The accompanying publicity—in the New York Times and USA Today, plus many other publications—has resulted in a flurry of pro-pasteurization, anti-raw milk Internet posts. One of these appeared on December 8, 2023, written by Claire Panosian Dunavan, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and past president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Dunavan can’t understand the “risky allure” of raw milk. “Is it buyers’ faith in ‘nature’s perfect food’ or sellers’ pure naked greed?” she asks.
The main claims in her article:
- In the 1890s, Nathan Straus (co-owner of Macy’s) started a private foundation to dispense pasteurized milk after his son died of typhus during a vacation in Italy—the death blamed on raw milk.
- Thanks to Straus, the mortality among U.S. infants dropped from 125 per thousand to fewer than 16 per thousand between 1891 and 1925.
- Recent outbreaks of illness blamed on raw milk have occurred in California, Utah and Idaho.
- People are avoiding pasteurized milk because of milk allergy “as opposed to a serious, even life-threatening infection.”
- Raw milk may cause Guillain Barre syndrome.
- Raw milk consumers are 840 times more likely to suffer illness that those who drink pasteurized dairy.
- Raw milk contains dangerous pathogens like campylobacter and salmonella.
- The real villains are the people who sell raw milk “because they believe there’s an audience out there that will buy it,” even though they know that raw milk will harm some people.
Let’s look at these points one by one, starting with the accusation that raw milk farmers are motivated by pure, naked greed. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a dairy farmer who sells raw milk.)
Conventional dairy farmers today receive about the same price as they did in World War II, while their costs have skyrocketed. Typically, they get $1.45 per gallon which costs them $2.00 to produce.
This explains why the number of licensed dairy operations in the U.S. has steadily declined by more than 55 percent, from 70,375 in 2003 to 31,657 in 2020. More than three thousand dairy farms stopped production during the year of 2020 alone—that’s eight per day.
Some of these farmers have avoided going bankrupt by switching to raw milk sales. Typically, consumers are happy to pay from five to ten dollars per half gallon—enough to save the family farm, especially if the farmer reduces his costs by nourishing his cows on grass (the natural food for cows) rather than feeding grain.
Dunavan refers to farmers’ desire to make a decent living as “pure, naked greed,” but let me give you an example of real greed. Dairy company CEOs typically make salaries upwards of three million dollars per year. They do this by keeping milk prices as low as possible—hence the heartbreak of losing the farm inflicted on thousands of dairy farmers. That is what most of us would call pure, naked greed.
About Nathan Strauss losing his son to typhus and blaming it on raw milk, according to that font of conventional knowledge, Wikipedia, typhus is caused by bacteria spread by lice, chiggers or fleas—I have not been able to find any reference to raw milk causing typhus, except for the case of Straus’ son. Since Dunavan is a public health expert, she should know this. Typhus reigns in filthy conditions and it was a real problem, especially in cities, before the advent of modern housing, sewage systems and washing machines. Even today we see outbreaks of typhus, which is typically blamed on rats, never on raw milk!
As for the decline in infant mortality in U.S. at the turn of the twentieth century, it was during this period that public officials worked to clean up our cities with the installation of sewage systems, rubbish collection and clean water. This was also the period when the car gradually replaced the horse and mule—before the car, our cities were stinking cesspools of manure and grime. Immigrants huddled in crowded housing without running water, rudimentary sanitation or refrigeration. The death rate by the age of five was 50 percent—and this was blamed on raw milk rather than unsanitary conditions—officials called it the “milk problem.”
Raw milk may indeed have contributed to the high death rate because it came from distillery dairies—inner city confinement dairies of unimaginable filth where cows were fed distillery waste. The milk was so deficient and watery that chalk was often added to make it look white. However, pasteurization cannot take the credit for the decline in infant mortality as it was around this time that distillery dairies were banned. The real hero was not Nathan Straus, who did nothing for public clean-up efforts, but Dr. Henry Coit, who worked to bring clean raw milk from the countryside to the cities; public health officials at the time lauded Coit’s certified raw milk with saving children’s lives, and noted that children in orphanages brought up on raw milk were healthier than those given pasteurized milk.
About raw milk safety, Dunavan repeats the recent claim that people who drink raw milk are 840 times more likely to contract food-borne illness than those who don’t. But an analysis by epidemiologist Peg Coleman, based on data considered by FDA and FSIS, found that on a per annum basis, out of twenty-three foods considered, pasteurized milk ranked second highest and raw milk ranked seventh highest in causing severe illness.
The real question is, how accurate are reports of illness and death from raw milk? The Weston A Price Foundation analyzed a 2007 Powerpoint presentation by John F. Sheehan, Director, Division of Plant and Dairy Food Safety, who contends that pasteurization is the only way to ensure the safety of milk. Of the fifteen studies referenced:
|No Valid Positive Milk Sample
|No Valid Statistical Association with Raw Milk
|Findings Misrepresented by FDA
|Alternatives Discovered, Not Pursued
|No Evidence Anyone Consumed Raw Milk Products
|Outbreak Did Not Even Exist
|Did Not Show that Pasteurization Would Have Prevented Outbreak
In other words, not one of the studies cited by the FDA proved that raw milk caused the illness. We need a similar analysis of outbreak reports from 2005 to the present, including claims of illness from raw milk in California, Idaho and Utah. It’s safe to assume that many of them are bogus, given the eagerness of public health officials to blame raw milk for any illness without a thorough examination of all the data.
According the late Dr. Ted Beals, who analyzed reports of foodborne illness from 1999 to 2011, government data reports an average of forty-two illnesses from raw milk per year out of 90,771 illnesses from all sources. Using these figures, Dr. Beals concludes that you are 35,000 times more likely to become ill from other foods than you are from raw milk. Dr. Beals notes that there is no way to quantify whether any one food is safer than another from the data we have, but it is clear that there is no basis for singling out raw milk as “inherently dangerous.”
Recently, melons have ranked high in causing illness—including an outbreak from cantaloupe that resulted in over three hundred illnesses, over one hundred hospitalizations and four deaths—where is Dunavan’s outcry against greedy melon growers? And what about raw oysters, which kill fifteen people per year? Where are the warnings to oyster-lovers not to eat these terrible things?
Dunavan implies that raw milk can cause Guillain Barre syndrome (GBS)–a degeneration of the nerve cells that causes muscle weakness and paralysis similar to polio–since raw milk can carry campylobacter, and campylobacter often gets the blame for this illness. Of course, many, many foods harbor campylobacter. In 2019, there were 150,095 total cases of GBS worldwide; a quick internet search does not find any of these cases associated with the consumption of raw milk.
By the way, campylobactor and salmonella, the two pathogens most commonly associated with raw milk, do not grow in refrigerated raw milk. In a pilot study sponsored by the Raw Milk Institute, refrigerated raw milk inoculated with high and moderate counts of these pathogens suppressed their growth. Inoculated listeria did grow in raw milk, but an association of this pathogen with raw milk is extremely rare. A recent systematic review found that the risks of severe listeriosis infection were greater for pasteurized milk products than for raw milk products.
Donavan wonders why people would indulge in the risky behavior of drinking raw milk—there are very good reasons for drinking raw milk, but first let’s consider why fewer and fewer people are drinking pasteurized milk. In both the UK and the USA, consumption of pasteurized milk has declined by 50 percent since 1974. (I would love to know whether Donavan herself drinks pasteurized milk!)
To find out why consumption of pasteurized milk is declining, let’s consider a 2019 study out of China entitled “Processing milk causes the formation of protein oxidation products which impair spatial learning and memory in rats.” The researchers subjected milk to four processing techniques: boiling, microwave heating, spray drying and freeze drying. (Boiling takes milk to 212 degrees F; ultra-pasteurization takes milk to 280 degrees F. Most milk sold today is ultra-pasteurized.)
All four techniques (even freeze-drying) caused oxidative damage to the milk proteins and resulted in “various degrees of redox state imbalance and oxidative damage in plasma, liver, and brain tissues.” Feeding damaged milk proteins to rats resulted in learning and memory impairment—no wonder IQ levels are falling!
The researchers concluded that “. . . humans should control milk protein oxidation and improve the processing methods applied to food.” But how to improve those processing methods? What types of processing methods would they suggest?
How about no processing at all? Why not just treat milk carefully and cleanly and let the many natural anti-microbial compounds in raw milk do their work?
Milk proteins are not tough like muscle or collagen proteins; they are extremely fragile and easily damaged by heat and pressure (as in heated drying). No wonder the consumption of industrial pasteurized milk is declining—the body sees processed and damaged milk proteins as foreign proteins and mounts an immune response. This explains why milk protein is the number one allergy and why studies link consumption of pasteurized milk with digestive disorders, rashes, asthma, diabetes. . . and even sudden death.
Based on statistics provided by the Asthma and Allergy Network, we find that pasteurized milk causes approximately twenty deaths from anaphylactic shock per year! The type of milk that is truly dangerous is pasteurized milk. Yes, indeed, a good “reason not to” drink pasteurized milk is allergy—life-threatening allergy. Parents are figuring out that they shouldn’t give this junk to their children. . . or drink it themselves
Pasteurized milk is the milk that causes health problems while raw milk is indeed Nature’s Perfect Food—after all, it is the food in Nature that nourishes all mammals, loaded with vitamins and minerals, each one of which has a special enzyme that ensures 100 percent assimilation. When milk is pasteurized, these nutrients are largely destroyed, or rendered very difficult to absorb.
DESTRUCTION OF NUTRIENTS BY PASTEURIZATION
|Raw milk but not pasteurized can resolve scurvy. “. . . Without doubt. . . the explosive increase in infantile scurvy during the latter part of the 19th century coincided with the advent of use of heated milks. . .” Rajakumar, Pediatrics. 2001;108(4):E76
|Longer and denser bones on raw milk. Studies from Randleigh Farms.
|Carrier protein inactivated during pasteurization. Gregory. J. Nutr. 1982, 1329-1338.
|Binding protein inactivated by pasteurization.
|Animal studies indicate B6 poorly absorbed from pasteurized milk. Studies from Randleigh Farms.
|Completely destroyed Journal of Food Protection 74(11):1814-32
|Beta-lactoglobulin, a heat-sensitive protein in milk, increases intestinal absorption of vitamin A. Heat degrades vitamin A. Said and others. Am J Clin Nutr . 1989;49:690-694. Runge and Heger. J Agric Food Chem. 2000 Jan;48(1):47-55.
|Present in milk bound to lactoglobulins, pasteurization cuts assimilation in half. Hollis and others. J Nutr. 1981;111:1240-1248; FEBS Journal 2009 2251-2265.
|Lactoferrin, which contributes to iron assimilation, destroyed during pasteurization. Children on pasteurized milk tend to anemia.
|Bound to proteins, inactivated by pasteurization; Lactobacilli, destroyed by pasteurization, enhance mineral absorption. BJN 2000 84:S91-S98; MacDonald and others. 1985.
More reasons to drink raw milk: less asthma and respiratory infections, fewer allergies and rashes. These are the conclusions of a number of European studies, which pasteurization proponents in the U.S. dismiss, but which public health officials in Europe have taken seriously. These include:
- 2001 Lancet: Less asthma, fewer allergies
- 2006 PARSIFAL Study: Less asthma, fewer allergies
- 2011 GABRIELA Study: Less asthma, fewer allergies
- 2012 AMISH Study: Less asthma, fewer allergies
- 2014 Report: Less respiratory Infection.
In the U.S., asthma kills nine people per day, many of them children. When parents see that raw milk relieves asthma in their child, they go out of their way to obtain this magical product from greedy farmers. There’s more: early studies indicate that raw milk given to growing animals confers longer and denser bones compared to pasteurized milk. I’ve heard from several gals diagnosed with osteoporosis who started drinking raw milk daily and passed their bone density test two years later. Raw milk also contributes to strong, healthy teeth. And many people who can’t tolerate pasteurized milk can enjoy raw milk without problems.
I’ve even had parents tell me that their children’s behavior improved after they made just one change in their diet—switching from pasteurized to raw milk.
For these and for other reasons—such as the fact that raw milk tastes so good—raw milk sales are booming. Our website realmilk.com gets over 400,000 visits per month, most of them to the Raw Milk Finder page. When we set up realmilk.com in 1999, we had only a handful of listings; today the website lists over 3000 places to get raw milk in the U.S., and there are many more not listed. Raw milk farmers tell me that can’t produce enough raw milk to meet the demand—which means that these greedy farmers aren’t charging enough for it.
The truth is, pasteurization is a rust belt technology—a bit like hitting a pile of manure with a sledgehammer. It lets the industry get away with raising cows in filthy, crowded conditions but it doesn’t make milk any safer, and it ruins Nature’s perfect food. We have come a long way since the days of Nathan Straus. We have the technology to produce clean raw milk—stainless steel, rapid cooling, on-farm testing, an efficient nation-wide cold chain–and get it to every growing child in the country.
Raw milk is the future. I predict that within twenty years, pasteurized milk will be a thing of the past. Small, grass-based dairy farms will proliferate to meet the demand and no couple will start a family without making sure there is a supply of raw milk nearby. Health officials like Professor Donavan can protest all they want, but fewer and fewer people are listening.
The Weston A. Price Foundation administers A Campaign for Real Milk and is the number one advocate for returning to the types of foods that nourished our ancestors. Consider becoming a member to support this work.