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The History of Pasteurized Milk

Updated on January 21, 2014

The dairy industry would have you believe that pasteurization is the only way to make milk safe to drink, and that unpasteurized milk, "raw milk," is one of the most dangerous foods you can consume. So dangerous in fact, that they have fought for the last 60 years to outlaw once was a staple in the American diet, and in the diets of peoples all over the world.

Is this the truth? Did early civilizations all over the world, who learned quickly to avoid things like poison ivy, really have continued to consume something that frequently made them sick, or is it plausible that milk was actually a relatively safe product for thousands of years until something or someone changed the process?

Could some change in the dairying process have really caused raw milk to become unsuitable for mass consumption? What does history really show?

This 5000 year old Sumerian carving depicts Sumerians milking and making butter.
This 5000 year old Sumerian carving depicts Sumerians milking and making butter. | Source
This stone carving, dated to be from 3100 BC shows and Egyptian milking a cow
This stone carving, dated to be from 3100 BC shows and Egyptian milking a cow | Source

Raw Milk in Ancient History

Archeological evidence suggests that humans have been breeding animals for their milk since 5000-4000 BC. The ancient peoples in the High Sinai Peninsula at the North end of the Red Sea for example, confined and bred antelopes for their milk. Stone carvings in Egypt, dated in 3100 BC depict cow milking, and the earliest Hebrew Scriptures speak of a "land flowing with milk and honey."

The historical record shows that across all cultures, peoples have been safely drinking the raw milk of bison, yak, buffalo, cows, goats, antelope, oxen and other bovine species for thousands of years.

Raw Milk Comes to America

The English settlers brought dairying to America shortly after they first settled. Life for the early Jamestown settlers was excruciatingly hard, and by 1610, there were only 60 settlers remaining, but the following year, English naval commander and deputy-governor of the Virginia Colony, Sir Thomas Dale, arrived with one hundred cows. The settlers began breeding the cows for the meat and milk and prosperity finally came to the Jamestown settlers. Owning cattle soon became part of the American Dream, a symbol of status and wealth. This sparked the beginning of dairying in North America and for the next two centuries milk was safely produced for home or local use.

Tuberculosis and Raw Milk

It has long been said that raw milk caused a large amount of the Tuberculosis cases in the 1800s; however, it isn't clear if this was a result of Tuberculosis related lesions in the cows udders or from external contamination from sick workers or contaminated equipment.

One contaminated bucket (from an infected worker milking a cow) could have contaminated thousands of gallons of milk. Sanitary milking practices and regular testing of dairy cows eradicated Tuberculosis in the certified Raw Milk Industry.

Raw Milk Becomes Dangerous

After two hundred years of Americans drinking raw milk with out major incident, and thousands of years of civilizations drinking raw milk, something changed. With the onset of the industrial revolution, people moved out of the country and into the cities. No longer able to provide their own milk, or buy from their neighbors, they began buying milk from stores, or having it delivered from local dairies. The large-scale dairy industry was born, and with it, came huge changes in breeding and dairying practices.

As farms became businesses and grew larger and larger, farm owners became more interested in making a profit, even to the detriment of their product. Dairy cows, once kept on open pastures and fed fresh grass, were herded into small, unsanitary pens and fed grains not part of their natural diet. Alcohol distillery owners sold their toxin-rich spent-grains--called slop--to farmers as a cheap food for their cattle.

This slop (which although it sickened the cows also increased the cow's milk supply), other unnatural food sources and filthy, cramped pens caused disease and infection in the already emaciated cows. These same cows were then milked in an unsanitary manner, using dirty equipment. Suddenly, people started getting sick from drinking milk in droves and by the end of the 1800s, influential America rightly believed that we had a serious "milk problem."

Pasteurization "Makes Milk Safe" Again

Toward the end of the 19th century, Louis Pasteur discovered that many diseases and illnesses, including those caused by drinking milk were actually caused by germs and developed a process to kill off these germs, dubbed pasteurization. The first commercial milk pasteurizers were produced in 1882, and in 1908, the first law requiring pasteurization was passed in Chicago. With advent of pasteurization laws, the number of illnesses caused by milk was drastically reduced, but with it the continuation of dirty dairying practices, hormone and chemical presence in the milk and poor animal treatment rose even further.

Farmers now inject cows with Bovine Growth Hormone to make them bigger and produce more milk. This, along with filthy living environments and improper diets has led to rampant diseases in the cows and the widespread use of antibiotics.

Both BGH and these antibiotics are found in conventional, pasteurized milk.

Life for the cows hasn't improved either. With no reason to care for the cattle humanely, dairy cows continue to live a miserable life and must be injected with hormones and other medicines to control their stress levels. This too makes its way into the milk.

Pasteurization does not remove these hormones, chemicals and antibiotics.

Raw Milk Safety Standards

Since the beginning of the Certified Raw Milk Movement at the end of the 19th century, certified milk was guaranteed to:

  • be produced using sanitary dairying methods
  • come from healthy, grass fed, pastured cows
  • handled by healthy workers (to avoid the spread of Tuberculosis)
  • completely free of chemicals, artificial hormones and pathogens

The Certified Raw Milk Movement

Around the same time as the pasteurization movement, another movement arose: the certified raw milk movement. Founded by MD Henry Colt, and supported by physicians from all over the country who considered raw milk to be essential treatment for their patients, the certified raw milk movement insisted on clean, fresh milk from healthy, grass fed animal and created a way to certify dairies for the production of safe, clean raw milk.

The Milk Commission was founded and set standards regarding the sanitary conditions of the dairies, which were subject to periodic inspections, health of the animals and employees, who were to undergo periodic examinations by qualified doctors, and the purity of the milk, which was to be completely free of pathogenic organisms and subjected to periodic chemical analysis and microbial analysis to ensure its purity.

The two distinct movements coexisted until about 1940. Those who wanted to buy raw milk could do so and the pasteurization lobby ensured that states required all other, non-certified milk to be pasteurized. At the end of World War II, almost 70% of America's 5.4 million family farms had milk cows and most still sold raw milk to the neighbors an local distribution channels, but that was about to drastically change.

The articles and reports that led to the rejection and subsequent banning of raw milk were later discovered to be misrepresentations and lies, created to cause unfounded fear in the hearts of Americans.

Lies and Deception: The Truth Behind Raw Milk Bans

In the 1940s, there was more and more pressure from the dairy lobby and the "establishment" to ban raw milk altogether, and a series of inaccurate and down-right deceitful articles in popular magazines between 1944 and 1946 frightened the public into supporting these reforms.

Lady's Home Journal published an article titled, "Undulant Fever," which claimed, without accurate documentation, that ten's of thousands of Americans became ill due to raw milk every year. The following year, Coronet magazine came out with an article about a terrible, raw milk-related epidemic that struck and killed 1 in 4 residents of a town called Crossroads, somewhere in the "Bread Basket" of the U.S. This story was then repeated in articles published by both, The Progressive and The Reader's Digest.

There was no epidemic. There was no town called Crossroads. The author later admitted that the outbreak was "completely fictitious", and represented "no actual occurrence," but the damage had been done. Americans were terrified of raw milk and by 1948, states started banning certified raw milk entirely.

Today, only 10 states allow the retail sale of raw milk, around 20 states allow the sale of raw milk on the farm only and about 20 states do not allow raw milk sales at all--although several of these states do permit herd sharing.

Do Americans Really Have Just Cause to Fear Certified Raw Milk?

Is raw milk 100% safe? No. But it is no more dangerous than The certification of raw milk made raw milk every bit as safe as pasteurized milk, if not more so. Consider the following facts from, "Raw Milk is Not a High-Risk Food"

Between 1998 and 2010...

  • Texas reported 12,500 cases of food borne illnesses. Of these, 486 were attributed to oysters, 225 to ham salad and 852 to turkey. The number attributed to raw milk? 2

  • Nationwide, there were 1,414 illnesses and 0 deaths attributed to raw milk** compared to 1,323 illnesses and 1 death from fruit salad,1,355 illnesses and 3 deaths from tuna (not including raw tuna or sushi),1,345 illnesses and 19 deaths from Deli Meats (not including sandwiches), and 1,614 illnesses and 3 deaths from pizza

  • California alone reported 1744 illness due to Pasteurized milk during this same time period.

**The CDC does not indicate how many of these illnesses were attributed to raw milk that came from dairies that were not licensed to sell raw milk to consumers.

If we should avoid raw milk because of 1400 illnesses over a 12 year period, then should we not also avoid the other foods that caused the almost 300,000 other reported cases of food borne illnesses as well?

Want to know if raw milk is available in your state?  Find out here!
Want to know if raw milk is available in your state? Find out here! | Source

The Return of Raw Milk

As more and more people stopped listening to what the commercial dairy industry and mainstream media told them was good for them and started taking charge of their own health, we saw the advent of the "real foods" movement, and with it the growing popularity of raw milk.

As more people realize the benefits of drinking raw milk, the industry is making a comeback, despite the fierce opposition and constant complaining of the dairy industry. Small dairies are returning to America and people in over half of the states are able to purchase raw milk for their families. Currently only about 3% of people in the U.S. drink raw milk, but dairy farms report that consumer request for raw milk is booming and for good reason.

More and more studies are coming to light that suggest that the benefits of certified raw milk far outweigh the supposed risks, and that pasteurized milk may not be the "health food" that the dairy industry would have you believe.

Read "5 Things the Dairy Industry Doesn't Want You to Know" for more information.

After Reading Article, Would You Consider Purchasing Raw Milk for Your Family?

See results

© 2014 Sarah


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    • modern housewife profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Indiana

      Thanks, Rap. I grew up on skim milk, myself and was amazed at how good raw whole milk tastes. My family still thinks it's weird that I drink raw milk.

    • rap profile image

      Ruth Perkins 

      5 years ago from New England

      My mom raised us on "economical" powdered milk...yak! I know she had to stretch pennies back then & I've never researched the pros & cons of it. What I did do is grow up & vow to always drink whole milk because once I tried it I couldn't believe the wonderful, ymm! As a young adult living in NH I purchased milk from an 87 year old dairy farmer who simply requested a donation in a paper cup in exchange for the raw milk.

      Your hub is awesome. "They" have done to milk what they've done to food and I think your reasoning, writing & supporting evidence are quite thorough & also lead a reader to research more information. Thank-you & the cows & farmers who raise happy cows with healthy moo juice. I'm sure it's been a very rough road.


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