Raw milk: Health or hazard?

By Ann Griswold • Published: July 24th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The debate over raw milk is more heated than ever. On one side are food-safety officials, who say raw milk can transmit tuberculosis, strep throat and a slew of other diseases. But opponents say the health benefits of drinking milk straight from the cow far outweigh any risks.

At the center of the debate is a fifteen-second process called pasteurization, where raw milk is passed through several warm metal plates and cooled. The milk isn’t boiled… just kept hot enough to kill disease-causing bacteria. Pasteurization is required in twenty-three states and for all milk shipped across state lines.

Raw milk advocates say pasteurization destroys vitamins and active enzymes that aid in digestion. The Food and Drug Administration disagrees, explaining that the enzymes are produced by cows and are of no use to humans. The F-D-A also cites studies showing no major differences in the nutrition content of milk after pasteurization. Health officials are more concerned about the health statistics… more than a thousand people fell ill after drinking raw milk in a recent seven-year period. For food-safety officials, the necessity of pasteurizing milk cannot be understated.

But raw milk fans claim the opposite is true… they say pasteurization is more dangerous for consumers than the unprocessed product. They point in part to historical data that show heart disease increased in the United States around the same time pasteurization became mainstream.

Until there’s proof that pasteurization is anything but helpful, the raw milk debate will continue to simmer.