Should raw milk be permitted?
Between 1919, when only a third of the milk in Massachusetts was pasteurized, and 1939, when almost all of it was, the number of outbreaks of milk-borne disease fell by nearly 90 percent. …
Over the past fifty years, people in developed countries began showing up in doctors’ offices with autoimmune disorders in far greater numbers. In many places, the rates of such conditions as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and Crohn’s disease have doubled and even tripled. Almost half the people living in First World nations now suffer from allergies. It turns out that people who grow up on farms are much less likely to have these problems. Perhaps, scientists hypothesized, we’ve become too clean and aren’t being exposed to the bacteria we need to prime our immune systems.
It’s an interesting dilemma. Clearly pasteurization was brought in as a measure to address declining hygiene in large dairy farms after the turn of the last century. Dairy farms had grown overcrowded and literally filthy with shit. Fecal bacteria was getting into the milk. Yes please pasteurize this stuff.
In a 2002 survey of American farms, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found Campylobacter in 98 percent of all dairies and E. coli O157:H7 on more than half of farms with 500 or more cows. When the milk at these large farms was tested, the researchers discovered salmonella in 3 percent of all bulk tanks and Listeria monocytogenes in 7 percent.
But typically, the farmers who now specialize in raw milk, are small holdings with very strong controls surrounding cleanliness and milk quality.
When Schmidt emigrated from Germany in 1983, he wanted to start a farm that would operate in a manner fundamentally different from that of the average industrial dairy. Instead of lodging his cows in a manure-filled lot, he would give them abundant pastures. Instead of feeding them corn and silage, he’d give them grass. And instead of managing hundreds of anonymous animals to maximize the return on his investment, he would care for about fifty cows and maximize health and ecological harmony.
Now THAT is the milk I want.
I don’t want mass produced milk that has not been pasteurized… but I also want the right to buy raw milk from small farms that meet certain standards.
A lot of people freak out about the dangers of raw milk. But is the incidence of sickness from raw milk any higher than other foods? The article suggests the incidence is <0.01%
In the twenty-five years that Schmidt has operated the dairy, no one has ever reported falling sick after drinking his milk. Yet raw-milk illnesses do crop up. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the United States averages seventy cases of raw-dairy food poisoning each year.
The major concern seems to be that when there is an outbreak, children are the usual victims. It is clearly a difficult choice for parents to make – to weigh the risks against the benefits.
It’s worth noting that it may be possible to introduce the milk slowly and build immunity to the bacteria it contains.
In Brazil outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 are unheard of, though the bacteria exist there. A pair of recent studies show that Brazilian women have antibodies protecting them against O157:H7 and that they pass these antibodies to their children through the placenta and their breast milk. I found this interesting, especially in light of the fact that in every case I learned about, the victims of the Organic Pastures outbreak had just started drinking McAfee’s milk. Perhaps those who had been drinking the milk longer had developed the antibodies.
For the record: E. coli O157:H7 evolved in grain-fed cattle.