Raw Milk Debate Heats Up as European Farmers Begin Selling Product to Public
Raw milk – that is, milk that hasn’t been pasteurized – is a highly controversial subject in the Food and Beverage industry. Pasteurization was invented in the nineteenth century as a means to prevent beer from spoiling and has since been used across many different food varieties. In simple terms, the process of pasteurizing a beverage is to heat it just high enough for all the bacteria to be killed.
As the health and green living movement gains momentum, so too the debate about whether or not humans should be consuming unpasteurized or “raw” milk. There are two sides to the argument. Those who wish to make or purchase the product believe that our body needs bacteria for a myriad of reasons – to sustain a healthy physiological balance in our body, and to build our immune system, to name a few.
Generally, when consumers hear ‘bacteria’, they assume it’s bad. But the human body actually needs bacteria to sustain itself. In an article titled “How Bacteria in Our Bodies Protect Our Health” for Scientific America, Jennifer Ackerman writes “Biologists once thought that human beings were physiological islands, entirely capable of regulating their own internal workings.” But that’s no longer the case. “All the bacteria living inside you would fill a half-gallon jug; there are 10 times more bacterial cells in your body than human cells,” writes Melinda Wenner, also of SA.
They also believe the heating process of pasteurization kills all the other good stuff that’s naturally in milk. Things like enzymes, immunoglobulins, and phosphatase. But there are questions surrounding whether maintaining those enzymes is worth potentially endangering the body with the bad bacteria that would also be in the milk.
Generally, when consumers hear ‘bacteria’, they assume it’s bad. But the human body actually needs bacteria to sustain itself.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (and the FDA by extension) is hot on the heels of the debate. Responsible for regulating food and drug products, the department has been studying raw milk for years. “Unpasteurized milk is 150 times more likely to cause foodborne illness and results in 13 times more hospitalizations than illnesses involving pasteurized dairy products,” reports the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The same report states that “between 1993 and 2006 more than 1500 people in the United States became sick from drinking raw milk or eating cheese made from raw milk” and that unpasteurized milk may contain disease like Salmonella and E. coli.
Raw milk advocates claim those on the other side of the debate may have more than consumer’s health as motivation for supporting the conventional milk industry – a stake in the companies that produce pasteurized milk and the pharmaceutical industry, most notably.
The debate doesn’t end in the U.S. though. It’s a hot topic in the EU as well, constantly being turned over by farmers and the Food Standards Agency. In a groundbreaking move, five European farmers were permitted to sell raw, unpasteurized milk to the public last week.
There are a couple caveats, though… let’s call them a compromise between the two sticks-in-the-mud. Farmers can only sell up to 800 litres a week, and are restricted from selling straight off their property. The milk also must carry a special health warning stating “This milk has not been heat treated and may therefore contain organisms harmful to health.”
“We expect these farmers to have good food safety management systems in place which recognize the risks and details the actions they’ll take to mitigate those, so they’ll do a lot of testing,” says Kirsten Dunbar of the Food Standards Agency of Northern Ireland.
Regardless, this is a big step towards consumers deciding for themselves which type of milk they’re more comfortable drinking.