Recently, a raw milk producer in Pennsylvania stopped selling raw milk after several people were infected with Campylobacter bacteria, a nasty gastrointestinal pathogen. Epidemiological investigations revealed that these people had nothing in common except having consumed that raw milk. Of course, people who tout the “benefits” of raw milk over pasteurized milk saw this public health intervention as nothing more than a ploy from the government to shut down the farm. They complained to newspaper editorial pages, blogs, and anyone else who would listen that it was all a plow from the dairy industry to put the farm out of business.
Because, you know, raw milk is such a huge threat to the dairy industry.Actually, it kind of is. If all the milk in the United States was not pasteurized, the number of diseases attributable to milk would be through the roof. Everything from E. coli to Listeria to Campylobacter to Brucella (a particularly nasty bug) would be infecting people all over. People would lose confidence in drinking milk, especially if it traveled long distances over several days like so much of our food does today. Raw milk just doesn’t last that long before it goes bad.
Does it have its benefits over pasteurized milk? It’s debatable.
Supporters of raw milk consumption will tell you that it’s chock-full of “probiotics”, bacteria that are good for you because they replace other normal flora and help in digestion better. They’ll also tell you that raw milk contains lactase, the enzyme that helps break down lactose. People who are intolerant of dairy lack that enzyme, so it is believed that they react better with raw milk.
Again, it’s all debatable.
It’s debatable because so much of these good things attributed to plausibility and some sketchy evidence. The whole lactose intolerance thing? Well, they attributed to bacteria in raw milk being able to produce lactase that aids in the digestion of dairy products. But they never explain that the amount of lactase produced by these bacteria would have to be a lot to overcome the lack of lactase production in those who are intolerant of dairy. They also never explain that some of those bacteria may be pathogenic in the end.
To believe that the dairy industry is out to kill the small dairy farmers, you’d have to believe that the dairy industry is spending a heck of a lot of money on something considered useless by those who believe the conspiracy. That something is pasteurization. It’s not a cheap thing to do on a mass scale. So why do it if you’re out to make money? And why demonize those who don’t? If I were Big Dairy, I’d say, “You know what? You’re right! Raw milk is the best milk!” I’d then save money by not pasteurizing AND put all the little farmers out of business by beating them at their own game.
But that’s not what is happening, is it?
It’s not happening because the threat of infections from dairy would skyrocket. Thousands of people would be injured or killed, and the lawsuits would take out the dairy industry altogether… And, well, we’d go back to pasteurizing. It’s not a gimmick. It’s a matter of public health.