raw milk vs. commodity milk - a third choice?

what type of milk?

I need to address some things about raw milk.

I'm not going to start with all the pros and cons. You can click those links to read if you like and use your own brain to come to your own conclusions.

The thing no one seems to consider is that there's a third choice between pastured, raw milk and commodity milk: high-quality milk that's been minimally processed.

I'd been firmly in the raw milk camp for some time. Raw milk is legal here in PA and frankly, my milkman delivers it which makes it dead easy.

In PA, to be a licensed raw milk provider means the state tests each batch and closes down a farm that fails the bacteria counts. Since the tests come back after that batch has been distributed, some farms have set up their own labs to test before they distribute each batch. And I've seen test results lower than for pasteurized milk, so feel relatively good about raw milk here.

I like the testing. It is just too easy for some random thing to occur even when using sterile technique in a lab. I was doing that once upon a time during my graduate career when my giant Erlenmeyer flasks got infected with a fungus that survived autoclaving. Bugs are everywhere and contamination is incredibly easy. And because milk is good food, it's going to grow bacteria easily. Hey, that's how yogurt and cheese happen!

But I was sold on raw milk personally before the farms started testing each batch. See, a whole pile of ever-increasing doses of ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers did not lower my BP. What did was twofold: taking enough potassium to raise my serum level into the 4.0-4.3 range which got it down to high-normal and raw milk which got it down to normal-normal.

My biggest problem is that I just don't like milk. When I started, I drank a lot of it. But it's hard to keep doing something you don't like just cause it's good for you. It's just not sustainable behavior.

I get about 2 gallons a week for hubby as it's easy to get nutrition into him since he drinks a lot of milk. In PA, only milk itself can be raw, not milk products (except for aged cheese). So the half-and-half for my coffee is pasteurized as is my weekly pound of butter, which is the majority of my dairy consumption. There's some yogurt and raw cheddar involved as well, but I go through 3 quarts of half-and-half and a pound of butter nearly each week, and that's most of the dairy I eat. And my BP did not go up when I quit the raw milk.

I've begun to think the raw isn't the important bit. The important bit is avoiding commodity milk. In the commodity milk system, a farmer is rewarded for high production, not quality. Raising cows on pasture, where they eat grass and live in sunlight and produce high amounts of vitamin A, D3 and K2 does not pay; quantity from feeding lots of grain does. Tanker trucks pick up milk from farms, which is then taken to the dairy, where the fat is removed and then added back to make the various percentages of milk. And of course, it's heavily pasteurized and homogenized and this stuff is relatively worthless nutritionally. But it was so before it ever got processed just cause of how it was raised.

There is a small local dairy near me that processes two types of milk, commodity milk in their "natural" line and pastured, local milk in their "organic" line (their organic milk comes from the same farms that sell raw milk). They use low-heat pasteurization and sell unhomogenized products; even their heavy cream separates into heavier cream and thinner cream. These are the folks I get my half-and-half and butter from, always choosing their organic line so I get the pastured stuff.

A neighbor and I discussed raw milk and she got excited about the benefits. But she'd also had listeria years ago when pregnant with her son and had nearly lost him. I have hard time telling someone who's been through that to eat raw dairy. I told her to get the low-heat pasteurized unhomogenized stuff instead. Vitamins A, D3 and K2 are relatively heat-stable; I believe the vast majority of the benefits are in pasturing the animals rather than not pastuerizing the milk.

When my daughter was sick with diverticulitis and could eat no solid food, I recommended eggnog for animal food and juicing for plant food. But I recommended the same sort of milk to her, low-heat pasteurized milk from pastured animals. She'd been hospitalized for gut infection; had a PICC line delivering antibiotics several times a day directly to her bloodstream; it did not seem a time to be claiming raw was good. And I found a source for a good milk near her.

When we compare raw milk to commodity milk, it always comes out ahead. But I'm not sure how much of that is due to the quality of the milk as it comes out of the cow as opposed to the processing. I suspect a LOT of it is from it having high nutrition in the first place.

Some of the glutathione arguments are potentially interesting, but also have a lot of speculation as opposed to hard science. The only specific argument I can buy is that raw milk might be better for those with lactose intolerance since it contains lactase to help break down the lactose. For those folks, there's a possibility they can tolerate raw milk where they cannot tolerate pasteurized.

But I think for most of us, including the many for whom raw milk is inaccessible or illegal, you can get most of the benefits of raw milk simply by looking for a good quality milk that has been minimally processed and avoiding commodity milk.

I suspect if raw milk were easily legal, that it'd be co-opted by the commodity system, just as "organic" has been co-opted by large corporations who might meet the technicalities of the definition without addressing the fundamentals of the spirit of organic in any way, shape or form. And that raw milk will be utter crap, without the benefits of real milk.

IMNSHO, real milk doesn't have to be raw, so much as from real cows on real grass in real sunshine.

Image credit: Adapted from "Milk glass" by Stefan Kühn - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.