Monday, April 4, 2016

Should Raw Milk Be Legal?

Most US states currently do not allow retail sale of unpasteurized (raw) milk, some barring it completely. Some states allow for the sale of raw milk to be allowed through herdshares, where customers pay for a share in a herd and receive their milk like a subscription. Those in favor of the sale of raw milk believe that it has certain health benefits, and that raw milk poses no significant health risk. Those who oppose it claim that it is too great a health risk, and that customers may not understand the risks of the drinking raw milk. So should raw milk be legal?

What is Pasteurization?

Pasteurization is the process of slowly heating milk to kill bacteria that could be contaminating it. It was developed by French scientist Louis Pasteur during the Victorian Era, and became routinely used in the US in the 1920s. The purpose of this was to reduce the number of foodborne illness caused by dairy, and is known to have been a great success. 

Potential Risks of Raw Milk Consumption

CDC and FDA data show that unpasteurized milk is significantly more likely to cause foodborne illness than pasteurized milk. The CDC reporting 1,571 known cases of foodborne illness were caused by raw milk between 1993 and 2006, and of those illnesses, 202 required hospitalization and 2 resulted in death. 60% of foodborne illness caused by dairy was due to raw milk, a disproportionate number considering how only a small percentage of the population drinks unpasteurized milk. The infections caused by raw milk were also more severe than those caused by pasteurized milk. Sanitary conditions can help reduce contamination of the milk, but cannot eliminate it entirely. Given this information, the CDC concludes that you are 150 times more likely to contract foodborne illness from unpasteurized milk than pasteurized milk. 

The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics especially advise against giving raw milk to young children, as they are particularly susceptible to some of the bacteria that unpasteurized milk may be carrying. Pregnant women, the elderly, and anyone with a suppressed immune system should also avoid raw milk, the CDC says. 

Claimed Benefits of Raw Milk

Many people believe in the power of a glass of raw milk!
Many people believe that raw milk is more nutritionally complete because the pasteurization process destroys fat molecules, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals that exist naturally in the milk. Advocates of raw milk say that it improves hair, skin, and nails, reduces allergies, helps increase bone density, and builds a strong immune system, among other things. They claim that raw milk has more fat soluble vitamins than that of pasteurized milk, and that is is higher in the fatty acid butyrate, which studies suggest can help people with Chrone's disease. Unpasteurized yogurt and cheeses supposedly have more probiotics than their pasteurized counterparts, theoretically making them better for the digestive system. 
An article on, a website dedicated to healing through food, claims that pasteurization reduces the levels of vitamins and minerals in milk significantly. According to doctor of natural medicine Josh Axe, 66% of iron, 70% of zinc, 38% of B-complex vitamins and up to 70% of vitamin C are destroyed by pasteurization. In addition to vitamins, Dr. Axe says that important enzymes are destroyed once the milk is heated. Since many Americans do not get their recommended daily vitamins and consume a lot of pasteurized dairy, many raw milk drinkers attribute their health benefits to raw dairy. 

Legal Argument Against Raw Milk

Even healthy, free ranging cattle can carry disease
People against raw milk sales argue that it is a public health risk. This is backed up by the CDC's data that says raw milk is more likely to cause food poisoning, which can result in death. They also note that 75% of milk-related food poisoning occurred in states that allow the sale of raw dairy, solidifying the link between foodborne illness related to said dairy. The majority of people who fell ill from raw dairy were under 20 years old, suggesting that unpasteurized milk is more dangerous for younger people who may not know the risks of drinking it. 
Large factory farms produce the majority of milk to the general public, and it is nearly impossible to keep things totally clean in such large farms. They could easily take advantage of legalization and risk the safety of the public to make a profit by skipping pasteurization. If raw milk were sold on such a large scale, outbreaks could be much larger, threatening the whole of public health. According to the CDC and FDA, even if conditions are kept perfectly clean, it does not eliminate the risk of contamination because livestock carry
bacteria all over their skin. 
According to FDA research, pasteurization does not significantly reduce most of the vitamins in milk, and of those that are reduced, milk is not a good source of anyway. Their research also suggests that the enzymes that are deactivated during the process are not necessary to digest the milk and are not beneficial to human health. The reduced risk of foodborne illness outweighs the slight reduction in vitamins. They say that the claims of benefits from drinking raw milk are purely anecdotal, and that people are being mislead into believing they are fact. 

Legal Arguments in Favor of Raw Milk

Many advocates of raw milk claim that unpasteurized dairy is not dangerous when done cleanly, and agencies like the CDC and FDA manipulate statistics in order to maintain an anti-small-farm agenda. For example, rather than stating the actual chances of getting food poisoning from raw milk, they say that you are 150 times more likely to get sick from it than pasteurized milk. Considering that your risk with pasteurized milk is almost nonexistent, chances of raw milk causing illness in an individual is still too low to consider it dangerous. Others believe that the government simply should not have the right to decide what kind of food they can and can't buy. They believe, when it comes to their own health, they should be able to do their own research and make that decision themselves.

People in favor of raw dairy also note that, while the CDC recommends against raw milk, they advocate or do not wholly advise against many other potentially dangerous activities. For example, approximately 117 infant boys die due to complications with circumcision surgery per year in the United States alone. That number dwarfs the 2 deaths in thirteen years from unpasteurized dairy, yet the CDC formally recommends infant circumcision to parents. There is also 88,000 deaths caused by alcohol each year, yet is perfectly legal to sell, with a license of course, in all but a few US counties. No states have outlawed tobacco, yet smoking alone causes a whopping 480,000 deaths per year, with  over 40,000 of those deaths caused by secondhand smoke. Over 40,000 people who don't even take the risk of smoking are killed per year! The CDC advises against smoking, but no states currently ban tobacco. Raw meat dishes, such as sushi, sashimi, and steak tartare carry the same potential risk as raw milk, yet they are allowed to be served in restaurants. Given we are allowed to decide for ourselves whether or not to take these risks, raw milk supporters think that we should be able to buy whatever kind of milk we want, and it is our responsibility to understand the risk of getting sick.

According to Dr. Ted Beals, an individual is much more likely to get sick from contaminated meats than from raw milk. Dr. Beals also says that many of the bacteria present in raw milk are harmless or even beneficial to our health, and people are afraid of them because they have similar names. For example, he says that there are many types of E. coli which are harmless to us, but because one type is infectious, people feel that it all must be eradicated. This mentality causes the an unnecessary fear of raw milk.

My Opinion

I cannot say whether raw milk has any health benefits. There are virtually no studies on the matter, and I do not like to use purely anecdotal evidence to reach a conclusion. Given statistics, it's pretty safe to say that you are more likely to get sick from unpasteurized dairy than their pasteurized counterparts. However, I also eat sushi, foods with raw egg, and kiss my ducks and other pets, and I accept the risks because these things make me happy. If it makes me happy to buy milk from my neighbor that came out of a goat less than an hour ago, shouldn't that be my right? I do not believe that the government should be able to tell me that I can't pay someone for unpasteurized milk. I believe that a government which regulates my basic dietary decisions, which affect no one but me, is a government that has too much power. Sometimes, we have a personal responsibility to keep ourselves safe, and it is not up to the government to prohibit decisions that only affect one's personal safety. If I can legally give myself alcohol poisoning, smoke around my kids, and eat all of the gas station sushi my heart desires, I should be able to buy milk in its raw form. I can then risk food poisoning and drink it raw, or I can pasteurize the milk myself. That should be my choice!

However, I do understand the need to keep the general public safe. Because the majority of the milk in this country is produced by very large farms, it is very difficult to maintain cleanliness and keep track of the milk. One infected batch can reach a lot more people than one gallon of goat's milk from a single goat. Also, larger companies often mislead consumers with clever marketing tactics and information that is iffy at best. For this reason, I understand that milk from those farms must be pasteurized, but there needs to be exceptions for very small farms and hobby farms, which often only have a few gallons of milk at a time and don't sell goods in grocery stores. They should be able to sell their milk either directly or through herdshares. With these exceptions, farmers should fully disclose the potential risk of raw dairy, and should maintain certain standards of health and cleanliness. Farmers also shouldn't use rumored benefits to market their dairy, as that is misleading. Many laws make it difficult for small farmers and hobby farmers to sell their goods because they are designed to regulate factory farms. With the increasing popularity of backyard flocks and herds, legislators need to adjust laws and make exceptions for people with these small operations. 

What should you do?

Sanitary milking procedures reduce - but don't eliminate - contamination risk
Before buying or drinking raw milk, you should do plenty of research from varied sources. Raw milk should be treated similarly to raw eggs and meat. For example, I like to eat batter from cakes and and some dishes contain raw egg. In order to reduce the risk of illness, I crack the egg on the counter, rather than the bowl, to help prevent contamination of bacteria that is on the shell, and I wash the eggs well before I use them. This practice doesn't eliminate my risk, but it reduces it. If you're milking an animal, make sure your area and equipment is clean, and wash the teats and udders thoroughly. If you're buying milk from a farmer, make sure that the milking area and procedures are sanitary. Much like raw eggs and sushi, it is highly inadvisable for pregnant women, very young children, the elderly, or those with suppressed immune systems to consume raw dairy. People in these groups are at the highest risk of illness, hospitalization, or even death from foodborne illness. 

If you buy raw milk, you can pasteurize it yourself easily by heating it to 165 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds. In order to maintain the quality of the milk, you should heat slowly by boiling water and placing a smaller pot of milk inside the larger pot of water, or you can use a double boiler. Use a candy or meat thermometer to assure that the milk has maintained a temperature of 165 degrees for 15 seconds.You can also pasteurize milk using a microwave. For more detailed instructions, click here!
Many states do now allow the sale of raw milk in any way. If you would like to try and change those laws, start with a letter to your state legislature. Letters do a lot more than people think - it lets lawmakers know where voters' concerns are, so they can know what would be best for the state. Your letter should be formal, typed, legible and without spelling and grammatical errors. Explain why you want to be able to buy or sell raw milk, and why you think they should listen to you. Voters change the world, and so do their voices!

Would you dip your cookies in raw milk?

Is raw milk legal in your state? Do you produce, sell, or drink raw milk? Leave a comment! Don't forget to check out our Facebook page and our Instagram for regular updates!


 "Nonpasteurized Disease Outbreaks, 1993-2006." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US Department of Health and Human Services, 12 Dec. 2014. Web. 4 Apr. 2016. <>

.Axe, Josh, Dr. "Raw Milk Benefits Skin, Allergies and Weight Loss." Dr Axe. Kymera, 13 Mar. 2014. Web. 04 Apr. 2016. <>.

Beals, Ted, MD. "Those Pathogens, What You Should Know." A Campaign for Real Milk. Weston A. Price Foundation, 31 July 2011. Web. 04 Apr. 2016. <>.

"Raw Milk Questions and Answers." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.US Department of Health and Human Resources, 20 Feb. 2015. Web. 04 Apr. 2016. <>.

"The Dangers of Raw Milk: Unpasteurized Milk Can Pose a Serious Health Risk." Food and Drug Administration. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, 3 Sept. 2015. Web. 4 Apr. 2016. <>.

"Tobacco-Related Mortality." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US Department of Health and Human Resources, 18 Aug. 2015. Web. 04 Apr. 2016. <>.

"Alcohol Deaths." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US Department of Health and Human Services, 30 June 2014. Web. 04 Apr. 2016. <>.

"Just a Harmless Snip? 100+ Circumcision Deaths Each Year in United States." Circumcision Information Australia. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Apr. 2016. <>.

"Male Circumcision." Pediatrics 130.3 (2012): 1-7. Centers for Diseason Control and Prevention. US Department of Health and Human Services. Web. 4 Apr. 2016. <>.

"Home Pasteurization of Raw Milk." OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY Extension Service (2011): n. pag. Oregon State University Extension Office. OSU, Mar. 2011. Web. 4 Apr. 2016. <>.

"Pasteurization." International Dairy Food Association. Milk Industry Foundation, n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2016. <>.

All images used in this article were obtained via Creative Commons, and are licensed for non-commercial use.