too, or have it delivered. Hypocrites.

  2. P.S. Everyone who comes to my house have tried it and every time they come back and ask if I have the delicious real milk I had the last time, then they ask if they may have a glass? LOL I love it I am converting people one at a time. I know 3 people who have tried the milk at my house are now driving to the farm to get their own for their families. My fiance will not drink anything else since he tried the REAL milk as well. GO RAW MILK! Support your local farmer!

  3. What I have noticed and correctly is that massive dairy operations cannot operate without pasteurization process due the enormity of operations to make the bottom line…while this is great for mass production, it still leaves that small farmer rancher dairyman out in the cold. The reality is this…if you are a small dairyman, rancher, farmer and you DO NOT disclose the fact you are not using “modern production methods”, you should be shut down. However if main selling point and advertising includes the “RAW MILK, Hormone free, drug free, free range, visit us!” in your ads you are not selling to the masses. You are providing a niche customer that is often a well informed, well educated consumer who demand what factories and big business can’t produce…real foods, your customers are willing to pay more for quality. As a producer you will never be a threat to big business, you will never realize profits like multinational conglomerates will. But you will be able to make living if left unmolested.
    The Government has bowed to pressure from Con_Agra, Monsanto, etc. in reality allowing Timex to force Rolex out of the timepiece business. Yes, Rolex costs a lot, but Timex stock is worth much more.
    Follow the money. I am not a scholar, nor exceptionally intelligent, nor gifted… but I do have common sense. Prior to pasteurization, people drank raw milk products with few ill effects, or else civilization would have collapsed.

  4. Hoo boy, pasteurized milk is “poison”. While some brands pasteurized milk do have an off flavor most are fine. I make sure I only purchase the “good” brand. As for poison I think you do not know the meaning of that word. I put out poison for rats, they died, I do not put out milk to get rid of rats. No babies are lactose intolerant, that develops later in many adults after the need for mothers milk is over. Modern, factory produced milk is not as good as small dairy milk and Holstein milk is not the best it’s not “the Devil”.

    With strict harmful bacteria testing raw milk should be available for sell. If getting E.coli or salmonella was that big a risk raw vegetables would not be allowed either.

    • “If getting E.coli or salmonella was that big a risk raw vegetables would not be allowed either.”

      Love it, man. LOVE it! Exactly. It’s all about the cha-ching for Big Dairy.

  5. We drink our own raw milk :) If we have to buy milk from the store we have to put lots of chocolate into it becase it tastes so bad:-( :-(

  6. My father in law has cattle that graze on his land and eat hay and grass. They are well cared for and loved cattle…and they are FILTHY. Cow are filthy. They lay in their own poop, tromp though dirty water, romp around in it – Raw milk if it can be completely clean may be healthy, but our systems have been de sensitized to it and might not can handle it. I have a close friend who grew up on a dairy farm who grew up drinking raw milk. He says he would NEVER advise people to drink it that are not used to it, especially children.

    • People with compromised digestion may find that when they start eating raw dairy they get diarrhea or other problems. It’s best to start slow. The good bacteria in the dairy can cause a die-off reaction of the bad bacteria in the gut that can be uncomfortable and even make people think the milk is making them sick when it is only a stage in the recovery of their digestive tract. (This die-off reaction can happen with other beneficial foods like lacto-fermented vegetables, water kefir, kvass, and coconut oil.)

      Well-managed cattle who are rotated on grass shouldn’t have that much opportunity to lay in their own poop or tromp through dirty water, because they’re moving to fresh pasture every few days. The great farms have chickens rotate through the pastures behind the cows to scratch around in the cow patties, breaking them up and dispersing them throughout the fields to fertilize them.

      On a pasture-based farm, even the poop is relatively clean. With proper modern milking procedures such as washing of the udder/teats with iodine, milking machines that put the milk directly into stainless steel containers, and quick chilling of the milk afterwards, there is very little risk of illness.

  7. raw milk was safe for the past thousand generations and then the west decided to come in and tell us its bad for you and that you need this and that chemical also produced in the west to make it better for you. How stupid do you think I am…………

  8. JUST BECAUSE IT KILLS YOU “SLOWLY” IT DOESN’T MEAN IT’S NOT POISONOUS. POISON IS POISON, IT KILLS IN DIFFERENT WAYS. THEY SAY CIGARETTES ARE POISON AND KILL, YES, IT’S THE SAME WAY WITH PROCESSED MILK. IT’S DEAD FOOD, IT HAS NO VALUE AND IT CONTAINS HORMONES PESTICIDES AND PARASITES FROM THE LAME COWS THAT GIVE IT. (AT FACTORY FARMS) educate yourself, don’t just blindly believe what the tv tells you.

    RAW MILK FROM A SMALL FARMER IS FROM HEALTHY, GRASS FED, LOVED COWS, THAT ARE GRAZING ON GRASS ALL DAY, cows that don’t get beaten and prodded with electric pokers and can’t even stand from being mistreated and in horrible living conditions. Cows at a small local farmer, who only has a couple of cows, get hugs, they have names and are like family pets. They are NOT STANDING IN SHIT LIKE FACTORY COWS DO. THE REASON WHY THEY STARTED TO BOIL THEIR MILK- IS BECAUSE THE CONDITIONS -THEY (FACTORY FARMS) KEPT THE COWS, WERE MAKING THE COWS SICK so they pumped them full of antibiotics and they still got sick, their bodies got immune to the effects of the antibiotics, pasteurization was invented because of the crappy quality of factory farm milk. They knew their milk if sold raw would kill anyone who drank it, but- THEY DIDN’T WANT TO LOSE MONEY, SO THEY BOILED IT AND STILL SOLD IT. Greed prevails every time. Money over human health.

    With decades of this type of treatment, the factory cows have become genetically inferior and lame and they live only 1/3 to 1/2 their proper life span. Cows on small farms who are loved, kept clean and get the attention they need, live long happy lives and give many years of wholesome liquid health.

    If you want to defend the white sewer water you call milk, it’s YOUR right to do so, I will NEVER touch it.

  9. I bought my first 1/2 gallon of raw milk, from a local small dairy farm, last week. I am going back to buy a few more today. I have a 7 yr old healthy girl! I try to my very best in keeping her that way. My daughter had a case of e-coli when she was 2, almost lost her kidney function! The Dr’s didnt know what was wrong w/her. I realized she had a case of e-coli from her Grandmother, who refuses to wash her hands after a bowel movement ( I know TMI) it’s true. I spent a whole day flushing my daughter w/glasses of water and cranberry juice every hour until she went pee normal. I believe that’s what helped her. When I saw my daughter’s Dr at the next visit, I explained what happened. He told me it was very possible she had a case of e-coli. Also, my Dr’s secretary told me, if my daughter was on antibiotics, they probably wouldn’t have cured her. She told me the antibiotics are made from “sick” cows. That’s another story….just some info to throw out there~

    • I never made it to the Dairy that day. My gut feeling told me the risk of illness due to contamination wasn’t worth it for my Family. I don’t buy any cows milk anymore, I keep a 1/2 gal almond milk in the fridge. We do eat cheese and yogurt.

  10. Hi everyone

    I am collecting stories from people who have benefited from raw milk. It is for an article I am doing for my senior thesis on raw milk. The article will hopefully be published. I would very much appreciate it if anyone is interested in telling their story to contact me via email: rawmilkstories4you@gmail.com and we can set up a time to talk.

    thanks!
    - Francesca

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