For decades, a small number of people have believed milk is more nutritious if it’s not pasteurized. Modern science doesn’t support that claim. And the idea of milk going right from the cow to the breakfast bowl is unthinkable for most doctors and food safety experts. But advocates are finding a new audience for their message: Small farmers trying to compete against large dairy companies. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Peter Payette reports:
For decades a small number of people have believed milk is more nutritious if it’s
not pasteurized. Modern science doesn’t support that claim. And the idea of milk
going right from the cow to the breakfast bowl is unthinkable for most doctors and
food safety experts. But advocates are finding a new audience for their message:
Small farmers trying to compete against large dairy companies. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Peter Payette reports:
A thick white blanket of fresh snow covers Chris Halpin’s small farm in northern
Michigan. All his goats are in the barn this morning munching on hay.
“These girls in here are all in here with a billy goat and they’re all milking
right now and they’re waiting to get bred. That’s the billy there.”
Halpin hasn’t sold much milk, even though he’s been raising goats for a number of
years. He says small farmers must cut out the middleman to make a living and
he’s exploring options to sell milk products without going through a big dairy
Pasteurization equipment is too expensive for his small farm. So, for the last two
years he’s sold un-pasteurized milk to a small number of people.
“The demand for raw milk is huge. Pasteurized milk is a dead product. It’s
dead. It’s heated up to temperatures that kills not only any the bacteria that
could be in the milk but it kills all the enzymes in the milk and so there’s nothing
in there that could promote the body to digest the milk.”
It’s not legal to sell the raw milk in Michigan. A few other Midwest states and
Canada also ban such sales. Health officials say that raw milk can carry food-
borne illnesses. But Halpin says his animals are clean and healthy and he has no
concerns about the safety of the milk.
“That’s not my concern at all. We have five children and my wife makes yogurt
and cheese and we drink raw milk and I have no concerns at all and I don’t have
no concerns for my own family. If I guy has concerns it seems like it’d be for his
Food regulators say the dangers of raw milk are well documented. In 2001, for
example, an outbreak of a bacterial infection in Wisconsin sickened 19 people.
The state says 17 of them reported drinking raw milk.
And raw milk advocates have not been able to convince regulators that raw milk
has any nutritional benefit over pasteurized milk, as is often claimed.
The legislative liaison for the Michigan Department of Agriculture, Brad Deacon,
says opponents of the pasteurization requirement weren’t persuasive when his state
updated its dairy laws in 2001.
“There haven’t been any credible studies that we’ve been able to find. Our minds
are not closed on the matter. But we’ve been yet to be given any credible studies
that pasteurized milk has fewer nutrients than unpasteurized milk.”
Raw milk advocates point to older studies, mostly done in the first half of the
twentieth century. Those studies did suggest health benefits from drinking raw
And they have anecdotal stories of people overcoming health problems by
switching to a diet that includes raw dairy.
They say the scientific community’s view is entrenched and influenced by the
interests of big agribusiness and big dairies.
But with modern science against them, raw milk activists are taking their message
directly to farmers.
And they’re finding receptive and occasionally large audiences.
The President of the Weston A. Price Foundation — the national group leading the
campaign for raw milk — was recently the keynote speaker at a small farm
conference in the Midwest that attracted 600 people.
Sally Fallon told the farmers they’re up against corporations that want squeeze the
little guy out.
“For this to happen, she says the big companies must make sure all food goes
through the corporations on its way from the farm to the table.”
“The farmer who adds value by farming organically by making cheese or butter
or by simply selling directly to the consumer, he is the enemy to this system and a
whole battery of laws, health laws, licensing laws, even environmental laws, is
used against us. We need to get rid of some of these laws.”
Fallon says raw dairy products are good for the consumer and the bottom line of
For instance, she says raw butter made from cows free roaming on fertile pasture
is “the number one health food in America.”
The farmer making this butter should get at least five dollars a pound for this
product. In Washington D.C., we’re getting ten dollars a pound for the beautiful
Amish butter. Now that kind of income will pay for lots of improvements on the
But the plight of small farmers doesn’t change the facts, says Dr. Stephen Barrett,
a retired psychiatrist and journalist who operates the website quackwatch.org.
Barrett says small businesses are having trouble everywhere.
“One have to ask rather cynically, if a company isn’t viable in the marketplace,
they either better do something or they’re going to perish, and if doing something
means putting the public at risk, that’s not good.”
Good or not, activists will continue to push for what they see as a fundamental
right to drink and sell milk without interference from the government.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Peter Payette.