Raw Deals Over Raw Milk




One of the saddest stories I have ever written appeared in the February, 1982, issue of The New Farm magazine. It was about a farmer in Iowa who went to jail for selling raw milk. I don’t know if he is still alive and I doubt he wants to stir up an old turd as we used to say so I won’t use his name. I confess to being prejudiced in favor of unpasteurized milk because I grew up on it and drank for most of my lifetime. I still have all my own teeth at age 84, have followed a rather rigorous life in spare time sports and broken only one bone, when I was in my 70s and had no business still playing football. But I am not against pasteurized milk if that’s what pleases you. We are supposed to be free enough in this land of the free and home of the brave, to drink whatever kind of milk we prefer.

The farmer who went to jail for bootlegging milk had a thriving business going, as many as 500 customers. When the law stepped in, one particularly persisted buyer would not take no for an answer. Her doctor had prescribed raw milk for her child and nothing else would do. The farmer decided to ignore the law. The law lowered the boom.

The funny thing was that every time the law tried to stop the farmer, his customer base went up. The case eventually came to court. The farmer presented the evidence from the doctor and from laboratory analyses that showed his raw milk was just as clean or cleaner than the pasteurized. To no avail. The judge paid no attention to the evidence.

Finally undercover agents came to the farm, bought milk, and the farmer ended up spending 30 days in jail for contempt of court. That was the end of the raw milk business. From everything I could glean from the story, the main opposition had come from the Mississippi Valley (pasteurized) Milk Producers Association and the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture office. The pasteurized milk industry did not think it could afford the competition that raw milk dealers might bring. Horrors, maybe the majority of people might switch to raw milk.

I just can’t understand for the life of me why we hang on to laws that have become outmoded. The champions of pasteurized milk can pile tons of evidence on the table showing the risks of drinking raw milk and the raw milk devotees can pile up another table with evidence that today, with modern refrigeration, modern methods of controlling various cow diseases, improvements in transportation, and much better ways to maintain cleanliness in the milk house, raw milk is just as safe as pasteurized. Neither side will listen to the other. The best proof that raw milk is safe is to see how many states and districts do allow raw milk sales. I think Pennsylvania has allowed raw milk for years. Nevertheless we must continue to squabble and fuss and provide lawyers with good incomes all because basically, we must never admit that times change and laws and regulations need to change too.

I doubt that nature ever intended adult humans to drink milk anyway. Isn’t milk for babies? But if milk is okay that does not mean that butter is too. We’ve gone through 50 years of badmouthing butter and now all of a sudden, butter’s okay. Now wheat is bad. Wonder if anyone has thought of pasteurizing all those horrible gluten laden grains. Then there are the food faddists who suddenly get a notion that all greens need to be boiled. No more raw turnips. Maybe poison ivy would be delectable if you cooked the hell out of it.


Well said, Jan.

I mentioned TB in an earlier post

It’s worth mentioning that you cannot get human TB from a dairy ruminant! Humans can pick up bovine TB, but the symptoms most often are like a bout with the flu, not the life-threatening disease that human TB is.

The persistent rumour about human TB from untreated milk came from early in the 20th century, when distilleries started dairies as a way of getting rid of spent distillery grain. They paid pitiful wages, and tended to hire people not strong enough to do more strenuous labour. These people often had human TB, and would sneeze or cough while milking. Milk was the vector, not the reservoir of the disease.†

whoever he is has either been reading the books, or has some knowledge of the zoonoses

I don’t think so. He’s just a fear-monger. He linked in “scarlet fever, typhoid fever,” two diseases that, again, never originate in raw milk, but are passed from person to person through any food, including pasteurized milk! You could get either disease from pasteurized milk that had been infected by a food handler.

What’s more, raw milk is less likely to be a vector of human disease than pasteurized milk! Raw milk comes with pro-biotic bacteria that tend to out-compete pathogens, and it contains anti-bacterial enzymes that pasteurized milk does not. Raw milk has a built in immune system, whereas pasteurized milk is a petri dish, waiting to culture any random pathogen that lands on it.

He was simply making stuff up. But that never happens on the Internet, does it!

The Untold Story of Milk, by Ron Schmid

Sad to say whoever he is has either been reading the books, or has some knowledge of the zoonoses, a name for diseases either spread by animals to man, or common to both species.
Brucellosis is found in various strains in a number of animals, including pigs, goats, camels and sheep. Brucella abortus is found in cattle, and as it’s name implies, causes spontaneous abortion in humans. It is transmitted to humans by drinking untreated milk.
The commonest by far is B militensis, from goats and sheep.
Brucellosis, from whatever source, has the potential to be a multi-system disease. In areas where the disease is not endemic (“embedded” in a population or area) Brucellosis is more likely to be an occupational disease among abbatoir workers or herdmen, etc.
My epidemiology is a bit rusty, but I mentioned TB in an earlier post. Unfortunately we live in a risky world. I rather think that there are other diseases from which I’m likely to die, and come on now, the comment about “who picks up the bill” was uncalled for.
Cheese in the UK, from where I come, may be from treated or untreated milk, and Brucellosis is very rare, as it is in France. French cheese somehow tastes so much better than the treated variety we are forced to eat over in North America.

You’re making stuff up. Stop it.

You are more likely to die in a car crash on your way to pick up raw milk than you are to be sickened by that milk. Get that? You are more likely to DIE from driving every day than to even get sick from drinking raw milk. This is from CDC official statistics!

So it logically follows, then, that we should ban cars.

And you who drive often should be ashamed to do such risky behaviour on the backs of those of us who drive rarely, or not at all! Shame on you for raising our insurance rates!

So you have ONE anecdote that you think makes you an expert on raw milk illness. Have any of your friends, family, or acquaintences been injured or killed in a car crash? Sure they have.

You wanna be a “do gooder” and self-righteously “protect” people from raw milk? Look in the mirror, then give up all auto travel. Or at least admit your hypocrisy.

Arrest you for protecting you from yourself? You DO know that raw milk has things in it that can make you everything from SICK to Sterile, Right. Have you ever heard of Brucellosis?
Diseases caused by raw milk
It was invented in a time when millions of people became sick and died of diseases like tuberculosis, scarlet fever, typhoid fever, and other infections that were transmitted through raw milk. Pasteurization has prevented millions of people from becoming ill.
And when you are this SICK,,,who then has to pay the medical bill? yeah, most likely the Tax Payer given that YOU most likely live OFF the Grid and have NO insurance.
Like my friends growing up in the 50-60s I too drank Raw Milk,,,until one of my close friends ended up with Bangs Disease (Brucellosis) from a cow they had for YEARS. She got infected from another Bovine they bought at auction and didn’t even know it. He could Never have kids. Great thinking in a time what information is readily available. SAD

that’s quite an interesting study Beth, thanks for sharing that.
those of us who like to ferment know : never use metal.
have always wondered what is going on a molecular level that explains that phenomenon.

what happens to… milk if you leave it outside the fridge

That’s how we make cheese!

Raw milk ferments. Pasteurized milk rots. BEEEP!

@ Sally McQuire & Jan Steinman: I couldn’t agree with both of you more. The stuff that squirts out of a cow or a goat teat is SOOOOOOOOOOO much more than just milk. If you ask some city-slacker (no pun intended) anything about raw milk, they have no clue. I, for instance, asked a neighbor who just moved here from CT (where, BTW, raw milk is legal) if he knew what happens to unpasteurized milk if you leave it outside the fridge for a day or two. Blank stare for some time, then he said “well, it needs to be thrown out because it will have spoiled”. Please leave a message for him when you hear the beep.

I love the piece of course (I’ve loved all your writing for quite a number of years) but do have to quibble with the ‘milk is meant for babies’ thing. Raspberries are ‘meant’ to grow more raspberries. Rice is meant to grow more rice. Cows are meant to grow more cows. So on and so forth: milk (cheese, cream, butter, yogurt, whatever) is meant for whoever gets there first! and yes, for sure- raw.

I’m all for certifying raw milk if a farm is producing mad amounts and selling throughout a large area. However, when a farmer is selling to his immediate area, trust and word of mouth are a far more important thing to go by than any state certification program liable to cost so much as to drive the farm under. Not to mention any farmer worth his/her salt is willing to show others how he works.

I talked the owner of the potato field beside my home. He thinks they want all farmers to go out of business. Growers in the area have taken to dragging their turn-rows every day to eradicate any animal footprints. If deer or hogs are thought to have entered the field harvest could be delayed for days. I’m almost glad I don’t have a farm anymore.

I somehow think the war against raw milk is less about preserving people’s health and more about preserving corporate profits. Raw milk is a cottage industry, which is why it’s a threat to big business. If you can milk your own cow (or buy from milk from a neighbor who has a cow) this means money out of the pockets of big business. What next? Will people start growing their own food too?!? Quelle horreur!

Reminds me a bit of current food safety efforts wherein they want to ban all animals, both wild and domestic, from treading paw or claw on any land that grows food for humans, lest we all immediately contract salmonella.

A quote from Ben Hewitt speaking at a Rural Vermont meeting. “Right now I can walk out this door and legally buy a carton of camel straights, a fifth of Jack, and a semi automatic rifle. What I can’t legally do is buy a quart of raw milk.”

I love raw milk, or real milk. I never realised till I moved to Latvia that milk can taste different depending on the farm it comes from and the season we are in. Now I do.

Sorry to all those people who are happy to use the term raw milk but I’m going to be a bit contrary here. There’s no such thing as raw milk. There is REAL milk and there are is pasteurized milk and there is a big difference between the two. Real milk is a natural product. It’s what babies of mammals drink in its natural form and what we as humans consume when milked from cows and goats for that purpose. Pasteurized milk is an artificial product. It has been heated to a high temperature which reduces its mineral and vitamin content. The milk you buy in the store will also have been homogenalized so that there is no separation between the cream layer and milk. Both heating and homogenization processes alter the characteristic of real milk. It is less nutritious, the milk tastes blander, and with no natural cream separation, it is a very different product to real milk.

I’m not sure where and when the term raw milk originated but my suspicion is that it is something the marketing team of one of the big artificial milk producers came up with. The word raw when associated with food has very negative connotations. It’s the perfect term to use against a competing milk type. So for the sake of good language use, and to fight against the anti-real milk propaganda, if we are going to bandy terms around more accurate descriptors should be used: natural and unnatural milk, real and unreal milk, natural and processed milk etc. You can take your pick, possible come up with something better, but whatever you do, do not call natural milk raw!

was supposed to be “poloticians’ pockets”

As with all protectionism, follow the money. Dairy association’s avarice ad the lining they provide to politicians will keep trying to suppress raw milk sales wherever they can.

Thank you Betty! I agree!

Regardless of whether raw milk is better than pasteurized milk or not, the real question is why the heck are the Feds so adamant about restricting its trade??? Either a) they are trying to “protect us” from something they think is unsafe or, b) or they are trying to “protect” the monopoly of the big corporate food industry (read: big money).
If a), then the only way the government can protect us is by taking away our rights.
If b), then the government is really not concerned about us at all, just money.
Cows are so much more reasonable than the government.

I’m a big fan of raw milk myself. However, I think that the A-1 milk cows should all be culled in favor of A-2 cows. The health risks associated with A-1 cassein are far greater than anything found in modern unpasteurized milk. The fact that these genetics are not regulated is proof enough thst it’s all about greed, not health. At the very least, labeling should be required.

I switched from raw cow to raw goat years back when it became available locally. Guaranteed A2 protein. Then again, I am lucky to be in Pennsylvania. Raw cow and goat milk in groceries and a half dozen or so raw milk cheese producers at the Farm Markets in our county.

The research that I have read has shown that raw milk is a more complete food than pasteurized, the bacteria being a vital component. I trust that God in her wisdom gives us better food than food “science” professionals do with their hubris. Asparagus beats Twinkies every time in my world.

Thank you, Gene, and enjoy!

I think the real key to the raw milk debate is not disease (I can drink it myself and give it away with impunity) but money. Once I take money for it, raw milk automatically becomes “bad.” Fine with me, I’ll just keep milking my cow and keep all the good stuff for me and mine. As far as disease is concerned, I always remember the piece in Michael Pollan’s book “Cooked,” about the nun who makes cheese with raw milk. She ran a controlled experiment (Sr. Noella, by the way, has a PhD in microbiology) in which she put raw milk in a sterile stainless steel container and some in her wooden cheese vat, which is never washed or sanitized, just rinsed with cold water. Then she added a nice little culture of E. coli (the stuff that causes foods to be recalled because it has such a high potential for causing gastrointestinal illness). A few days later, she checked both containers. The stainless steel container was loaded with E. coli; the wooden vat container had almost none.

A quick (and dirty) look online gives this about “Alactasia”, the phenomenon of not being able to metabolise lactose, the sugar in milk, because of the absence of lactase.
BUT this does not simply apply to raw milk. It’s an uncommon, if popular, diagnosis, an applies to all cows’ milk. So it is a problem for BigAg, as well.
The idea of a part share in a cow is popular where we live. It allows us to access raw milk. Yum!

Just for perspective, the “Rural New-Yorker” published letters about this issue in the October 30, 1943 and February 19, 1944 issues. There’s probably more discussion I’ve missed in these old papers. If not printed on old, brittle newsprint, it seems to be just the same as today.

We kids were given raw cows milk when visiting the grandparents farm in the 50s and 60s. I don’t remember being ill from it but that was quite a while ago. Also, if I remember right, the cow dispensed it into the bucket (I was too young to learn to milk), and then cooled in the fridge or spring house. There was something about skimming off the cream; I believe that was a treasure carried back to suburbia. And that was what we drank.

Here in Pennsylvania, we can get raw milk but the dairy has to be willing to jump through the right hoops. I sometimes get it for a friend who has trouble with pasteurized milk but is fine with the raw. Odd though, if chocolate is present, she has no trouble…

There usta was something called “Certified Raw Milk” in many states. You had to be inspected and tested to be Certified.

But the industrial milk lobby did away with that, because they couldn’t compete with it.

The herd share movement is a good way to pursue raw milk if you can’t legally buy it.

I doubt that nature ever intended adult humans to drink milk anyway. Isn’t milk for babies?

You’ve been listening to your vegan friends again. 🙂

On at least four occasions, populations of humans have evolved the ability to process lactose as an adult. Most people whose ancestry includes Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, India, and Mongolia have those genes.

Seems to me that “nature” has been pretty “intent” on having us drink milk!

Anyone who has seen an adult cat or adult dog enjoying milk knows that this argument has more to do with not having opposable thumbs than with what “nature intended.” If our cats could physically milk our goats, I’m sure they would!

Yep. As a retired nurse I know how important good bacteria are to our guts (gastrointestinal systems), which are the major part of our immune system. People would be horrified to know how much of our bodies are actually not “us,” but are bacteria–and that’s a good thing! It’s hard for me to find raw milk with all its healthy probiotics (good bacteria) so I make kefir from pasteurized milk, which is essentially adding the good bacteria back in. Any type of fermented food will provide our bodies and guts with the good bacteria we need to keep our immune systems healthy. We’ve learned that all the little micro-organisms in the soil are healthy for our gardens and help plants get what they need to perform well. We also have these little beasties growing in our guts and we need them!

That said, I would be stunned senseless if anyone in government or BigAg ever looked objectively at the situation and said, “Yes, it’s time to change the laws.” It’s not about what’s true or good for us or even what is the correct (unbiased, unpaid-for) “science.” It’s about some corporation’s bottom line. Period.

I have been drinking raw milk for the past two years or so, and have noticed that I get sick a lot less than I used to. My husband stuck with the pasteurized stuff and is still coming down with colds. I have thought about sneaking raw milk into his glass when he’s not looking, but haven’t done it yet.

I agree with Gene that with all the innovations in disease prevention and sanitation of dairy facilities/animals that it makes raw milk safer. What I wonder is how do we make sure that the people producing the milk are using these resources? The easiest way would be to have them state inspected like all other dairy farms but I’m not sure how well that would work.

I buy it in Oklahoma. I drink a LOT of milk.

My dad grew up on a farm and they always had a milk cow. That didn’t change until he was 28 and I was 6 when he sold our cow and we started having milk delivered. That was in 1958. He has always drank a quart or more of milk every day. He is still in good health and still has all his teeth. No one cares if you drink raw milk, you just can’t sell it.

I drink raw milk. I like raw milk. You will have to take the raw milk jug out of my cold dead hand.
Johnny Coleman
SSG, US Army

Reminds me of back when the big farm magazines and powers that be said small farming was impossible to make a living from and was dead. Finally after decades of predicting the end of small farming they just went ahead and buried the casket empty!We have power hungry groups of people who want to make everything they dont agree with or might take money from their greedy pockets illegal. this saturday I will turn 56 and have been waiting for the other shoe to drop for years in which the govt will say people like me cant own land or farm small.With the loss of places to just haul a pick up load of hogs or lambs in a couple times a year,they just about done that.One farmer i worked for for 12 years after a second wave of low hog prices and getting sick of the johnny come lately housing developments finally quit raising hogs at his home location after raising them there all of my life. The constant petitions and one huge housing development that snuck in by starting building in the center of the property so they were the adjoining landowners until they got to the outside of the property probably complained the loudest.Too bad . Hauling hog manure behind those places was my most satisfying work! lol I still am waiting for the govt to make farming without chemicals or farming small illegal.I’ve never tasted raw milk and hope to sometime in the future. Gene I often think back to articles of yours and some others that wrote about small farmer like Bob Frey and your cousin Dave Haeford and wonder what became of them and their farms. It would be nice to do some follow ups on these people and what became of them.There was two small hog farmers one in ohio and i think iowa.One wanted to remain anonymous in iowa or someplace in the midwest with cold That hi biggest luxury was a tractor with power steering and he built his own farrowing house. H e bedded with straw and did things the old fashioned way.There has been a couple of dairy farmers who farmed about 70-100 acres for a living.It”s nice to know that some are still fighting the govt and odds to amke a living and live a small life.

Excellent. The rationale for Pasteurisation of milk was Tuberculosis. We now test cattle for TB.
I recall, as a child, longish – well, they seemed that way – holidays in the Swiss alps ‘climbing’ down the mountain below our rented chalet, milk pail in hand, and watching the farmer hand milk one of his cows, from which we drank the milk, warm. This was not long after WWII.
Maybe, in the intervening years, there might have been episodes of TB transmission, but the case for Pasteurisation may well be outdated, now.
What gets me is why we also have to have our milk ‘homogenised’? I remember watching Jaques Tati’s film, “Mon Oncle”, in which the child is taken out, by his lugubrious uncle, from the sterile surroundings of his mother’s home – everything is meticulously clean – for the day. Tati – Mon Oncle – takes the nephew to a vendor of crèpes with lashings of jam, made in a far from sterile street stall. A wonderful, silent, commentary. My mother, a child of WWI, had a saying, from her mother, ” you’ll have to eat a peck of dirt before you die”. (For the Americans among you a “peck” was an Imperial measurement of weight).
We live in “nanny states”, and unfortunately the states do not keep up with the legislation. We are left with a residuum of outdated or unnecessary laws, although they might, in the past, have been useful.


Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy all of your writing, and have most of your books. I got in a long discussion yesterday with a friend about how great pasteurization is and how horrible raw milk is, so I emailed him your blog here on raw milk!

I started logging with horses 24 years ago and use a portable sawmill to help people build their houses and for woodworking. Living the dream! You were a big part of my inspiration to pursue what I’m doing now. I talked to my wife about your books to encourage her to go along with my dream. Buying the sawmill sealed the deal!

Wes Gustafson

For what it is worth: both my wife and I consume a lot of dairy products. Both raw from our own cows or goats and pasteurized from a store. I can’t irrefutably claim a direct link to dairy consumption but my wife was able to defeat ovarian cancer and appendicitis when she was diagnosed a year ago and given a few months to live. The surgical team was amazed that her immune system had surrounded and killed both the cancer and the substances emitted from the ruptured appendix with some substance I can’t really pronounce. Of course, there were a lot of prayers sent on her behalf but the fact remains the dairy product naysayers claiming milk causes cancer or weakens the immune system don’t have a leg to stand on in her case.

In my case I recently had two total knee replacements in part because I have a genetic mutation causing my body to retain too much iron, which condition is referred to as hemachromatosis. As I understand the symptoms, the iron accumulates in vital organs and joints. All I know is that the pain in the knees became crippling because the cartilage had been ground away. However, I warned the surgeon who operated on my knees that probably attributable to genetics but also becasue we consume dairy and lots of home grown vegetables my bones would most likely be very hard. This statement was verified when the surgeon stated to me after I came out from under the anesthesia that my leg bones were the hardest he had ever encountered and wore out his bits or blades used to cut the bone. On the second knee he used a diamond bit or blade to cut the bone from the start of surgery. He also stated I had the most bone scarring he had ever observed. Although 25 years of knee pain is a lot to endure, I still think that if I had not consumed dairy and vegetables in large quantities I would have ended up in a wheelchair long ago.

In relation to hemachromatosis and dairy consumption, in my understanding dairy is a good source of calcium and high quality protein and fats but doesn’t have the biologically available iron that meat does. Therefore, I tend to rely on dairy for those nutrients. Vegetarian sources of those nutrients just do not work for me. Therefore, I don’t want the food-oriented social engineers to tell me what I can or cannot consume.

So it is only reasonable in these allegedly free and independent United States that we should be able to buy or produce and consume what kind of milk or other food and beverages we want without government or big business interference. I suggest that social engineers, especially those who tell me what to eat or drink or to stay away from the sun or tanning booths or don’t run but walk instead or whatever the other aspects of modern living become the cause of the day, need to get a life and let the rest of us live our lives as we see fit. This is still America, land of the free and home of the brave– RIGHT? Excellent article Gene. You always make me think.

I admit I don’t know much about milk, raw or not. I pour it in my tea every morning and that’s about it. I breast fed my babies and they drank milk as toddlers. As far as I know they still drink milk. I do think, however that we should be allowed to decide whether to drink whatever kind of milk we want to. I can go to the liquor store and buy whatever kind of booze I prefer, or beer or wine. I wouldn’t call that especially healthy. I know it’s not the same thing. The concern is bacteria but I agree with Gene. Times have changed and it’s time the laws did too. This argument is about greed more than it is about health and safety.

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