Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What To Drink Part 3: What's Right With Milk? (Part B)

Milk churns awaiting collection near to Chastleton, Oxfordshire, Great Britain.
© Copyright David Luther Thomas and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

This is our fifth installment in the What To Drink series and the deluge is not stopping anytime soon!

Here are the previous posts if you need to catch up:
What's Wrong With Milk? (Part B)
What's Right With Milk?  (Part A)

In my last post, we discussed how you can be healthy with raw milk (NOT to be confused with that pasteurized, homogenized, dead bacteria and detrimental bacteria infested, watery, white liquid even if it's organic).  

Raw milk brings up a lot of questions.  Most notably: Is it safe?  The dairy industry wants you to believe that it isn't, but don't forget they have an agenda to keep themselves in business.  They don't want to and probably financially can't substitute their feed grains for grass to raise healthy cows that produce healthy raw milk.   Instead, you get unhealthy cows and milk that has to be processed to be safe, if even then.  According to raw milk producer Organic Pastures, that's what started milk pasteurization in the first place.  People were getting sick off of unclean milk from unhealthy cows.  It was either clean up the processing and distribution or clean up the cows and dairy industry.  And, unfortunately, we know which road they chose to take.    

But Isn't Raw Milk Dangerous?

Milk from a healthy, properly fed and cared for cow is not dangerous, nor is its meat, unless you expose it to bacterial contamination by unclean handling.  Same goes for most foods.  Just like any other product, milk is vulnerable to contamination.  If you read (Part B), it probably won't come as a surprise, but there is debate over which milk is more dangerous: pasteurized or raw.  According to Organic Pastures's FAQ, pasteurized milk is NOT completely safe and raw milk actually has stricter standards on its safety: 
Current (PMO) Federal standards for pasteurized milk permit 100,000 bacteria per ml for milk going to be pasteurized with as many as 20,000 injured or living bacteria to be alive after pasteurization, and this may include pathogens (this is arguably the reason why milk is pasteurized). California standards for human consumption raw milk require that milk sold for raw consumption have fewer than 10 coliforms and fewer than 15,000 live bacteria per ml and no pathogens. OPDC [Organic Pastures Dairy Company] averages about 1500 beneficial living bacteria per ml and no test has ever detected a human pathogen in our “raw milk samples.” 
The whole FAQ is well worth the read, but here is another important tidbit about why raw milk (from certified sources like Organic Pastures) is safe:
It is possible, but highly unlikely, that pathogens may be transmitted in raw milk just as they may be transmitted in all other foods. OPDC has demonstrated that even when high levels of pathogens were introduced into raw milk, they die off and do not grow (BSK tests). In fact, pathogen killing safety systems are hard at work, keeping raw milk safe even if it has been contaminated. OPDC products are highly pathogen resistant. 
For more on the safety of raw milk, read this article at Raw-Milk-Facts and another written by Organic Pastures founder Mark McAfee at A Campaign for Real Milk sponsored by the Weston A. Price Foundation.  Need a nice graphic to put all this together?  Here is Organic Pastures's colorful chart comparing conventional, organic, and certified raw products and practices.  All I can say is WOW. 

Quality Not Quantity

Despite these arguments, Real Raw Milk Facts offers a counterpoint.  
Statistics from the CDC and State Health Departments comparing raw and pasteurized dairy products linked to reported foodborne disease outbreaks (1973-2006) show that raw milk and Mexican-style queso fresco soft cheeses (usually made from raw milk) caused almost 70% of the reported outbreaks even though only 1-3% of the population consumes raw dairy products.  If raw and pasteurized milk were equally risky, it would be expected that there would be far more pasteurized outbreaks since the number of people drinking conventional milk is so much higher.
Is it just me or does it scare you a little that over 30% of reported outbreaks come from pasteurized milk?  It scares me even more than the raw milk figures.  Why?  Because I thought pastueization allowed me to trust their santized product.  Guess not.  Whereas the raw milk dangers are a common sense "duh."  I am sure there are plenty of behind-the-counter exchanges of not-so-kosher raw milk because it is freakin' illegal in most states to sell it.  There's NO chance of federal regulation and quality standards if it is illegal!  Luckily in California I can drink raw milk when I want to.  And since it is legal, it is highly regulated and I can trust it more than I can ever trust pasteurized milk.  Why?  Raw milk producers have their reputation on the line and don't dare add ammunition for the "ban raw milk" lobbyists. 

Organic Pastures provides another reason for the reports.  Basically, you need thriving gut flora (beneficial bacteria) to break down your food in your intestines.  The problem is that most people don't, so they get sick more easily when foreign bacteria are ingested.  Most people live off of a processed diet that has killed off all of the bacteria, both good and bad.  Their guts are sensitive to strangers, so they act out and cause of person to get sick when exposed to something foreign.  That's one reason why most of us can't drink the water in third world countries without getting sick, but yet the people who live there can drink their water and don't get sick.  That is another reason to drink raw milk and other pro-biotic foods.  According to Organic Pastures's FAQ
It has been estimated that about 70% of the strength of a healthy immune system is made up of the diversity of living bacteria found in the intestines.
Bottom line: Don't drink milk you can't trust.  

How do you do this?  According to Dr. Mercola, you need to find out if:
  • [The milk has a] Low pathogenic bacteria count (ie does the farmer test his milk regularly for pathogens?)
  • The milk is quickly chilled after milking
  • The milk comes from cows raised naturally, in accordance with the seasons
  • The cows are mainly grass-fed
  • The cows are not given antibiotics and growth hormones to increase milk production
  • Cows are well cared for
Is all of this a little impersonal, a facts and figures sort of thing?  Well,  A Tale of Two Milks is a heart-wrenching personal story illustrating just how important quality can be.  A dairy farmer and grandfather adds to our list of quality control measures:

  1. Never use milk from a sick cow.
  2. Never let anything dirty get into the milk. 
  3. Keep everything clean. 
  4. Keep it cold. 
  5. Keep the cows on the pasture so they could eat the living grass and plants. 

You also want to make sure the milk is intended to be consumed raw, which is a completely different product than raw milk intended to be pasteurized.   The milk intended to be pasteurized is likely from cows fed an unhealthy diet of grains and pumped full of antibiotics to keep them alive.  It's no wonder people get sick from drinking raw milk from those cows!

Unfortunately, the clout of the mega-corp dairy producers keeps independent raw dairy producers struggling to gain a foothold.  Raids are quite common in states where the sale of raw milk is illegal, which is the majority of US states.  Why is it illegal?  Raw milk is a threat to the dairy industry.  It would take an astronomical amount of money for the dairy industry to feed and care for their cattle in a humane way that led to nutritious milk.  So they have no choice but to pasteurize their contaminated product and try their damnedest to quell the excitement over their competitor: raw milk. 

Bottom line: If you are going to drink milk, choose raw, organic, full-fat grass-fed, dairy, otherwise known as Real Milk.  

Keep reading the series for more on the flavored milk controversy in schools and for more on other popular beverages!

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