The Risky Business of Raw Milk.

Via Monica Johnson
on Apr 11, 2013
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Flickr: The Commons
Flickr: The Commons

The Right to Drink Raw Milk—

From the Fields of our Farms to the Halls of our Courts!

Born into a family of farmers, my father grew up in rural Western Missouri. The nearest town was miles away, so being self-sufficient was a must. What his family did not eat from their garden was canned and frozen. Meat was often hunted in nearby timber, and milk was provided by two Jersey cows.

My father had farm chores, but it was his father who hand-milked the cows twice a day—early in the morning and at dusk. They drank the raw milk at home and sold the surplus to supplement their income, as did most of the neighboring farmers. A truck would come by daily and pick it up, then take it to a local processing plant where it was homogenized and pasteurized.

Contaminated milk started to become a problem and the processing plant demanded that the farmers stop milking by hand and start using milking machines. E. coli and Salmonella are common pathogens that thrive in the environment milk provides. Milk can become contaminated in several ways: feces coming in contact with the milk, infection of the udder, diseased cow, dirty milking environment, or cross contamination from insects, rodents and humans.

Milking the cows was already a hassle for my grandfather. When you’re out in the fields trying to harvest wheat before a storm blows in, the last thing you want to do is stop and go milk cows. He made his money from cash crops like soybeans, corn and wheat. However, the overall cost of farming was rising and investing in milking machines and other upgrades wasn’t worth the time or money. They sold the cows and started buying pasteurized milk from the store. My dad remembers that he preferred the taste of raw milk, except in spring-time when it tasted of the wild onions the cows would graze on.

During a recent trip to Texas, I decided to get some raw milk. State regulations allow the sale of raw milk in Texas, as long as it is purchased from the farm where it was produced. Other states like, California, allow it to be sold in stores as long as they have a permit. In a few states, you can acquire it for pet consumption or through a herdshare. In several states, like New Jersey, it is illegal to sell.

After a quick internet search I found Homestead Farm, run by a husband-wife team. They sell Grade “A” raw goat milk along with some vegetables and meats. Their website states that they undergo monthly government inspections and that their milk is routinely tested for infection in the animal and pathogens in the milk. Strict standards of production are important when looking for a raw milk provider.

This small farm is set just outside of Ft. Worth in a neighborhood you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find a farm. As I pulled up to their cute market I could see the goats, whose milk I’d be drinking soon, a few feet away. After paying $7.50 for half a gallon I transported it home in a cooler, eager to try it out.

Raw milk advocates are willing to pay a high price for their milk, claiming it tastes better and has health benefits including clearing up eczema, relieving asthma, and even helping beat cancer. I have had raw milk before, both goat and cow, but I have to say that this milk was the best tasting milk I have ever had. It was beyond fresh—sweet, full-bodied and smooth.

So what makes the government so eager to lock this milk away?

There is a chance you can contract a food-borne illness by drinking raw milk. The government warns consumers to steer clear of raw milk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will tell you it is because of the numerous pathogen outbreaks and hospitalizations due to illness. However, when you compare the data with other foods that contributed to illness and death, the egg and dairy category, raw and pasteurized, comes in third to meat/poultry and produce. So while there is a chance you can contract a food-borne illness with all milk and other dairy, there is a higher chance you will contract it from meats or vegetables. While I am far from a conspiracy theorist, it does seem like the raw milk industry is being unjustly targeted.

Our food safety system is not fail-proof. This is why it is important to be an educated consumer-to stay informed and follow a few guidelines to reduce the risk of contamination. There are certain groups of people who may want to consider not consuming raw milk: those who are pregnant and those who have a weak immune system: children, older adults, and those with an auto-immune disease. If you are going to consume raw milk, source it wisely. The most important thing you can do is to know your farmer. Ultimately, your health is your responsibility.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when sourcing raw milk.

●          Establish a relationship with your farmer.

●          Ask him/her questions.

●          Visit the farm and make sure the milking area and tools are clean.

●          Know the farmers milking schedule so you can get the milk when it’s freshest.

●          Make sure the milk is certified Grade “A”.


This originally appeared in Food Politic, March 2013.


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Ed: Brianna Bemel


About Monica Johnson

Monica is Co-Conspirator at Hudson Farms, located in far East, Texas. Monica is currently using 2014 to build the farm's soil and experiment, but looks forward to selling nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables and value-added products made from local ingredients in the Spring of 2015. When she's not farming she's probably in the kitchen cooking healthy meals, enjoying a glass of wine, or listening to the St. Louis Cardinals baseball broadcast. To connect with Monica visit, follow her on Twitter: @broccolimojo, or on Instagram: MonicaMarvels


12 Responses to “The Risky Business of Raw Milk.”

  1. mark ledbetter says:

    Not often that Ele and, the free market libertarians, see eye to eye:

    Ron Paul is in on it too:

  2. Dairy Lover says:

    Milk is wonderful, but when your udder hangs close to the ground and close to feces it will inevitably become contaminated. Animals get into ponds and mud and even other animals' fecal material. Even if not visible, there are bacteria teeming on teat ends. Mastitic bacteria are not as much as a concern with health as are environmental pathogens. The bacteria inside the udder cause clots of milk from white blood cells but the external pathogens are very capable of causing illness in humans. Ruminants have naturally occurring bacteria in their gut that is pathogenic to humans so you must be wary of raw milk. We cook our other food, pasteurizing milk is no different, and homogenization is just forcing the milk through a tiny sieve to make the milk and cream stay together. As much as I would love to indulge in raw milk, it is simply not safe for mass consumption. Maybe small creameries that are very careful with their tiny herd but not from a farm with a large number of animals to be milked. There are too many factors that can make it unsafe.

  3. Jen says:

    I have never tried raw milk but I have heard that veggies and fruits are better for you if the are raw. I suppose the same could be true of milk. It kind of freaks me out though. I think I will stay away from raw milk.

  4. LLL says:

    Raw milk (heated by yourself to just under boiling) is way easier to digest . All the bad press on animal fats stems from the beginning of homogenization and pasteurization.

  5. Rosa says:

    When I was a kid we frequently had raw milk from our neighbors farm. Of course, this was before cows were pumped with hormones and antibiotics. I think homogenization and pasteurization had ruined a somewhat good food. I stay away from milk as much as possible now.

  6. Monica says:

    Thanks for the read!! To each their own 🙂

  7. Monica says:

    Thank you for the read and sharing your thoughts!

  8. Monica says:

    I personally only consume raw goats milk occasionally. I usually just use homemade almond milk for myself!

  9. dejah says:

    Raw milk is not illegal in CT, but it's still hard to find. A bit easier in the summer though, when the farmers' markets are around! I love the taste of raw milk–it really is different from the stuff you buy in the gallon jugs at the grocery store.

    It's too bad it's illegal in some places. I think it's something that should be left to consumer choice.

  10. Monica says:

    Thanks for the read and sharing!

  11. Howard says:

    I found a source and drank raw milk regularly for two years. It tended to go sour a bit more quickly, but the taste was much much better than even organic pasteurized milk. And raw milk never soured my stomach the way pasteurized milk does. I never experienced any ill effects from raw milk and never heard of any other complaints from members in my cooperative. The only reason I stopped drinking it is that the distribution network changed and I couldn't reestablish my connection.

    It's important to keep in mind that homogenization and pasteurization does not mean that your milk can't be subsequently contaminated. The farmer I bought from ran a clean operation and welcomed input from members of the coop. In the end, food safety is all about minimizing risk.

  12. Justin says:

    If you have children, it is important to note that recently the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has joined many other groups calling for a ban on the sale of raw milk.