24 Nov 11 The raw milk revolution
Milk: Raw vs pasteurized elicits strong debate
Raw milk, say its proponents, has been unfairly maligned in recent years. They suggest it’s a natural product that is as safe and delicious as a farm-fresh tomato when properly produced, as any agricultural product should be.
They note that dozens of other food products are recalled every year – just last Thursday, pre-packaged lettuce was recalled after E. coli was found during random testing – and no one’s being told to stop eating fresh vegetables.
Some raw milk advocates go so far as to say that the process of pasteurizing milk kills off healthy bacteria that keep the gut in top shape, although there are no rigorous scientific studies to support that …
“Raw milk seems like a fantastic idea. It’s fresh, and people claim it tastes better. But the downsides are enormous,” said Dr Scott Smith, chief of infectious disease and geographic medicine at Kaiser Redwood City Hospital, San Francisco. “There are a whole variety of infectious things that are in milk. We should prevent what we know how to prevent……
“Try some,” says Rosie Paul, taking a plastic bottle from the fridge and holding it up to the light. It looks different, certainly: butter-yellow, not chalk-white. The top quarter (or thereabouts) seems somehow more solid; that’s a hell of a cream line. Rosie upends the bottle a couple of times, gently mixing the contents. And fills a glass.
The taste is spectacular. Smooth, silky, unctuous. Sweet almost, but not in the least rich, and with a body to it that’s a world away from its anaemic processed cousin. If you drink it regularly, says Rosie, it tastes different every time: it changes with the season, with the weather, with what bit of the farm the cows are grazing, whether they’ve had a bit of clover or snaffled some wild garlic from the hedge. It’s milk, but not as we know it.
And what do we do with the vast majority of it? “It’s as if,” says Rosie, “we took a bunch of fine wines, each with their own unique flavour and aroma, then processed them and mixed them all up together so they all smelt and tasted the same. We take a really good product – raw milk – and we make it awful.”…
Sales of raw milk are strictly regulated: producers must sell direct to consumers, not through shops or supermarkets; bottles must carry a health warning; and environmental health officers “really put you through the hoops,” says Rosie. Hygiene must be irreproachable.
Despite huge advances in refrigeration and hygiene since we started pasteurising everything, raw milk still worries us. The Food Standards Authority says bluntly it may contain bacteria “such as salmonella and E coli that can cause illness”. In practice, raw milk today is produced in clinically clean conditions, goes “from teat to tank” without contacting the air, and is cooled to 4C within five minutes. The risk is minimal.
The health benefits, meanwhile, could be substantial. Besides tasting better, raw milk’s proponents argue it is more nutritious, higher in vitamins, healthy enzymes and “good” bacteria than pasteurised milk. Studies have shown it can significantly reduce allergies. Most also comes from small, grass-fed herds far less likely to suffer from infections and illness than factory cattle kept on concrete and fed grain by industrial-scale dairies…..