By Sally Fallon Morell
Government officials insist that the reason we pasteurize is to ensure the safety of our milk. A recent article by Daniel Fromson, “The Milkman Cometh,” published in Lapham’s Quarterly puts the decision to pasteurize in a different light.
Fromson brings to light a 1910 New York Milk Committee Conference on Milk Problems described in In Nature’s Perfect Food: How Milk Became America’s Drink, by Erna DuPuis. The committee set out to reach a scientific consensus about how to handle the city’s dairy products. “In many ways,” DuPuis writes, “this particular conference represented a culmination of seventy years of discussion about milk.” The participants, “public experts hired to present scientific information,” were actually opposed to pasteurization, and most of the officials considered certified milk superior. The critical question, however, was whether New York would expand its milk inspection force to safeguard the milk supply the same way private inspectors monitored certified milk, or whether it would embrace mandatory pasteurization.
The answer did not hinge on science so much as business. “Private companies, particularly larger companies, through their capital investment in pasteurizing technology, would enable the state to supply the guarantee of milk safety without imposing further public costs.” Within a year, New York would pass its mandatory pasteurization law, which cemented the assumption that pasteurization made milk completely safe without any costly testing program.
Several of the health experts who came to this businesslike conclusion had also attended a 1906 conference at which Nathan Straus, the most ardent promoter of pasteurization, had made a prediction: the solution to the milk problem would be “not scientific but practical.” And that is exactly what their decision was. It was a validation of the belief, as Straus once put it, that inspection was “an ideal dream”—that “we are practical men, you and I, and we must meet conditions as they exist, not as we would wish them to be.”
Thus we are left with a system that destroys the goodness in our milk because a group of New York businessmen wanted a practical, low-cost way of consolidating the dairy industry. There is nothing scientific about pasteurization.