Raw milk has once again become a hotly debated issue in recent years. Within Lane County, support for raw milk seems particularly vocal, as many activists and naturalist groups reside in the area.
Raw milk differs from regular and even organic milk in that it comes straight from the source that produces the milk. This type of milk is full-fat, has not been through any processing, and comes from pasture-fed animals. It is a completely natural substance that has not received treatment of any kind. As stated on the website of Cottage Grove’s family farm Wholesome Family Farm, raw milk from Jersey cows contains 18% more protein, 29% more butterfat (cream), 20% more calcium, and more of the vitamins A, B1 and B2 compared to other dairy breeds.
Statistics like these make it sound like raw milk is an excellent option for those seeking more natural nutrients. Raw milk advocates hope to see the expansion of raw milk into commercial stores. But the production and selling of raw milk is one of the more hotly contested issues not only in the state of Oregon, but in the entire United States as well. Many in the health industry would like to see the end of the product entirely.
As it stands right now, Oregon law states that raw milk cannot be sold in stores but can be purchased at small farms. It is important to note, however, that raw goat milk can be found in select stores that choose to feature the product.
The FDA and pasteurization
Many of the benefits of consuming raw milk come from the extra nutrients supplied by the substance. In the report “Report In Favor of Raw Milk,” presented to the Los Angeles County Board, Dr. William Campbell Douglas, Jr. (M.D., author of a clinical study on milk) and Dr. Aajonus Vonderplanitz (Ph.D. Nutrition, Nutritional Scientist) set forth their case for raw milk. They said:
“Raw milk is by far the most convenient and acceptable form of raw animal proteins, supplying the enzymes, antibodies, and nutrients needed for recovery from disease.”
The report details how raw milk differs from pasteurized milk. After pasteurization, milk loses 90% of its enzymes, as much as 65% of Vitamin A, D, E and F, 50% of Vitamin C, up to 50% of calcium, and 10 of its essential fats become altered by the heat.
“Raw, unpasteurized milk can carry dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria”—
—all bacteria and germs with which many modern day consumers find themselves very concerned.
But despite all of the evidence stating that there are risks associated with the consumption of raw milk, many naturalist consumers have sought to purchase the product for decades despite the recent phenomenon of pasteurization. Pasteurization is the process through which milk is heated to remove harmful pathogens before being dispersed to stores. It is a relatively new fad in the history of the human race, largely taking hold of the public’s attention in the 1950s.
Many of those who continue to purchase the product cite the fact that the risks are substantially smaller than one would think when you first read the quote by the FDA. Compared to deli meats, it has been shown that raw milk poses much less of a risk to consumers in terms of contracting a food-borne illness. While raw milk may have bacteria within it that can cause illness, it is never usually allowed to multiply to harmful levels due to the good organisms within the substance.
Wholesome Family Farm
Wholesome Family Farm is one of the small farms surrounding the Eugene area that produces raw milk. The farm is a herd share farm, where multiple businesses may place a cow/product on the same farm in order to ensure the same quality of treatment as others in the business. For Joseph Bray, owner of Wholesome, this means that he is responsible for the safe handling of multiple cows and their products, the safe extraction of the raw milk, and the timely deliveries that occur each and every day. While the Bray family does not sell milk directly from their farm, milk produced at their farm can be purchased through the owners of the cows on their farm.
The farm is run by Joseph Bray along with his wife, Cammie. As detailed by Joseph, his average day starts around six in the morning with it ending around seven at night, provided that all operations and deliveries run smoothly. He and his family run the one-year-old business, milking the cows twice a day and ensure the safe treatment of both the cows and the milk.
In reference to the production of raw milk, Bray had this to say:
“Everything starts with the health of the cow. Cows are naturally made so their stomachs are an alkaline base. If they are eating the foods they were designed to eat, then they retain an alkaline base. Most pathogens and negative bacteria as well as various parasites only thrive in the gut of an acidic animal.”
This is where the debate arises in the eyes of Bray:
“You have to actually change the cows’ rumen from alkaline to acidic: a process mainly done by feeding [the cows] a lot of corn and grains.”
Avoiding feeding the cows these products should maintain the cows’ original alkaline base and prevent the spread of harmful pathogens, a goal that Joseph keeps close to heart, “Our first and foremost goal is to maintain their (the cows) health and keep the cows with an alkiline based stomach.”
Bray details his safe-handling procedures by outlining his closed bucket milking process:
“A closed bucket milking system makes it so no air enters the milk during the milking process.”
For those unfamiliar with this process, this ensures that no outside pathogens/bacteria/material enters the milk at any stage in the process. The raw milk product is then ice-bathed to 33/34 degrees as fast as possible, to inhibit any potential bacteria from growing. It is then transported on ice to refrigerators where customers pick up products at their leisure.
Bray forthrightly supports the raw milk industry. He believes that raw milk provides numerous benefits that outweigh the associated risks:
“Realistically we are talking about a very nutrient-dense, easily-assembled food that provides a lot of Vitamin A and D. They also provide a lot of very good fat calories — calories that are very good for children that are burning through lots of calories.”
In response to the allegations of food borne illnesses, Bray was dismissive:
“The risks are no different than any other food that you put in your mouth. If you have a food that has been contaminated with any kind of pathogen, and you consume it, you will run the risk of having that pathogen interact with your body. Raw milk and pasteurized milk product combined account for approximately 1% of all food borne illness every year.”
The politics of milk
So where does the illness debate come from? Bray believes there is more to it than just raw milk and a costs vs. benefits analysis. Bray believes the debate is inherently political:
“This is political in nature because of a very simple fact — people are beginning to choose local food sources, and if there is a statewide or national association tied with a product they will try to legislate against their opposition. It is their paid job to increase the sales of their member base. They are not humanitarians; they are a business.”
As with so many things these days, from Chick-Fil-A to Oreos, raw milk is also highly politicized. Big businesses, according to Bray and numerous other producers of raw milk, are trying to cast a shadow of doubt over their product so they hold less of a market share in what is a highly competitive market.
There are both benefits and drawbacks from drinking raw milk. Some of the benefits include: consuming more nutrients, using a product that is naturally produced, and according to many supporters of raw milk, consuming a product that tastes better too. Drawbacks include exposure to harmful bacteria, exposure that results in small traces of pathogens, and in general a fattier milk.
But for Joseph Bray and his family at Wholesome Family Farm, raw milk has become much more than their business. It has become their way of life. His family not only produces the milk for the businesses invested in their farm but consumes it on a regular basis as well.
For many people who like the idea of consuming natural products, raw milk may be a viable option for them with the proper education about the substance before consumption occurs. While the Oregon legislature has not allowed its distribution in stores throughout the state (excluding goat milk), many people still go out of their way to find this beneficial and whole product at small farms and businesses.
For more information about Wholesome Family Farm, visit their website at http://wholesomefamilyfarm.com. For more information on the aforementioned FDA report, “The Dangers of Raw Milk,” visit the FDA website here. For more information on the aforementioned Douglas and Vonderplanitz report, ” Report In Favor of Raw Milk,” visit the report here.