Some Answers to Key Questions About Raw Milk from “The Untold Story of Milk”

Shell_Game.gifAbout once a week, I read an article with a headline similar to the one in the Saturday edition of a suburban Chicago newspaper: “State Warns of Bad Milk”. It’s a report from the Illinois Department of Public Health that a batch of raw milk from a particular farm tested positive for salmonella. Mind you, no one got sick.

How is it that these reports prompt special newspaper articles, while nothing is ever mentioned about the fact that nearly 80% of ground beef contains fecal matter, with between 7 and 12% having salmonella and listeria bacteria?

According to “The Untold Story of Milk”, “Raw milk…produced by a literal handful of small farmers, is an easy and historically vulnerable target. Thus we have the rather odd situation of scores of local, state, and federal public health workers investigating ‘outbreaks’ of generally mild gastrointestinal illness in often only a handful of individuals who may have become ill because they drank raw milk…(and) the public…continues to consume feces in most of their hamburgers…”

Though “The Untold Story of Milk” by Ron Schmid, a naturopathic physician, was published four years ago, it seems almost more relevant today than it was then. I’ve been reading through it over the last several weeks (at the suggestion of several readers), and have found it very helpful in explaining a number of things we’ve been discussing on this blog. Having said that, I’d especially recommend it to Melissa Herzog and Mary McGonigle-Martin.

While the author makes a strong case for both the health benefits of raw milk along with our individual right to choose to consume raw milk, he does so in a non-strident way, using well documented historical and research data to make his case.

Unlike some raw milk advocates, Schmid admits that people occasionally do get sick from raw milk, though he points out that the problem of food-borne illness is much more vast for other products like meat and eggs. The problem is this: “The current double standard—that calls for unreasonably strict standards for raw milk and more lenient standards for other foods—is neither rational nor just.” Problems in our beef, eggs, and even in pasteurized milk make people sick as well.

What I found most fascinating was his careful examination of the history of milk in the U.S., and how different the milk situation looks today than it did 100 years ago. Then, pasteurization was just taking hold in New York City and other major cities around the country. As pasteurization efforts, led by Nathan Strauss, one of the founders of Macy’s, became popular, raw milk still held an esteemed place in the eyes of most prominent medical and public health experts for its health benefits and curative powers. Many seemed to favor pasteurization because it reduced the risk of disease in children at a time when sanitation and refrigeration were still big problems.

In fact, for many years during the early twentieth century, there were two categories of milk: pasteurized and “certified”—the certified label being applied to raw milk that was produced under sanitary conditions and subject to regular inspection.

As the pasteurization movement gained momentum in the 1920s and 1930s, public health officials, prodded by the rapidly growing dairy industry, pushed for elimination of the certitified category. It wasn’t until the end of World War II, though, that major media like Ladies Home Journal published scare articles about the “dangers” of raw milk, and began the effort that led to raw milk being pushed off the table, so to speak, and made illegal or highly restricted in most states.

Also intriguing in this historical examination was the assumption in the early 1900s that infant mortality rates were significantly reduced by the ever more widespread pasteurization of milk. Other disease-reducing development that were taking place simultaneously, such as construction of sewerage systems; introduction of automobiles, which eliminated widespread horse excrement; refrigeration; and increasing awareness of the importance of sanitation, were ignored.

Schmid also examines the issue that has predominated on this blog at various times: “the new virulent form of E.coli…which have received considerable attention because of the particularly severe or fatal complications sometimes produced by the organisms.” He notes that an article in Applied Dairy Microbiology reported on 60 cases of E.coli 0157:H7 illness related to raw milk and more than 500 hamburger-related cases, causing the deaths of four children in 1993. He points to a paper reporting that “E.colio 0157:H7 is in 10 percent of raw milk bulk tank samples collected from 69 different Wisconsin farms. Apparently this pathogen can find its way into raw milk by fecal contamination, and clearly it can lead to serious illness. A reasonable assumption is that it is not found in healthy animals fed on green grass or hay.” So while Schmid doesn’t have an answer for how it showed up in the California milk that has been blamed for sickening the five children, he suggests that the problem is much worse in other foods and, once again, raw milk takes an inordinate amount of blame.

Schmid’s larger point, though, is that the absence of raw milk and other such vital foods from Americans’ diets has weakened their immune systems and made them more vulnerable to both chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes, and to food poisoning. Back to the Salmonella-in-raw-milk report I opened with. Schmit says that “Salmonella is literally everywere (so) there is no point in sanitizing the food supply because contamination with Salmonella and other organisms can just as easily occur after pasteurization, irradiation, or whatever other process is used to sanitize. (Also) the individuals who become ill as a result of exposure do so because their immune systems are functioning abnormally.”  He concludes that "studies confirm the fact that raw milk drinkers develop prowerful immunity and resistance to pathogenic organisms."

There is much more to this informative book than I can capture here. It’s excellent reading for anyone interested in the role of raw milk as symbolic of much that is wrong with our food and health system today.

Leave a Reply

20 Comments on "Some Answers to Key Questions About Raw Milk from “The Untold Story of Milk”"

Notify of

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
May 8, 2007 3:33 am

Eggs and meat can be cooked. Cooking it properly kills bacteria. I doubt anyone buys raw milk, takes it home and cooks. it.!Actually I met a gentleman over the weekend and he is from Mexico. He told me that when he was a kid, his family would get their milk straight from the farm. His mother would take the milk home and boil it to kill the bacteria. Im sure this was probably a farm that doesnt handle the milk the way dairies do now but all the same, he told me that they would NEVER drink the milk without… Read more »

May 8, 2007 10:16 pm

This has been another great posting and follow up comments by everyone. As I’ve mentioned before, the depth of knowledge and experience that is shared here is really amazing, and so well articulated, too. I get so much help from what is shared here by everyone. I especially liked Steves’ reminder to distingush between raw milk produced with great care for direct consumption and the raw milk produced with reliance on pasturization to make up for the lack of care in the production of it. Two very different products, when you understand the facts. I wish the people at the… Read more »

May 9, 2007 12:14 am

I’ve been reading The Untold Story of Milk on and off for the past two years; I’m nearly finished. I think it’s a great book (even for non-raw consumers) and the only reason it is taking so long is that I am reading several other books, too. I agree with David, that the tone of the book is excellent, informative about all sorts of things connected to dairy, without being strident. The historical perspective, not just of milk, but of the changes in the medical and public health systems is a very important part of the story. The book is… Read more »

May 9, 2007 1:38 am

I dont think anyone crazy for eating whatever they wish. To each his own is my feeling on it. I will say to Cord though that I am very careful about letting my children lick the cake mix bowl or eat raw cookie dough. I DONT LET THEM DO IT. Mary, I didnt finish my post to you last night. I hit create before I got to say to you that I know you must have felt terrible about the milk but I also know that you were doing what you thought was best for Chris. The doctors, while they… Read more »

Mary McGonigle-Martin
May 9, 2007 2:34 am

Thanks Lynn for the article on vinegar and hyrogen peroxide. Maybe I will try this on lettuce and spinach so that I can give Chris salad again.

May 9, 2007 3:50 am

Melissa,I absolutely agree with you that the claims that raw milk cures everything from ADD to eczema are probably mostly wishful thinking or at least simplistic and not always well-informed. I still have mild ezcema :-). And "cure" is an interesting word, which means different things to different people. Some conditions have no cure (yet), but can be managed well enough to seem "cured". For instance, If I don’t eat a certain way, I am hyperglycemic (borderline pre-diabetic/diabetic), but if I eat the right foods, my blood sugar stays in the "normal" range. Am I cured? No, just well-managed. The… Read more »

May 10, 2007 2:45 am

Anna, Do you think that when my daughter got sick the people that gave her the milk kept should have kept their silence about it until Chris Martin got to the hospital with the same thing and he had the same MILK? I was not upset that she was given the milk as much as I was upset that they witheld the information from me and doctors. I dont think the doctors were BLAMING Mary I just think that it was more of a surprise to them. Like it was to me. I dont want to sound stupid, but when… Read more »

Michael J. "Mickey" Richard
May 10, 2007 5:21 am

"On the other side was Louis Pasteur and his germ theory. He not only came up with a method to kill microorganisms in milk, but also in wine."

I believe that Pasteur intended his process to be used for wine, and was shocked when they pasteurized milk, saying something along the order of "What have they done to my perfect food?"…

I can’t recall if I read that on the WPF site, or maybe in Nina Planck’s fine book "Real Food – What To Eat and Why" –

May 10, 2007 10:09 am

Melissa,No, I absolutely don’t think that anyone should withhold information when sickness occurs. I would absolutely be hopping mad about that. You are quite justified. I just don’t share everything when it isn’t pertinent, because I know that a lot of our foods just seems too weird to many people, especially conventional MDs. It is a topic I have learned to tiptoe into.I do find it quite alarming that with all the pathogenic E. coli food illnesses in various undercooked and fresh foods in this country over the past two decades, that the medical community can’t get the message out… Read more »

May 8, 2007 6:50 pm

MC says:"I dont know too many people that eat raw eggs or undercooked meat anymore.!"

But I know hardly anyone who doesn’t, especially children! I mean, who doesn’t lick the bowl after the cake’s in the oven, or pinch a bite (or three) of the cookie dough (and does anyone *really* worry about the raw eggs when they do so?)? What we do in theory and in practice are often wildly different, which is why it’s so important for the food to be raised in healthy conditions to begin with.

This article illustrates it beautifully:

May 8, 2007 12:10 pm

I’m one of those people that Melissa would think crazy, because I eat raw eggs and cook my burgers and steaks rare. However, I buy my eggs from a farm family that grows their own grains and sells eggs from their chickens as a side venture for their school age daughter. The burgers are from buffalo raised grain-free and the meat is shipped frozen to me. I’ve done this for 6 years, nary a hint of bacterial illness in myself or my husband.Something else I have done for 6 years is regularly drink kefir I culture myself from raw milk… Read more »

Alexandros P
May 8, 2007 8:40 am

All foods can be cooked.That doesn’t mean consumers should be forced to deal with contaminated foods.Tartare, carpaccio, sushi, egg nog, and mayonaise/aioli are all examples of foods that are eaten raw with uncooked ingredients.In this day and age, we cannot trust the ingredients that are used to make these foods, unless we seek high end stores or restaurants, or go far out of our way to find farmers who take care of the foods they grow. This is simply not right!Foods that come from factory farms are filthy with bacteria and the only reason people know to treat them like… Read more »

May 8, 2007 9:20 am

Another bacteria that is fast becoming all pervasive(like salmonella) is Methicillin resistant Staph Aureus (MRSA).It spreads on the wind from the manure in factory farms. It inhabits the nose and throat and waits for an oportunity to attack the lungs. A virus will cause enough inflammation to let the bacteria move into the lungs. only does this travel through the air,It also contaminates the meat from these farms and infects the consumer or chef that prepares the food. This is a much greater risk to everyone than raw milk.Why isn’t the health department alerting people to this danger??? You should… Read more »

Mary McGonigle-Martin
May 8, 2007 9:36 am

I echo what Melissa said about boiling the milk. When we were in the hospital, one of our doctors was from South America and the other from the Philippines. The two doctors were reminiscing about their childhood memories of milk. They said their mothers always boiled the raw milk before drinking it. It was common practice because everyone knew you could get sick from the milk. They basically stated that no one would ever consider drinking milk without boiling it first. One doctor said that his mother would sometimes boil it twice just to make sure it was O.K. to… Read more »

May 8, 2007 9:55 am

Mary, I have lived in Colombia.When I was there I drank raw milk straight from the cow without any problem. The people in town knew that they had to boil the milk because it was a common occurance for the truck delivering the milk to town to stop at the river and add some water to the milk cans to increase his income a little. Milk straight from the cow was actually the only safe milk to drink.River water in Colombia would make anyone violently ill fairly immediately after drinking it.People used to joke about finding minnows in the milk.

Steve Bemis
May 8, 2007 10:25 am

A distinction that becomes more important as we discuss the subject of raw milk, is the distinction commonly understood but seldom made explicit. Namely, we need to distinguish between raw milk that has been produced with the intention of NOT being pasteurized (cows fed grass, not grain, to minimize or eliminate the chance of fecal contamination with e coli 0157:e7), rigorous herd screening and culling for Johnes (which is not removed by pasteurization in any case), no "growth" antibiotics or hormones, probably not Holsteins, etc. etc. and, on the other hand, milk which is produced RELYING on the need for… Read more »

May 8, 2007 10:37 am


I remember the doctors just shaking their heads when they heard Lauren drank raw milk.
I dont know what they said to the ones that gave it to her. They never shared that stuff with me. They only went on the news and announced that I gave Lauren raw meat. Like I said before, they must have had hidden cameras in my house that saw the RAW meat I gave her. HAHAHAH.

Mary McGonigle-Martin
May 8, 2007 11:02 am

Miguel and both make excellent points.

May 8, 2007 11:44 am

I can’t find the particular blog now, but someone, I believe Mary McGonigle Martin, was previously inquiring about the use of diluted chlorox as a disinfectant on vegetables and fruits.

A less toxic and reportedly even more effective disinfectant is to spray vinegar and hydrogen peroxide on the food or surface to be disinfected. Spray one and then the other, the order doesn’t matter, but don’t mix the two together. See for more information. This combo takes out e.coli and other bacteria.

May 11, 2007 3:29 am

Anna, In Lauren’s case the doctors did tell us that they could not give her any antibiotics. Lauren was not mistreated the way Chris Martin was. And yes, while in the hospital, Chris was a lot sicker than Lauren. It seems that Chris is not having the complications Lauren is having now. The doctors took very good care of her. I have no complaints there. The antibiotic story was told by the people that gave her the milk. They were trying so hard to steer the attention away from the milk. I can see your point in being careful what… Read more »