The War on Raw Milk


by Zac Goldberg March 15, 2015

In the spring of 1945, the little Midwestern town of Crossroads had an epidemic on its hands.

The small town was decimated by an illness called undulant fever (also known as Brucellosis), reportedly brought on by unpasteurized milk. The zoonotic infection swept through the area and claimed a whopping 25% of the population.

“What happened to Crossroads might happen to your town,” wrote brave correspondent Lt. Harold J. Harris, MD, in Coronet Magazine. “It might happen almost anywhere in America.”

His words were chilling, as Crossroads never recovered from the tragedy, and was soon wiped off of the map entirely…

Fortunately, it was never on the map to begin with.

As it turned out, the good lieutenant doctor had completely made the place up—in fact, he made the entire article up—which he later admitted to Johns Hopkins bacteriologist J. Howard Brown. After Reader’s Digest picked up the story, titled “Raw Milk Can Kill You,” the damage was done. The irony is that only raw milk itself was in any imminent danger.

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Seventy years later, and raw milk is still on the lam.

Twenty states have outlawed the substance altogether, and there are varying levels of regulatory controls in the ones that have “legalized” it. Recent busts, spearheaded by the FDA and local agencies, bear strong resemblance to drug raids; authorities kick down doors, guns drawn, to arrest retailers, distributors, and Amish farmers trafficking in an underground market.

“I believe we are very close to entering the age of a shooting war between farmers and the FDA,” wrote Natural News editor Mike Adams. “I would encourage the FDA agents who are no doubt reading this to strongly consider: is your war against raw milk worth risking your life?”

Raw milk is the Center for Disease Control’s cause célèbre, its white whale, its Al Capone. The governmental organization has long cited E. coli, L. monocytogenes, and Salmonella as pathogens that thrive in it. In December 2014, the CDC released its latest scathing report on the substance, finding that average annual outbreaks (two or more cases in common) of foodborne illnesses associated with raw milk have quadrupled since 2006.

This statistic, however, seems less worrisome when you read the fine print: this still means fewer than 1,000 infected cases, 73 hospitalizations, and zero deaths.

Raw milk advocates say that these numbers pale in comparison to overall foodborne illnesses (including those caused by pasteurized products). According to the CDC’s latest figures, there are upward of 48 million of those cases annually, with 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths reported.

There is also anecdotal evidence of raw milk’s restorative properties for the seriously ill; often cited is a 2011 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology that showed raw milk cutting asthma occurrences by 41%, and hay fever by as much as half. Raw milk drinkers claim that that it contains beneficial proteins and fats, along with bioactive components that battle pathogenic bacteria.

Most of all though, raw milk advocates want the ability to choose for themselves what they do or don’t drink, especially in the face of what they claim is exaggerated risk.

Indeed, “A Campaign for Real Milk,” a joint effort of the Weston A. Price Foundation and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, strikes a populist tone in promising a “huge rural revival.” Currently, 10 million Americans, or about 3% of the population, say they drink raw milk. The campaign claims that it is actually the dairy industry that is behind the strict pasteurization requirements, lobbying hard to stifle growing competition from independent farms.

Yes, this seems a tad conspiratorial; we doubt the dairy lobby is truly worried that the raw milk industry will be a real threat anytime soon. And yes, there is some truth in the fact that raw milk can cause harm if improperly handled. But in a country where you can marry whomever you want in a majority of states, and where marijuana is now legal in at least two, it also seems odd that the government would be fighting so hard (read: wasting tons of time and money) to stop people from consuming a simple glass of milk. In fact, it seems more logical for them to worry more about the highly processed versions we are allowed to drink, not the stuff that’s literally straight from the source.

“Arguments for pasteurization are based on a discredited medical program,” states the campaign literature, which also describes how heating and homogenization can strip milk of probiotics while still leaving resistant pathogens like Johne’s bacteria, linked with Crohn’s disease, behind. “Traditional diets maximized nutrients while modern diets minimize nutrients.”

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Zac Goldberg
Zac Goldberg

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