Mark McAfee is the founder of Organic Pastures Dairy and, more importantly, one of the leaders in the raw milk movement.
His interest in raw milk goes back to his childhood days, as he grew up on a dairy farm near Caruthers, California.
His parents eventually sold the farm, but when his grandparents passed away, he decided to take over their land and start an organic farm, which became Organic Pastures.
Many of you listening to this interview are familiar with the benefits of raw food, but many are still concerned about their safety; raw milk in particular.
It’s important to realize that there are actually two kinds of raw milk, and they are not interchangeable.
One is actually ideal for drinking raw, while the other must be pasteurized in order to be safe to drink.
The Rise of Pasteurized Milk
McAfee explains the early history of pasteurization, which began around 1893 with parboiling. Prior to that, people had brought their cows with them as they settled into cities, and the conditions under which the milk was produced were deplorable.
“In 1812 there was a blockade against Jamaica. We couldn’t get rum in the United States and we wanted our rum. So these brewery/distillery dairies started to pop up in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Distiller’s grains were fed to cows that had been brought into the city with the city dwellers. It was a cheap feed and the cows would produce milk, but the problem was that cows had never eaten distiller’s swill [mostly grains] before … It changed their gut physiology.
They didn’t have flushing toilets, no hot water, no chlorine…The cows were milked by hand and [the people] were… carrying tuberculosis, brucellosis. Typhoid was rampant.
On a cold morning people would put their feet in the milk to keep warm when they milked the cow. Filthy conditions!… Fifty percent of the people who drank the swill milk died… In fact it was called ‘the milk problem’ at the time.
… In 1893 a guy by the name of Coit developed the udder milk… the certified milk; and determined that doctors should prescribe raw milk that comes from clean dairies; grass fed, sunshine dairies with sanitary practices and low bacteria counts… So you had two kinds of raw milk in America…”
Today, the milk from grain-fed cows raised in large confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s), sometimes referred to as factory farms, is rendered safe by heating, while the milk from grass-fed cows raised on smaller, clean farms can be safely consumed without being pasteurized. A difference in safety between the two types of milk is due to the cow’s diet and the conditions under which they are raised.
“From the 1910’s through 1940s or so, raw milk and pasteurized milk lived in harmony, in parallel. There were thousands of certified raw milk dairies. Raw milk was very popular. It brought a lot of value to the farmer. It brought a lot of nutrition to the consumer. Kids had… no ear infections, asthma, and good immune systems from the good bacteria found in this carefully prepared, approved, physician-authorized milk.
But in 1945, we had World War II… We were bankrupt as a country. We had the industrial revolution. DDT was good for your skin and smoking was good for your health. We really didn’t have a deep appreciation for nutrition.
… Young guys would be hurt in battle, get a shot of antibiotics, and they lived. It was miraculous. So mankind had this supercharged, fix-anything mentality [when it came to] industry and medicine… Dirty milk was rendered less important because you could fix it with pasteurization. Why deal with all these quality assurance issues of certified clean milk? So you saw a decline in the certified raw milk movement.”
The Reemergence of Raw Milk
It took 120 years, but the benefits of raw milk are finally starting to be understood and acknowledged again. Unfortunately, many are now under the misperception that all raw milk is unclean and unsafe, completely ignoring the circumstances of the debacle that led to the creation of pasteurization in the first place, and the fact that not all raw milk is the same.
In confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s), large groups of animals are kept in a small space, oftentimes without natural light or access to the outdoors. The conditions are filthy, with animals standing in each other’s waste. Needless to say, harmful bacteria naturally thrives in these conditions. To combat disease, the animals are fed antibiotics. They may also receive hormones, which increase milk production, and they’re fed a diet of grains and soy (most of which is now the genetically engineered variety) rather than grass, which alters their gut flora and makes them even more prone to disease.
As a result, drinking CAFO milk raw would be extremely dangerous. It must be pasteurized for safety. Unfortunately, most of the actual nutrition found in milk is destroyed during pasteurization.
The process also alters the milk molecule and as a result, pasteurized milk tops the list of allergenic foods. Raw organic grass-fed milk, on the other hand, has many well-recognized health benefits and medicinal qualities. According to McAfee, increasing numbers of doctors are now starting to prescribe raw organic dairy for children with asthma, recurrent ear infections or chronic inflammation, rather than just telling them to quit dairy altogether, because they recognize it’s not the dairy itself—the problem is pasteurized dairy.
Raw grass-fed milk can even be tolerated by most that are lactose intolerant.
“… [T]wo huge studies were done in Europe – the PARSIFAL study done in 2006, studying 15,000 kids, and the GABRIELA study, which was just completed this year, done in Basel, Switzerland. Peer reviewed, internationally published, wonderful documentation showing that whey protein in raw milk stabilizes mast cells and actually makes asthma get a lot better, and in some cases, completely gone,” McAfee says.
“What we have is this polarity, these polar opposites between pasteurized milk, which has lots of dead bacteria… which actually trigger inflammation in your body because your body doesn’t recognize these waste products… Your body then reacts by mast cells breaking open, histamines being released, and things like asthma and inflammation flaring like crazy; mucus being laid down, which causes ear infections. Raw milk does exactly the opposite… [T]he milk is alive [with beneficial] bacteria and your body recognizes it… [These beneficial bacteria] colonize and become part of your immune system.”
On Raw Milk Safety Standards
McAfee created and published the first international raw milk safety standards. The State of California has set very good, high standards for raw milk producers, but as he traveled around the US and other countries to talk about raw milk, he realized that other areas were sorely lacking in such safety standards. In response to the requests from dairy farmers around the country, he published Raw USA as a guide to producing clean, safe raw milk.
Last year, the publication evolved into The Raw Milk Institute, a non-profit organization (not affiliated with Organic Pastures Dairy), to help establish common standards that all farmers can embrace.
“It’s kind of an interesting evolution in the movement, because where you don’t have standards you have chaos,” McAfee says. “Although the standards don’t have to be particularly strict, they need to be there in some kind of guideline form so consumers know what they’ve got. And farmers can say, that’s what I do.”
Organic Pastures Latest Victim in Raw Milk War
On November 15, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and the California Department of Public Health swooped down on Organic Pastures and recalled all their raw dairy products after five people in four nearby counties fell ill and tested positive for E.Coli O157:H7. The Department of Public Health claimed that the only common denominator between the five victims was that they’d purchased raw milk from Organic Pastures. However, the CDFA itself tests all of Organic Pastures’ products for pathogens on a regular basis. And the farm also tests their products with a third- party to ensure its safety.
This is yet another example of how raw milk is almost instinctively pegged as the culprit, even when there’s absolutely no evidence.
Meanwhile, just two days after Organic Pastures was shut down without any proof of contamination, RTT News reported that California-based Ready Pac Foods Inc. was voluntarily recalling 5,379 cases of bagged salad due to fears of E. coli contamination after one random FDA sample tested positive for—you guessed it—E.coli O157:H7! The recalled salad products had been sold in California, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.
On December 12, the CDFA delivered the environmental (food contact surfaces) lab results, which came back negative for E.COli 0157-H7. Third-party lab testing also found no traces of E.Coli.
Finally, after a month-long quarantine, Organic Pastures was cleared and allowed to resume business on December 16. The release from quarantine came on the same day Organic Pastures filed an emergency injunctive relief petition with the Fresno County Superior Court, along with all of the test results showing hundreds of product and facility environmental samples tested negative for E. Coli 0157-H7.
Raw Milk is about as Safe a Food as You Can Find…
While the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claim they’re raiding raw dairies out of concern for your health, the facts truly do not support such a harsh stance. Similarly, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have long claimed that between 1998 and 2008, there were two deaths from raw milk. This number is often used in media reporting about raw milk. But those illnesses actually appear to have come from a form of cheese that isn’t legal under current FDA regulations, called queso fresco.
What the CDC is telling you about the dangers of raw milk is actually completely contrary to the truth. The truth is that the risk of foodborne illness from many other foods (such as pasteurized milk, mass-produced meat and poultry, and bagged greens) is much greater than from raw milk, provided the raw milk comes from a dairy that adheres to proper raw milk standards. Yet the CDC and the FDA both continue to misuse, manipulate and suppress data in order to frighten the public.
If you want to be afraid of milk, you have far more reason to fear drinking pasteurized milk.
While there has not been one single death due to raw milk between 1998 and 2008, the United States’ largest recorded outbreak of Salmonella resulted from pasteurized milk. However, the CDC never issued a specific Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for this outbreak…The incident, which occurred between June 1984 and April 1985, resulted in 200,000 illnesses and 18 deaths! Yet this and other outbreaks of illness resulting from the consumption of pasteurized milk are kept from public knowledge, and escapes warnings from both CDC and FDA.
In fact, they have never issued a warning against commercially pasteurized milk! This is just one example of the CDC’s ongoing bias against raw dairy products.
“We haven’t seen any deaths from raw milk since the data started being collected in 1973,” McAfee says. “[There are] no deaths in the CDC website from raw milk. There have been over 80 deaths from pasteurized milk during that time period if you include the Jalisco cheese incident which killed 50 people all by itself in 1985 – pasteurized milk cheese.
The safety record is really, really good as far death is concerned, but we still see 30 or 40 people a year that get sick from raw milk because of misunderstood or misapplied practices. But it’s not rocket science. That’s why the Raw Milk Institute was founded; to help farmers get a reference point and help farmers build their food safety plans. Again, they are just daily checklists to make sure that conditions are right so that you have a reliable outcome all the time.”
While there are no guarantees of perfection, it’s worth keeping in mind that the potential for foodborne illness applies to ANY food. Twenty-five deaths were recently traced back to cantaloupe, for example.
Unfortunately, matters are made worse from consumption of conventionally raised foods laced with antibiotics and pesticides that destroy your delicate gut flora—remember; about 80 percent of your immune system resides in your gut, so maintaining a balanced gut flora is very important. Without it, you can become more prone to foods contaminated with even small amounts of harmful bacteria.
“I encourage everybody to go to RawMilkInstitute.org and become a member because not everybody is as privileged as we are in California to have raw milk on shelves and many people embracing it. In the majority of the states, you can’t get raw milk,” McAfee says.
“We encourage everybody to support it because the only way it’s going to fly is by everybody joining together and putting their two cents in. It’s important that we all collectively get together on this… Nobody is collecting the information to show that… when you do raw milk for human consumption, it’s really safe. We’re going to prove that, and show that.
We know it’s possible. We have done it ourselves in California… Now we’re going to demonstrate it very publicly, to educate the FDA, make them friends of ours, get the legislatures behind us, get regulations behind us, and actually go forward to serve, ultimately, the farmer and the consumer – the two people in the food chain that really matter.”
While it can be a challenge finding raw milk in some areas, for the most part, you can access it one way or another no matter where you live. RealMilk.com is a wonderful resource that can help you locate your nearest raw milk supplier in the US.
“It has a national state-by-state layout map of where you can find raw milk,” McAfee says. “And even where it’s illegal you can connect with somebody. If you want raw milk you can get it. It may not be as convenient in some places but you can certainly find it. The more you go out and buy raw milk and support local farmers, the healthier you’re going to be, guaranteed, with very few exceptions.
Most of people, I think you have a challenge with some casein or something in your gut. You have a hard time with raw milk but most people have no problem at all drinking raw milk.”
A big part of the battle is education; teaching consumers, farmers, and regulators about the science of raw milk. Consumers also need to realize that every time you make a purchase, you’re voting with your pocketbook, for better or worse. You’re supporting one system of farming or another, depending on what you choose to spend your money on. So by seeking out and requesting raw milk to be more readily available, you’re helping to steer the trend.
“There is so much unconsciousness going right now,” McAfee says. “People believe they can live anyway they want, eat whatever they want…because they got a magic pill, or a doctor that is going to fix them with a lap band or a surgery or insulin. No. We have to take personal responsibility. We cannot afford to be where we’re at… We have to take personal responsibility and reverse that track and go back to organic whole food… That’s what we’re supposed to be nourishing ourselves with… I would really encourage people to take personal responsibility for their health…”
Ron Paul Championing the Fight for Raw Milk
Taking control of your health automatically means defending your right to food, as well as other alternative treatments, such as supplements. Unfortunately, your rights to raw milk is not a given in the US, and neither is your right to healthful organic food. You need to get involved and help protect our rights to all natural foods, and help staunch the deregulation of genetically modified foods as well.
Presidential candidate Ron Paul has taken up the battle to protect your rights for access to raw milk by introducing House Bill HR 1830, which authorizes the interstate traffic of unpasteurized milk and raw milk products that are packaged for direct human consumption. On May 13, 2011, this bill was send to House Subcommittee on Health. This bill would make it legal for farmers to sell and distribute raw milk across state lines.
I cannot urge you strongly enough to support Ron Paul’s bill, HR 1830, and inform everyone you know. This issue has nothing to do with whether or not you want to drink raw milk, and everything to do with whether or not you want the right to chose what you feed your family. If we allow the U.S. government to remove our right to raw milk, who knows what could be next?
The Farm-to-Consumer Defense Fund has created a petition page for HR 1830 that also automatically faxes your message to your U.S. Senators and House Representative. You can even choose to send your message to your nearest daily newspaper.
I urge you to take a moment to sign the petition right now! By joining the fight to protect access to raw milk, you’re not only standing up for raw milk, but you’re standing up for your freedom of choice. No one, and certainly not any government agency or dairy lobby, should be able to restrict your access to pure, unadulterated food.
The following is a list of resources that can help you become better informed:
The RawMilkInstitute.org contains a lot of information about raw milk. To support raw dairy farmers everywhere, and the movement in general, consider becoming a member
Organizations like the Weston A. Price Foundation and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund are working toward true freedom of choice for American consumers, and I urge you to get involved in their causes.
McAfee’s website, www.OrganicPastures.com, is also an excellent resource.
Finally, consider watching Farmageddon: The Unseen War on American Family Farms, a documentary by Kristin Canty that may just make your blood boil.