Over the weekend, I heard an engaging 2 hour lecture by Marc McKafee, followed by the movie “Farmageddon”, followed by a panel discussion about the food and milk in our country. I am a bit overwhelmed with all the information presented. I gathered a large array of web-based resources to investigate and form my own opinion. I will attempt to share all this info below.
First, Marc is the founder of Organic Pastures, a local organic raw milk farm. He is one of few licensed dairy farmers to sell raw milk in CA and maybe one of the only farmers who creates events to talk to his consumers. He has given 400 lectures in the past 3 years about how he runs his farm, the process, testing, etc…and allows anyone to come for a visit. His confidence in his product might be due to his transparency. He even puts his milk’s lab results up on the web. For the past 12 years since starting the farm, disease-causing pathogens have not been found in the soil, his cows or in the raw milk (by federal, state, and private testing). There have been no reports of illness from any of his products (milk, cheese, butter, almonds, etc). He is setting such an example that people are coming from around the world to learn about his practices. He has a FAQ on his website for more info.
His cows are on rotated grass and he has a “mobile milk barn” that is placed
on 30 different sites on his property so the cows do not need to come into a barn. The gov. requires extensive testing on pathogens both in the soil, food, manure, cows and milk (he tests milk minimally 3x a week), the cow’s milk can’t mixed with other farms or batches so that is can easily be traced back to the day of milking. This milk costs more because it takes 3 people to milk a cow properly using the techniques needed to give raw milk (instead of less than 1 in a commercial dairy), his cows produce only about 4-5 gallons of milk per day (instead of 20 like the commercial cows do), and he can only keep a smaller number of cows in the farm to offer high quality product. He talks about his cows like they are pets. Even if I decide to not drink the milk raw, this is a farm who I want to support. His video shows from grass to glass and he bottles and ships right from his farm. It couldn’t get anymore local. He also sells raw almonds.
Commercially produced milk contains pathogens, they are just
mostly dead from the pasteurization process (it purifies when left out for a day or more where as raw milk clabbers and becomes yogurt or cheese-like due to good bacteria preventing spoilage). Certified tested raw milk doesn’t have pathogens present, so there no need to kill them. We are drinking a ton of fragmented “dead” debris which could be why 40% or more of the US has some allergies or symptoms when drinking milk.
Pasteurization has helped keep milk dead for safe consumption, but is also allows for sloppy barn practices.
- Pasteurization is an excuse for the sale of dirty milk.
- Pasteurization may be used to mask low quality milk.
- Pasteurization promotes carelessness and discourages efforts to produce clean milk.
Only 14% of commercial milk is sold in liquid form- most goes into butter, yogurt, and cheese while 92% of raw milk is purchased to drink. He reported that since 1973 not a single death has occurred from raw milk yet 80 people have died from pasteurized milk (CDC). Marc is working with legislation to create a gold standard for raw milk to be produced cleanly by other farms as the demand is more than the supply from the limited farms in CA. An interview with him can be found here.
I learned last night that the only thing regulated more than raw milk is marijuana. The testing that raw milk goes through exceeds anything else that we eat and now has to meet the same standards as pasteurized milk. Since everyone is so afraid of raw milk, I find comfort that it is under such scrutiny. Every day people are dying from peanut butter, spinach, turkey, eggs, cantalope…the list at the CDC goes on. Raw milk has a bad rap in the newspapers and is reported as causing illness when it is not verified and even when testing comes back negative. I spent just a short time on the CDC website here, and found a report as of June 2011 that says: “In the United States, CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick from contaminated food. There are about 1,000 reported disease outbreaks from food which results in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths annually”. Also note that their “surveillance area includes about 15% of the United States population”. Does that mean the rest of the 85% is on our own with the food we eat? I am not convinced that the government has the support it needs these days to actually keep up with the volume of food grown commercially.
A news article reports “The Price Foundation’s website cites statistics showing that between 1990 and 2004, bacteria-contaminated produce caused 639 disease outbreaks (45/year) in the United States. Between 1994 and 2008 there were only 85 disease outbreaks (6/yr) associated with raw milk, according to the FDA. These statistics do beg the question of why the government is not prohibiting the consumption of salad greens, steak tartare, oysters on the half-shell, and sushi. I think the dairy industry is putting a lot of effort on the FDA to protect their industry. ”
I just spent considerable time searching for foods that make us ill. Here is what I found in a report from Sep 2011: “Causes of an outbreak cannot always be confirmed, but state health officials were able to report among the 7,177 illnesses in 218 outbreaks, the food groups associated with the most illnesses were:
- 24 percent fruits and nuts
- 23 percent vine vegetables
- 13 percent beef
I understand this to mean that we are at risk of getting sick from eating commercially grown foods every day in this country. Another site reveals that it is dangerous to eat not only raw or undercooked meat and milk, but also any fruit or vegetable, fish, anything canned, salads, and honey. What is going on with our food system? We have gotten lazy in regards to what we demand in safety. An attendee in this lecture was from France and he said the gov. there is terrified of the people and they work hard to keep the consumer happy. Here it seems the opposite.
New regulations passed in 20o9 so raw milk is now safer than ever. “The greatest issue is California’s new requirement that raw milk contain no more than 10 coliform bacteria per milliliter, the same standard that pasteurized milk must meet. Maine and Washington have instituted the 10 coliform limit without killing their raw milk industries but nearly a quarter of samples tested didn’t pass the new standard. California’s own Department of Food and Agriculture reports that only 25% of bulk milk samples collected in the state pass the test before being pasteurized.” So what this means to me is that not all raw milk is equal. That 75% of raw milk will not meet this new standard. It will require the consumer to get to know the farmer and his practices and testing. Safety can be consumer driven.
There were probably 150 attendees at the lecture and most drink raw milk. It did feel a bit cult-ish. I did feel reassured that so many people in this town are drinking this brand of raw milk without getting sick and I heard many anecdotes on how it helped them overcome GI upset, allergies, asthma, skin problems, give greater energy & immune response, etc. I am not sure if it really is a miracle food or snake oil, but I do not feel afraid of it like I did before all this information.
I just stumbled upon a site that gives the Top 10 Reasons to Drink Raw Milk here. The Michigan site gives the most detailed information about nutrition and protein structures that I have found. For some distinctions between organic and raw are here.
Farmgeddonwas created by Kristin Canty . Some of the things that happened to small farms is absolutely crazy. For example, Linda Faillace with the help of the USDA, brought sheep over from the UK. After months of quarantine and 5 years of negative testing the USDA came in and raided their farm for a disease that has never been found in any sheep to date. They killed every animal, took all their cheese making equipment and hay off the farm for one year and were told they incinerated it due to “public health”. Never mind that every sheep of that farm tested negative for pathogens (even after death), and that they did not incinerate the materials but rather took it down the road and dumped it in the local landfill. It just doesn’t make sense. There are many stories of raids on family owned farms, being held at gunpoint and/or placed in jail with murders and mafia for a simple permit violation. Here is the video of the police holding vegetables at gunpoint in 2010 at Rawesome foods (a private co-op with 2,000 members). People are starting to pay attention. If you are interested in food and sustainability, here were some other resources given last night:
Here are some other resources I learned about last night:
1) RawMilk.org: This is a site in support of raw milk. Looking at the first report on this site I found these points:
- “Los Angeles County consumers who were medically “at high risk “have successfully used raw milk to reverse serious and critical illnesses that were either not responsive to, or due to side effects of, regular treatment with drugs, surgery, and radiation”.
- “156 individual [sickness] cases attributed to raw milk from 1973 until 1992 (only 5.6 cases yearly). This is the lowest case incidence of any animal product produced. Extensive evidence showing that pasteurization has caused many epidemics… In the years 1978-1997, a total of 232,485 people suffered due to outbreaks from pasteurized milk (12,236 cases yearly).
- “pasteurized milk has caused 2,185 times more food borne illness than was “attributed” to raw milk.
- “Raw milk reduced infant deaths in St. Vincent’s Hospital by 94%“
- “Consumer Reports, January 1974, revealed that out of 125 tested samples of pasteurized milk and milk products, 44% proved in violation of state regulations. Consumer Reports concluded, “The quality of a number of the dairy products in this study was little short of deplorable.” Consumer Reports stated that “former objections” to pasteurized milk are valid today:
- Consumer’s Union reported in June 1982, that coliform bacteria were found in many tested samples of pasteurized dairy products. Some counts were as high as 2200 organisms per cubic centimeter.”
- “Lactose intolerance for pasteurized dairy is common among many populations, affecting approximately 95% of Asian Americans, 74% of Native Americans, 70% of African Americans, 53% of Mexican Americans, and 15% of Caucasians.”
- ‘Phosphatase is essential for the absorption of calcium and is plentifully present in raw milk but completely destroyed by pasteurization. The “decalcification” of pasteurized and formula milks fed to children may be a major cause of osteoporosis later in life.”
- “Epidemiological studies of various countries show a strong correlation between the use of pasteurized dairy products and the incidence of insulin-dependent diabetes (Type I or childhood-onset).30 Researchers in 1992 found that a specific protein in pasteurized dairy sparks an auto-immune reaction, which is believed to be the destructive factor for the insulin- producing cells of the pancreas.”
- “Pennsylvania Bureau of Foods and Chemistry left no doubt about their confidence in raw milk, “I can think of no incident in Pennsylvania in the past twenty years in which raw milk was determined to have been the cause of human illness.”
- “Raw milk contains enzymes and antibodies that make milk less susceptible to bacterial contamination”
- “The British journal The Lancet reported, “Resistance to tuberculosis increased in children fed raw milk instead of pasteurized, to the point that in five years only one case of pulmonary TB had developed, whereas in the previous five years, when children were given pasteurized milk, 14 cases of pulmonary TB developed.”
- “A remarkable quality of raw milk that housewives of pioneer days used was itsability to preserve meat. Housewives immersed chops, steaks and roasts in large crocks of raw buttermilk, and assured fresh meat for the family year round.69 The Arabs have preserved meat with raw camel milk for thousands of years. The Icelanders of 200 years ago preserved their sheep’s heads in sour raw milk. In 1908, an American doctor decided to try it himself. He immersed a beefsteak in raw buttermilk. Thirteen years later it remained in a state of perfect preservation, “showing not the slightest taint or decay.”
- “Listeria survives the pasteurization process. Listeriosis was attributed to the consumption of pasteurized milk in California and Boston, Massachusetts.”
- “When Alta Dena produced raw milk and supplied the entire United States, they sold approximately 50,000 gallons of raw milk daily that was not under the over-restrictive regulations imposed in the 1990‟s. There was not one scientifically proven outbreak of bacterial food-poisoning caused by Alta Dena‟s raw milk. “
I learned about the Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund which is a group of attorneys that protects the rights of farmers and consumers to engage in direct commerce and to protects rights of consumers to access the foods of their choice. FTCLDF is a true grassroots organization and receives no government funding and little or no corporate funding. If you are curious about your state laws they have a neat interactive map.
The Raw Milk Institute is also in favor of raw milk. Their website reveals the following:
- Raw milk is a living whole food that contains: enzymes, a biodiversity of beneficial bacteria, sugars, proteins, fats, minerals, antibodies and other essential elements needed to nourish a growing baby. Raw milk also contains a complementary immune system that provides an environment that tends to suppress the growth of pathogenic bacteria in favor of beneficial lactic acid producing bacteria.
- Our Common Standards set a bench mark for national raw milk production and safety. Raw milk for human consumption always comes from one dairy that works very hard to assure that the milk they produce is safe and clean. Human consumption raw milk is never combined with other dairies’ raw milk.
- A presentation about the “evolution” of milk is worth seeing
US News: “A study published in the June 2006 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology by researchers at the University of London analyzed the diet of 4,767 children in Shropshire, England, and found that those who lived on farms and drank raw milk had significantly fewer symptoms of asthma, hay fever, and eczema.
Children who drank raw milk were 40 percent less likely to develop eczema and 10 percent less likely to get hay fever than their peers who didn’t drink raw milk. A second European study of nearly 15,000 children published in the May 2007 issue of Clinical and Experimental Allergy found that children who drank raw milk were less likely to have asthma and hay fever.” They do go on to report illnesses that are mentioned above and none are higher than those reported by unpasteurized milk.
Honestly I have always thought it was a bit strange that we are the only mammals that still drink milk as adults. Right now I only buy milk to make yogurt. I make my “milk” from either heated soybeans or raw almonds. Dr. Bruce German at UCD has lead a Milk Genome project for the last several years. It sounds like there are some real benefits to milk such as the “proteins may act as bioactive, health promoting compounds impacting physical functions and reducing disease risk...also treatment of patients with intestinal conditions…not only do oligosaccharides promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, they may also specifically inhibit the growth of pathogenic, or harmful bacteria present in the gut…dairy research is continually providing new and exciting developments”
TIME wrote an interesting article here: “Raw-milk enthusiasts swear by the curative powers of unpasteurized milk. Others praise its nutritional value and its ability to strengthen the immune system. “I have seen so many of my patients recover their health with raw milk that I perceive this as one of the most profoundly healthy foods you can consume,” says Dr. Joseph Mercola”
So..what do I think of all of this? I am not sure I can recommend everyone try raw milk as there are health concerns if the farm is not up to the new standards. I feel lucky to have such a great farm close to me that I can try their products. I have bought my first small container of raw milk and I think the flavor is quite good and very creamy. I don’t drink milk in a glass anyway, so I will stay with my almond milk for cereals & smoothies. I certainly will give raw milk a try for my yogurt and will use it here and there in my food preparation and coffee.
I am excited to limit the dairy in my diet for the next couple weeks and eat or drink only raw milk-products. I have an intermittent thickness in my throat for the past year or two and have wondered about milk sensitivities. Some days I have a very productive throat slime and feel like an old man, while other days I feel clear. Since I have found raw options for both milk and cheese, I will give it a try and see if there are any observable changes.