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Raw Milk: Public Health Enemy or Nature’s Gift?

Opinion

There has been much debate recently on the benefits/drawbacks of pasteurized versus raw milk. In Ohio, it is illegal to sell unpasteurized milk to stores and consumers, though dairy farm families may drink raw milk from their own herds.

 

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In 2006, the Ohio Department of Agriculture revoked the license of a 100-cow dairy on grounds that it was selling raw milk. In light of this decision and similar rulings nationwide, there is a growing movement to allow consumers to directly purchase raw milk from farmers, thus, bypassing the regulatory mandates of state agriculture departments. 

Individuals have the right to purchase and eat whatever food and beverage items they see fit for consumption, e.g. people eat raw oysters despite the risk of contracting pathogens such as Vibrio parahaemolyticus, or they can order their hamburger rare despite the risk of obtaining E. coli O157:H7. What is important is the familiar caveat: “buyer beware.”

Unfortunately, much information promoting the purported benefits of raw milk and the alleged evils of pasteurized milk is making the rounds in cyberspace. This disinformation and pseudo-science campaign needs to be addressed in order to allow consumers to make an informed choice about the milk they drink. 

One argument made by raw milk advocates is that pasteurization kills “good” bacteria and enhances growth of harmful bacteria. While it is true that pasteurization destroys bacteria, that is precisely the intended benefit. Bacterial species such as E. coli, Salmonella and even Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative agent of tuberculosis, reside in the gut of cows. These microorganisms, harmless to cows, can contaminate raw milk and cause serious infection in humans. Pasteurization eliminates these pathogens. 

The counterpoint – pasteurization destroys beneficial bacteria – is worthless. Bacteria are everywhere in the environment – found in soil, water, most foods and even on the outer layer of human skin. Due to the universal nature of bacteria, people are almost constantly ingesting microbes, which then colonize the gut.

The only way to eliminate the normal flora (bacteria that normally grows in the digestive tract and protects humans from opportunistic pathogens) is long-term antibiotic treatment. Drinking pasteurized milk will not have any diminishing effect on the normal flora of human intestines. Another nugget of disinformation raised by raw milk proponents is that pasteurized milk increases the risk of diseases such as cancer and osteoporosis. 

These advocates state the fact that cancer rates were much lower before pasteurization was mandated. This argument is inherently misleading. There are many causes of cancer, involving complex interactions of genetics and environmental factors. Regardless of what precisely triggers cancer, the increase in various malignancies is largely due to the fact that humans live much longer lives than they did 100 years ago. 

Prior to the 20th century’s advancement in food production, sanitation and medicine, the life expectancy was only 40-50 years of age and the most common cause of death was infectious diseases, primarily tuberculosis, pneumonia, influenza and diarrheal illnesses. Cancer, heart disease and stroke are now the three most common causes of mortality for the simple reason that people in developed countries often live into their 70s, 80s or beyond, thus giving time for chronic diseases to take hold. 

Pasteurization of milk has little, if anything to do with this trend. As for osteoporosis, vitamin D is required for the absorption of calcium from the gut. Humans produce their own vitamin D from sunlight, as well as receive it from processed milk, which is fortified with this nutrient. 

Raw milk does not contain vitamin D, therefore, less calcium absorption occurs from drinking raw milk than pasteurized milk. Proponents of raw milk also argue that pasteurization of milk destroys enzymes that aid in digestion of foods. One website even claims that drinking pasteurized milk “puts a strain on the pancreas,” (which secretes many digestive enzymes). 

This could not be further from the truth. Enzymes found in raw milk are bovine enzymes, which, as foreign proteins, are destroyed naturally by the human digestive tract. Humans are incapable of using bovine enzymes to aid in digestion. Only enzymes produced by one’s own salivary glands, stomach and pancreas are useful for humans.

In conclusion, people have the right to drink raw milk if they think it better suits their taste. However, they should be forewarned that much of the information promoting the benefits of raw milk is overblown or worse, patently false. 

Research conducted by credible scientists and organizations, including the FDA, overwhelmingly argues in favor of pasteurized milk’s benefits versus raw milk. So before anyone chooses to switch to raw milk, they must be properly educated on the facts, then they can make a truly informed decision on what goes into their body.

 Illness from raw milk is 100 percent preventable and needs no additional rules, laws, inspections or audits. Consumption of pasteurized milk is not “erring on the side of caution,” it is a proven method of eliminating disease from this commodity.

This year, there have been an increasing number of cases of E. coli O157:H7 attributable to the consumption of raw milk.  These cases, the ensuing human suffering and the mounting health care costs are 100 percent preventable.  It is our responsibility as public health professionals to prevent and to advocate for interventions and modalities that will reduce the burden of illness in our society.

 ——–

Melvin N. Kramer, Ph.D., M.P.H., is president of EHA Consulting Group, Inc.  

© Food Safety News
  • Alan

    “Regardless of what precisely triggers cancer, the increase in various malignancies is largely due to the fact that humans live much longer lives than they did 100 years ago. ”
    My grandfather’s generation (13 kids in one family) all lived well into their 90’s. None of them died of cancer to my knowledge. He lived to be 99. Three of his six children, the next generation down, died of cancer in their 60’s and 70’s. He grew up before pasteurization and had no cavities until the age of 65. My Mom had a cavity at 33. I had several cavities by 15 years of age. My life experience does not confirm your statement.

  • dnadoc

    The plural of anecdote is not data. Your family does not represent an entire generation of humans. It wouldn’t even be 0.00000001% of the entire generation, even given the large number of people in your family.
    The statement you quote is true, regardless of the _extremely_ small sample size of your family.

  • federal microbiologist

    According to Grand Master Mantak Chia, of the Taoist Master School, drinking your own urine has the same sort of healing powers attributed to consuming raw, unpasteurized milk.
    Grand Master Chia observes that urophagy can cure dandruff; ear aches; dropsy; jaundice; irritated eyes; and itching.
    Those reluctant to ingest their own urine are encouraged to rub it onto skin lesions for a curative effect. Nasal and sinus problems can be alleviated by snorting or sniffing urine. Oral cavity ailments can be cured by gargling with urine.
    Urine compresses applied to the perianal area can reduce hemorrhoids.
    Grand Master Chia also recommends urine enemas (!) as a way of enhancing the salutary effects of fasting.
    Raw milk enthusiasts who are reluctant to embrace urophagy can take heart from efforts in India to develop a beverage, ‘Gau Jal’, based on cow urine. Although, after initial reports surfaced in 2009 about the product’s announcement, not much else has been revealed. It is unclear if the development of Gau Jal is ongoing, or discontinued.
    Perhaps Sally Fallon and the Weston Price Foundation can arrange for their raw milk suppliers in the US to also offer this potentially delectable beverage to the public !
    http://www.universal-tao.com/article/urine_therapy.html
    http://www.indianexpress.com/news/coke-has-a-rival-rsss-cow-urine-cola/421641/

  • Mae Johns

    Alan, your life experience, while interesting, means nothing in epidemiology. The AVERAGE lifespan is called an ‘average’ because some people live longer, some less. The average lifespan has increased because of antibiotics, pasteurization, and modern medicine. And cancer and other diseases occur as people age and are much more common in the elderly. The logical fallacy in your statement is small sample size. Individual experiences do not mean anything when gathering data about populations. This article is accurate and truthful.

  • Jim

    “Pseudo-science” Dr. Kramer?
    What are the results of the GABRIELA study? Just how comprehensive is the study?
    The empirical evidence is absolutely clear regarding the benefits of consuming raw, fresh milk Raw milk has a protective benefit that pasteurized milk does not.

  • Sara

    Dr. T. Colin Campell in his book “The China Study” cites several epidemiological studies indicating that the consumption of pasteurized milk does cause cancer and heart disease – not just in China but worldwide. He also conducted several studies personally that involved carcinogens and a diet of heated milk proteins, and concluded that the amount of heated milk protein given a pre-cancerous rat directly correlated with that rat’s cancer growth, while rats given the same carcinogens without heated milk protein did not develop cancer. He is not a raw milk advocate, but he very pointedly states how the food industry’s ties to the federal government prevent accurate data regarding the dangers of pasteurized milk being given to the American public. He gives his own experience on government health committees as proof of this. What about the rising rates of cancer and health disease causing human suffering and mounting health care costs? I’d wager the percentages comparing that to raw milk illnesses show an overwhelming burden from these dietary diseases.
    It’s not just vitamin D that is required to assimilate calcium. Phosphatase is necessary for calcium absorption and is present in raw milk but destroyed by pasteurization, thus absent from pasteurized milk. Without calcium absorption, requiring both vitamin D and phosphatase, calcium unable to be assimilated remains in the bloodstream can create health problems. We can get vitamin D from the sun but not phosphatase.
    One thing I know, known by mankind long before modern science, is that whole foods are much better able to offer a consumer the ability to assimilate nutrients than supplements or synthetic vitamins, and that saying one must have a, b, and c to absorb calcium or any other nutrient is likely short sighted. Nature has a way of creating whole foods that contain important nutrients along with the variety of elements living things need to assimilate those nutrients much more effectively than a scientifically engineered pill. We can’t compare single nutrients and say we’re comparing apples to apples, we’re not. There is much, much more to a whole food than it’s vitamin or mineral content.
    Some sources say raw milk contains many of the B vitamins, including B12, and vitamin D to assist calcium absorption. I’ve also read that human breast milk also does not contain adequate vitamin D to meet a baby’s requirements, however it’s unreasonable to then conclude that we’re not hurting human breast milk by pasteurizing it. Human infants don’t thrive on pasteurized human milk either.(J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 1986 Mar-Apr;5(2):248-53)
    I find this article short-sighted and one-sided, nothing new in the anti-raw milk campaign. I do find the tone less accusatory than many articles, and not as condescending, however, and that much I can appreciate. If only the FDA shared the author’s sentiment that “Individuals have the right to purchase and eat whatever food and beverage items they see fit for consumption.” In fact, the FDA claims that “there is no absolute right to consume or feed children any particular kind of food” and “there is no generalized right to bodily and physical health.”
    So, I must conclude that it is the FDA that is really a Public Health Enemy.

  • Alan

    To those who say my anecdotal experience means nothing? Give me a break. My whole life is anecdotal. After all, I’m just one person out of 7 billion. But I’m going with what I see first hand and not what some conceited credentialed professional tells me. I think the progression of generations experiencing more disease and cavities is more than anecdotal. You give modern medicine too much credit. My grandfather’s generation would only go to a doctor as a last resort. Do you know that Mongolian’s main food is raw milk? You should see anecdotally how beautiful their teeth are at all ages.

  • Cliff

    I am anecdotally the smartest, handsomest, most athletic, healthiest, humblest and most worthwhile person on earth.

  • Alan

    Just a couple notes, I “assumed” that those criticizing my “anecdotal” life as being credentialed. I have no evidence that they are.
    I also remembered that the otherside of my family tree had a similar experience. Elderly grandparents that lived to 78 and 92 without cancer. One of their two sons died in his 60’s of bone cancer. Again, a shorter life span that medical science could not prolong. Those grandparents ran a dairy and drank raw milk most of their lives.
    And a note about statistics: I know that statistics can be presented in a way that seems to support an agenda but are misleading. I don’t know what the agenda was behind the statistics used to support this article and how they might be misleading. I trust my firsthand observations. There was no agenda behind those.

  • Sara, what studies?
    I know the China Study, but you mentioned others. Do you have a link, or titles by which we can look the study up and verify what you’re saying?
    The China Study is focused on encouraging a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle, not raw milk.

  • Jim

    Alan, it really is nothing more than simple common sense is it not?
    Sometimes when we focus in on a miniscule detail we miss the big picture. It has become quite apparent that this is what has occurred. I only learned of this debate a few weeks ago. I could not believe there was actually a debate. Before that, there was nothing I could have cared less about than the subject of milk. Six one half a dozen the other. I’ve since been educated.
    The level of ignorance(including myself) concerning these things, is really quite alarming.
    For example, do a simple search including the words “cancer and fructose”. One will quickly learn cancer cells feed on fructose. Another search for “foods highest in fructose” will quickly reveal fruits and vegetables. Lastly, search for the “recommended diet for cancer patients”.
    One plus one is indeed two and it ain’t rocket science.

  • Sara

    Shelly,
    Dr. Campbell’s book is full of studies he claims link milk consumption and other kinds of animal protein consumption to various diseases. The studies he conducted on rats were using powdered milk protein and not part of the China study. The China Study is the title of his book but is only one of the studies he discusses in the book – so I’d point you to his book for several more epidemiological and laboratory studies, many of which are related to processed milk. And no, like I said initially, he’s not a raw milk advocate, he believes animal protein in all forms should be avoided. I feel his data could actually support a claim that it is modern animal proteins (pasteurized dairy, cornfed feedlot beef, etc.) that are harmful, since those are what the studies he cites are really measuring. I’d like to see studies comparing disease rates for processed and mass-produced proteins to raw milk and grassfed animal proteins to see if there was any difference between them in regard to disease rates. I don’t agree with all of Dr. Campbell’s conclusions, because I think both overeating/obesity and level of physical activity as well as exposure to toxins (and more) all play a huge role along with diet in contracting diseases – but I think his data is very interesting and significant.
    My point in mentioning the book was to address comments about epidemiology as it relates to rising disease rates, as Alan brought up, which is alarming. It’s not just his family experiencing poorer health with a modern lifestyle. There is data that scientifically shows a link between heated milk proteins and cancer, at least in rats.

  • Sara, so you don’t have any links to the studies you reference. Then there’s no way for us to view the studies or do any research to verify the accuracy of your statements. Therefore we have no choice but to treat your assertions with skepticism.
    As for the China Study, the book received a great deal of criticism, not the least of which that other studies have shown Campbell’s findings to be flawed. A link I found lists several:
    http://rawfoodsos.com/2011/07/31/one-year-later-the-china-study-revisited-and-re-bashed/
    I did look for anything corroborating your assertion that there’s a link between heated milk and cancer in rats. I found nothing. And since you can’t provide a link, study title–something–I have to conclude there is no data that shows a link between heated milk proteins and cancers. No data that is credible, at least.

  • Sara

    Shelley,
    You may or may not believe it, but everything is not online.
    If you are unable to open a book, instead choosing to read criticisms of data instead of the data itself, you may have some difficulty researching topics and coming to your own conclusions. It’s not my job or purpose to convince you of anything, just letting you know what studies are out there.
    Best of luck to you.
    Sara

  • Marco Hoffman

    Even the researchers who conducted the Gabriela study concluded that drinking raw milk to treat the wheezes would be, like any nostrum, a case of “cure the disease, kill the patient.” Sorry, Jim, but until you can find some way to keep the cow plops out of the milk, I’ll take mine pasteurized.

  • Alan

    Jim, Yes, I was like you. Milk wasn’t controversial to me and I wasn’t aware of the debate. I have often joked, “Who knew that milk would become a four letter word?”

  • Jim

    Marco,
    I didn’t see a conclusion which indicated “cure the disease, kill the patient.”
    Are the following phrases regarding the results of this very detailed study not clear?
    “raw milk consumption was inversely associated to asthma”
    “Boiled farm milk did not show a protective effect”
    As far as the “cow plops in the milk”…I don’t believe I would like to eat or drink anything that has been contaminated with feces.
    Nonetheless, you are certainly free to indulge in a decade old fried Twinkie if you wish.
    However, I must skirt the edges of the law in order to make a “fresh” batch of homemade ice cream for the kids.

  • Jim

    Alan,
    We can only hope that more people will become aware of this debate.
    One sure fire method of persuasion is to simply drink a glass of fresh, raw milk. The “product” does indeed sell itself.
    Unfortunately, many eat what the FDA feeds them. Without a doubt, they are fed junk food.

  • Sara, you claim there are studies that purport to show that heating milk causes cancer…at least, it does so in rats. Yet you can’t cite the study, you can’t provide a study title, you mention the China Study, but then say this particular study wasn’t in that book–can you not see that your assertions lack credibility?
    Too often in FSN, people say “Oh a study has shown this or that”, but seldom with a reference so we can see for ourselves that yes, there is a study, and yes, it did say what the person said.
    Frankly, I don’t care people’s names–I don’t care who any of you are (no offense, I’m sure you’re all nice, and worthy). I do care about your arguments, though. I especially care about arguments that make claims about this study, or that finding.
    “The studies are out there”.
    Give me facts I can check. If you can’t, then I have to assume the facts don’t exist.
    Doesn’t make for intelligent discussions.

  • Alan, my great-grandfather lived to 95 years old. He drank like a fish, and smoked like a chimney.
    By your reasoning, if I just take up single malt whiskey and tobacco, my longevity is assured.
    I’m OK with the single malt. I think I’ll pass on the tobacco.

  • Jim

    Shelly,
    Your personal experience does indicate that smoking may not be the devil it is made out to be does it not?
    This of course is not to conclude that smoking is beneficial to ones health. However, the oldest verified person on record lived to be 122 years old. She smoked cigarettes from the time she was 21 until she was 117. An unspecified source indicates she only smoked 2 cigarettes a day. Don’t know about you, but I must assume a smoker of 96 years would likely smoke more than two.
    Also, she lived in an area of France where folks are well known for their consumption of raw milk products. Not a scientific conclusion but simply the result of observation(the first step in the process).
    Just for fun, attempt to find scientific evidence supporting the consumption of plain water. You will not find a credible one(perhaps something funded by the water bottling companies). In fact, if you do enough research you will learn that the consumption of plain water does not properly hydrate.

  • Sara

    Shelly,
    You’re mistaken. I said the study conducted by Dr. Campbell with the rats WAS in his book, and it is, along with many others discussing milk consumption and rates of various diseases. If you want to “verify” these studies, check the book out from your library and look it up. Hopefully if you enjoy researching topics you are familiar with your local library!
    Just for fun, here is an online article I saw awhile back about cancer being links to (pasteurized) milk, and another one about rBGH and breast cancer rates. Luckily the “gift” of rBGH from Monsanto is being phased out, though I do believe it’s in about 10% of commercially produced milk still, last I heard.
    http://www.cancerproject.org/survival/cancer_facts/prostate_dairy.php
    http://www.preventcancer.com/press/conference/march14_95.htm
    What I am interested in finding someday is a study about cancer rates and rates of other diseases like diabetes and heart disease comparing pasteurized and raw milk consumption. There are so many factors in diet it’s hard to say if such a study could be done objectively and accurately, but it would be interesting to attempt, at least.
    I’m not a big fan of scientific studies, to be honest. I feel they are relatively incomplete, and tend to be heavily influenced by funding and prejudice, in the work itself as well as presentation of data. It’s hard to see the big picture when one is scrutinizing over fine points. That’s one reason I appreciated the China study itself, because at least it attempted to be comprehensive. Occasionally there are good studies done out there from honest people really trying to find the truth. I liked Dr. Campbell’s book regardless of its endless citing of studies and polls because a decent amount of his experience was first hand. It’s worth reading, even though I disagreed with his conclusions, as I mentioned. I have to say though, if I was diagnosed with cancer, I might just give up all animal proteins just to be on the safe side!
    Sara

  • Jim
    I have noticed one verifiable fact associated with raw milk: raw milk drinkers have little or no sense of humor.
    But then, humor is related to a having a sense of perspective.

  • Sara, I misunderstood you, sorry. You wrote:
    “The studies he conducted on rats were using powdered milk protein and not part of the China study.”
    I took this to mean that the study about pasteurized milk being heated causing cancer in rats was _not_ in the China Study book.
    I might read the book some day, but I’ve read so much criticism of it that it’s low on my to-read list. Another excellent criticism is at
    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/385/
    I’ve found that with most of these “miracle” diets, except the most bizarre, there’s always a level of agreement on certain things: less refined sugar, cut down on the booze, fewer calories, less saturated and unhealthy fats, more veggies and fruit, and exercise more. Lots more.
    Then we get to carbohydrates, legumes, grains, and meat, and the various views each go their own way.
    Frankly, I don’t believe anyone has come up with a better diet approach then “practice moderation”.
    The links you provided don’t differentiate between pasteurized and raw milk. Remember that raw milk can have hormones in it, if the farmer uses the hormones with their cows. Also remember that organic pasteurized milk won’t have these hormones (or use of antibiotics)–it can’t and still have the organic label. So I’m puzzled as to what you’re trying to prove? That all milk drinking is bad?
    And your rejection of scientific studies…how are we suppose to determine what is fact or not without rigorous scientific method? Are we supposed to be dependent on anecdotal asides, such as stories about one’s grandfather drinking raw milk and living to a 100?

  • Jim

    Shelly,
    “Verifiable fact”? This of course is the crux of the matter.
    Most assuredly, many do indeed find humor in the tactics used by others.
    For example, what is the purpose of a product with a name like “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”.
    What is in “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”?

  • Sara

    I think it’s safe to assume that all studies regarding milk (not specified as raw milk) are referencing pasteurized milk. That should be a given.
    Anyone in their right mind who buys raw milk will learn about the cow’s diet in advance and know whether it contains hormones. I haven’t met a raw milk producer (and I know several) who uses hormones. It’s pretty counter-intuitive. And organic milk might not contain rBGH or antibiotics but I don’t think conventionally produced organic milk can compare to grass-based raw milk, and I think some organic farms are disgraceful. Hence the phrase know your farmer (and know how to pick a good one). We all should do that, then disgraceful farmers wouldn’t survive and consumers could take charge of their own food supply and not leave it up to a biased government to monitor things. That’s why I have my own milk cows. So milk is not milk is not milk, that I agree with for sure.
    I’m sharing the info I shared previously simply trying to show that there is indeed data corroborating what Alan mentioned about how back when people drank raw milk there was less cancer, and more now that pasteurized milk is prevalent, and that there are indeed studies both laboratory (with the rats) and epidemiological (other studies from Dr. Campbell’s book) that show a connection between pasteurized milk and cancer. I am not trying to prove anything, just share information. I think studies show a link, not definite proof. My hypothesis would be that pasteurized milk contributes to these diseases while raw milk doesn’t, I wish that study would be done so I could learn more. In the meantime, I’ll side with anecdotes and large-scale observations of diet and health historically over industry-controlled science and nutritional advice.
    I don’t agree that saturated fats are unhealthy nor that we should avoid them. Quite the opposite. I am a fan of the WAPF approach to diet that includes healthy saturated fats and avoids rancid unhealthy vegetable oils. I’ll post a link below about that.
    How do I think we should determine what to eat if not from scientific studies? From the human experience and following traditions as mankind always did. The nutritional advances people made without laboratories are truly impressive (making things like cheese, tofu, fermented foods like tofu, preserving food over seasons, etc). DO I feel like I should eat scientifically engineered foods like margarine or low-fat cheese because some scientists say it’s healthier than the alternative? No way, I should eat real food, like butter from cows that eat grass and real cheese, the kind of food that nourished and sustained mankind for centuries. So yes, I do think we should pay attention to history and not discard it as irrelevant- even personal history – and observe and learn from traditional diets just like Weston A. Price did, observing the lifestyle of various people and cultures as a whole, not in irrelevant little parts such as are studied in scientific studies of diet. Modern scientific studies can help, but will never form the basis of my nutritional choices.
    http://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats/the-oiling-of-america

  • Sara, you realize that organic labeling of milk has some fairly strict requirements–one of which is that cows must be allowed to graze outdoors during grazing season.
    Again, you’re conflating pasteurization with a whole lot of other things that have nothing to do with whether milk is pasteurized or not.
    And everyone raising their own milk cow really isn’t a viable option in the long term.
    And you’re also equating scientific studies about food safety with new food developments–the two are not the same thing. The invention of the Twinkie did not come about because of any scientific study in food safety. Neither did low-fat cheese or any of the other food items you mention.
    And you might as well save yourself time posting links for me to the Weston Price Foundation web site.
    Weston Price was a man who had a few good ideas, but thought he had a lot more. The Weston Price Foundation doesn’t even have a few good ideas.

  • Alan

    Shelly, I think your reasoning has a few plops in it.