This is Part 1 of a three-part series on raw milk.

Eric Brody, WAPF Chapter Leader

When the local chapter of The Weston A. Foundation (WAPF) announced their March topic, All About Raw Milk…Samples Will be Provided, I have to admit that I got a wee bit squeamish. I’m not really sure why since I like almost everything else raw. Maybe it stems from the fact that drinking a tall glass of milk with dinner was never part of my childhood. Mom breastfed all her kids until we self-weaned and did not “graduate” us to cow’s milk like most American parents. We consumed cow’s milk with cold cereal and in cooking (my mom makes a mean cream of cauliflower soup), but never to drink. I suppose it could have something to do with childhood, or maybe it’s all the fear surrounding raw milk. I receive virtually all food-related updates from the FDA (US Food & Drug Administration) and “the dangers of raw milk” seems to be a very frequent topic. If you believe the hype, people must be sick and dying all the time because of this dangerous stuff. I pushed aside my squeamishness and I vowed to attend the meeting anyway (I figured I’d skip the plastic sample cup of raw milk and just go for the presentation).

I arrived at the Goleta Library a few minutes late and pasted my name tag onto my cardigan. The meeting room was packed with about 50 local people and I was directed to sit in the front row (don’t you love showing up late?). After a brief introduction to the WAPF by chapter leaders, Eric Brody and Katie Falbo, the CEO of Organic Pastures approached the podium. Mark McAfee is a big guy, both in stature and personality. The minute he started talking, I knew I wouldn’t be bored. The passion Mark has for raw milk seeps from his every pore.

Mark’s presentation was filled with powerfully memorable slides and you know he’s spoken these words a hundred times over.  There were three main intertwined themes:

(1) the differences between the two raw milks in America

(2) the ever-important bacteria in the human body

(3) the negative sides of dairy pasteurization.

Two Raw Milks

We started with the two raw milks; what do they have in common and what are the differences? One of the handouts (below, I apologize for the poor quality of the image) at the lecture compared raw milk which is made to be directly consumed by people to that of raw milk requiring pasteurization due to factory farming standards which generate extremely high levels of pathogens.

It is important to note that the FDA does not distinguish between the two raw milks in their literature or warning messages. Mark explained that the FDA’s concerns over raw milk are completely justified because they are referring to raw milk from CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operation) and factory farms which can be extremely dangerous in it’s raw form.

There are a shocking amount of differences between the two milks (for ease, I’ll refer to the two types as: “raw milk” made for direct consumption and “factory raw milk” for the milk requiring pasteurization). One major difference is that raw milk is regulated by the state in which the milk is produced versus all other milk which falls under federal standards. Most states that allow production and sale of raw milk, require frequent and aggressive testing of bacteria levels in the milk. I was surprised to learn that factory raw milk is not tested for bacteria! Kind of gross considering that the factory raw milk can be mixed with 50-100 dairies at the creamery before being pasteurized and bottled. Picture these two different dairy farms:

Farm A has a few hundred cows which are completely pastured. The cows spend their days walking on grass and eating it. They are regularly tested for TB and checked by a veterinarian. They receive no routine antibiotics or hormones. The milk is bottled on site in a cold, sterile environment and is regularly tested for pathogens. The farmer is proud of his product, interacts directly with his customer, and is responsible for the safety of what he produces.

“Farm” B (I find it difficult to call a CAFO a farm because it makes me think of cows grazing on a green hill) has thousands of cows living in very tight, confined quarters. The cows walk around in their own excrement and regularly consume genetically-modified corn feed. They are not required to be tested for TB and veterinary checks are not mandatory. The cows are given hormones such as rBST to increase milk production to a point where the cows suffer from painful mastitis and infection. They are routinely given antibiotics to ward off the ever-present infection caused from diet, living environment and hormones. The milk is sent to the creamery, combined with many other dairies, heated, chilled and bottled. The farmer rarely ever has  interaction with the consumer and is not directly responsible for the customer’s health.

Which milk would you rather drink?

Farm A describes the operation of Organic Pastures. Farm B describes a typical, gigantic factory farm which is how most milk in our country is produced. Are there other options? Yes, there are dairies which produce organic, pasteurized milk in a manner more consistent with Farm A than Farm B, but these are definitely the exception. The bottom line is that raw milk and factory raw milk are entirely different. They are extracted from different cows, living in very different environments, raised and processed by entirely two different types of “people” (one can hardly call a mega-dairy corporation a person), and end up with two liquids which are extremely different in the way they are tolerated by the human body (more on this in Part 2).

In Part 2, I will review the ever-important bacteria in the human body and how it relates to raw milk. In Part 3, you’ll see some of the negative sides of dairy pasteurization, learn a little bit more about the battle over access to raw milk, and figure out how you can get raw milk in your state.

Resources & Other Reading:

FDA Dangers of Raw Milk

Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund
(battle over access to raw milk & state-by-state raw milk laws)

Organic Pastures

Breaking Down the CDC Raw Milk Numbers

WAPF, Santa Barbara Chapter

Image: Suto Norbert