The sale of raw milk is currently illegal in the state of New Jersey, but local groups, such as Garden State Raw Milk, are campaigning towards legalization. The Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station is hosting of a seminar series on raw milk
to inform the public on this topic.
On February 6th, the seminar series started with a presentation by Mark McAfee, from the organic dairy farm Organic Pastures
(California): “Raw Milk, mother nature’s inconvenient truth”. Mr. McAfee discussed the health benefits of raw milk consumption as well as the personal satisfaction and commercial advantages of organic farming.
Throughout the talk, emphasis was put on the safe history of raw milk consumption with respect to pathogen contamination and association with foodborne outbreaks, and on the seemingly overwhelming health benefits of the consumption of raw milk as opposed to FDA-approved pasteurized milk. According to Mr. McAfee, raw milk represents an inconvenient truth to big dairies, pharmaceutical companies, western medicine in general and long-distribution chains. Though all these entities may have a commercial interest in keeping raw milk illegal, the consumer would be the one to benefit from its commercialization. Cases were mentioned of raw milk consumers who recovered from diseases such as allergies, lactose intolerance, Crohn’s disease or asthma which were unable to be cured by western medicine. Western medicine was claimed to only treat the symptoms of disease, whereas exercise and the consumption of unprocessed foods, such as organic raw milk, help prevent disease. The ability of raw milk to enhance the immune system is the most generally claimed reason for its health benefits. According to Mr. McAfee, among the factors that contribute to organic raw milk’s beneficial effects are its high content of animal fat (from grass-fed, not grain-fed cows), enzymes, beneficial bacteria, as well as vitamins and minerals. All of these are of course important components of a healthy diet, which are minimized in the standard American diet (aka “S.A.D.”).
In particular, the example of pasteurized milk was used to describe the “harmful” effects of commercial processing. Apart from the destruction of enzymes and probiotic bacteria, it was implied that pasteurization covers for unsanitary processing practices, and that pasteurized product is an easy target for pathogens such as L. monocytogenes. Furthermore, the prevalence in recent times of immune system diseases was correlated with the consumption of processed food products. Unfortunately, scientific evidence is not abundant due to the limited number of research grants available and the implications of doing research against the interests of official agencies.
A number of benefits of organic farming were also mentioned, and from an economic point of view it was emphasized that a market exists for raw milk products, in which a consumer is willing to pay ~$5 per half gallon of organic raw milk.
My personal conclusion of this presentation is that although organic raw milk may represent a more wholesome alternative to pasteurized milk, and has traditionally been consumed raw for centuries, the current state of technology is able to produce microbiologically-safe, nutritious milk readily available to large, wide-spread populations in a cost-efficient manner. The presence of raw milk in the market may be a rightful and, if properly produced, safe alternative to consumers and farmers.
Silvia is a Graduate Assistant at Rutgers University and is looking forward to the upcoming seminars! ("Raw Milk Wars, Government's Attempt to Dictate What Foods We Can Consume" on 2/20, and “Raw Milk, A Microbiology Primer” on 4/3).