The Controversy Over Raw Milk

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I wouldn’t be covering the milk story well if I failed to address the controversy concerning raw cow’s milk. Once again it has become trendy — much to the chagrin of FDA regulators, who maintain that all “raw milk, no matter how carefully produced, may be unsafe.”

Raw milk is neither pasteurized (the process of heating milk to high temperatures to kill bacteria) nor homogenized (a blending process that changes taste and consistency). Not coincidentally, both these processes also prolong the shelf life of the milk.

The raw milk controversy is not exactly new.  People are talking about it again, however, because of a resurgence in its popularity that can be explained by two somewhat unrelated factors. For one, anything that comes “fresh from the farm” is popular among today’s foodies.

Second, and somewhat more complicated, is the growing understanding and appreciation of the importance of friendly intestinal flora for digestive and immune health. While this is not a new concept in the world of natural medicine, it has gained mainstream acceptance — leading more people to wonder about the wisdom of processing milk products in ways that end up destroying good bacteria right along with dangerous pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella. The concerns about the presence of harmful bacteria in raw milk are legitimate — there is the potential for these to cause food poisoning, but most healthy people will recover easily and rapidly, if uncomfortably. The true danger is for certain specific populations — for instance, pregnant women (who can harm their fetuses even if they don’t feel sick themselves), young children, older people and those with compromised immune systems. For them, the bacteria have the potential to cause infections that can become chronic or even life-threatening.

State Laws Vary

While the FDA sets federal standards and guidelines, individual states are free to create their own laws. As a result, there are currently 29 states that allow the sale of raw milk, each with a different set of requirements. For example, you can buy it at certified farms in New York… at retail stores in Connecticut… and, in Virginia, only if you own a share in the cow or herd of cows that produced it. If you’re interested and you live in or near a state where raw milk sales are permitted, you can look on the Web site to find nearby vendors — expect to pay about $10 a bottle… about $4 per half gallon if you join a raw-milk co-op… or $40 or so for a share in a herd, plus a $32/month boarding fee.

As for the taste, without homogenization, raw milk is thick and creamy and with a flavor that is described as “fresh, sweet and clean”… and connoisseurs say that it is nuanced with tinges of “hay” and “grass” and has a “barnyard” flavor, all of which varies according to the season and diet of the cow, goat or whatever other animal produced the milk. For the record — while acknowledging that some of his friends and colleagues are big fans of raw milk, Dr. Rubman told me that he thinks “drinking the milk of another species is a bad idea — period. I don’t think it belongs in the human diet.” So what about all that healthy calcium? Dr. Rubman says that you can easily get sufficient amounts by including dark green leafy vegetables and certain fruits, such as figs, in your daily diet.

Source:  Andrew L. Rubman, ND, founder and director, Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines, Southbury, Connecticut.

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