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The Raw Milk Debate

Updated on April 21, 2008
Drinking raw milk
Drinking raw milk

There are few issues in the beverage world as controversial as the debate over the distribution and availability of raw milk. People want it but the government won't let them have it.

Commercially available milk is heavily processed before it reaches your local supermarket, namely it's been homogenized and pasteurized. Some people claim that this virtually destroys milk's natural nutritive properties and may even make milk harmful for human consumption.

The culprit is mainly the pasteurization. By exposing milk to such high heat, bacteria may be killed but some say that many of the enzymes and other components are destroyed as well. Many people insist that the ultra-sterile conditions of modern dairies has eliminated the need for the extra step of pasteurization. The FDA claims it is still necessary to maintain health standards. Besides the health issues, pasteurized milk has a longer shelf life, which makes economic sense for large commercial dairies.

The legal status of raw milk varies from state to state in the US, and around Canada as well. Some states have outlawed raw milk entirely, some have simply banned its sale but not consumption, and it is completely legal in states like California. One loophole in the regulations, is that farmers are allowed to drink the raw milk from their own cows.

So some have taken advantage of that fact, and offer "shares" in their cows to customers. By being a part-owner in a cow, people are technically drinking their own milk and are not subject to the various laws. Some states have begun cracking down on these plans as well. Supporters of raw milk are trying to get these laws changed.

Why this harsh treatment of raw milk? Well, the FDA has deemed it unsafe and contends that there is a long list of potential bacterial contaminants that could be present in raw milk. There have been many recorded outbreaks originating from the drinking of raw milk which is why the FDA is refusing to change it's position on the issue. Unfortunately, the benefits of raw milk that people have reported are considered only anecdotal.

I am not a food scientist, or nutritionist of any sort, and do not have any qualifications regarding this issue. But my personal opinion is that people should have the right to make their own decisions, and if they wish to possibly take risks with raw milk, then they should be able to do so. There have been contamination outbreaks in all kinds of food products over the decades. I don't see anyone outlawing packaged spinach even though people died after an E.coli outbreak with that product.

first published at Suite101


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    • safetyfirst profile image

      safetyfirst 9 years ago

      Normally, your herd should be checked at least once a year for brucellosis. That being said, we had our own cow and drank the milk raw without issue. The fact of the matter is, while it hits home to you, because your uncle contracted brucellosis, the vast majority of people who consume and consumed raw milk experience no such problems. Terri, where we used to live, there was another way they got around the "no raw milk" laws. Basically, at a local high end, organic country store, they sold raw milk from a local, highly reputable organic dairy by placing "Not for Human Consumption" labels on the milk. Good hub.

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Kate Swanson 9 years ago from Sydney

      Terri, there's a risk of food poisoning or contamination with all kinds of foods, but brucellosis is a disease and very specific to milk, and it's far more serious than an upset tummy.  I believe in some countries, it's possible to have herds certified as brucellosis-free, but otherwise it is a real issue.

    • Terri Paajanen profile image

      Terri Paajanen 9 years ago from someplace in Canada

      It's true Marisa that there may be some risks, but I think ALL food products carry some risks. Hundreds (thousands?) of people drink raw milk and don't get sick. It's not really fair to judge based on just one or two cases.

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Kate Swanson 9 years ago from Sydney

      My uncle (who was a farmer) contracted brucellosis from drinking raw milk. There's a reason why milk is pasteurised!

    • solarshingles profile image

      solarshingles 10 years ago from london

      There is nothing better than raw milk! I'd had a wonderful, but very rough professor of nutrition and she really made us work hard. She preached about raw milk: 'it even contain Vitamin C, immediately after milking'.


      never believe in industrial processed food