The Raw Milk Debate: Rawness and Rationality

Confused about the potential benefits and risks of drinking raw milk? Consider both sides when weighing the pros and cons of enjoying raw milk.


| October/November 2011


Every time I hear any discussion of raw milk, I know I can look forward to repetitions of a few misleading claims on both sides, with no attention to taste (which is my agenda).

Most of those who want consumers to have unfettered access to raw milk insist that pasteurization destroys nutritional value. Sometimes they also assert that raw milk tastes better. Neither claim is unconditionally true. On the other side, adherents of pasteurization are bent on warning the public that without it we can expect the unhindered spread of milk-borne pathogens. This, too, is only partly true.

Certainly a glass of raw milk sampled at the farm is going to taste different from supermarket milk. But pasteurization is only one of the industrial processing steps responsible for the difference. Virtually all the pasteurized milk that reaches us has been separated, recombined and homogenized. These steps do more to denature milk than anything else that happens to it. The creamier mouthfeel and fresher flavor of whole raw milk at a well-run farm reflect not just actual freshness but the fact that the basic milk structure is intact. You can get nearly the same effect from unhomogenized pasteurized milk — at least, if it comes to you fresh and was not ultrapasteurized.

This brings us to the second great factor usually left out of the debate: At one time, milk was pasteurized at a low temperature for a long time, which eliminated harmful bacteria with minimal impairment of flavor. The faster, more cost-effective approaches that are almost universal today impart a slightly more cooked flavor while denaturing some of the proteins — but it’s hard to attribute particular flavor effects to these techniques alone, because they are almost always carried out together with homogenization.

Then there’s the intrinsic quality of the milk itself. Rawness and pasteurization have nothing to do with the fact that milk produced by farmers with sane priorities tastes better than milk cranked out with an eye only to volume.

The most frequent pro-raw-milk argument I hear is that pasteurization destroys the vitamin C and most enzymes in raw milk. Quite true — but not of great importance to anyone’s health. Compared with other plentiful sources of vitamin C, milk contains little in the first place. As for the enzymes that disappear, they are an aid to the digestive systems of newborn calves and don’t need to concern nonbovines — except cheesemakers, who are sorely handicapped by the enzymatic changes caused by pasteurization.

pgc66dlk
10/17/2017 7:19:13 AM

I have been told by a family member, employed by a major dairy in Nashville, that mass production includes irritated nipples that cause bleeding and infection that are in the milk and disguised using additives. Also that milk that doesn't pass the dairy's testing is then used for chocolate milk, adding chocolate flavoring and color. SAY IT ISN'T SO! gloria


pgc66dlk
10/17/2017 7:19:10 AM

I have been told by a family member, employed by a major dairy in Nashville, that mass production includes irritated nipples that cause bleeding and infection that are in the milk and disguised using additives. Also that milk that doesn't pass the dairy's testing is then used for chocolate milk, adding chocolate flavoring and color. SAY IT ISN'T SO! gloria


thehammer610
7/25/2017 2:13:47 PM

"Pasteurizing kills all the nutrients." Wally, that does not appear to be true. Please support your statement. "Rawness and pasteurization have nothing to do with the fact that milk produced by farmers with sane priorities tastes better than milk cranked out with an eye only to volume.” This sounds to me that is biased against mass production that somehow must taste inferior. "But every year more and more cases also come to light of pathogens spread through mass-distribution channels.” Not at all quantified. For example, if the risk of getting ill from raw milk is 1:10,000 but the risk of getting sick from milk through "mass-distribution channels” is 1:1,000,000 , then I will take the mass-distributed milk any day. But if the odds of both are similar, I would take the raw milk. As far as I know, the mass production of our food is the safest it has been in history. The article presents a bias agains "mass-distribution channels” as if it is somehow inherently evil. While many of us cling to the warm fuzzies of mom, pop, and children farms in some sort of Walton like atmosphere, it essentially no longer exists. Even 'Organic' is mass produced now. I will support my local farms when possible. But much of our food needed to feed the people in our large metropolitan areas must come through mass production.






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