Vermont’s Raw Dairy Farmers Are Doing a Booming Business, and We Don’t Even Know Half the Story

It’s kind of amazing, when you think about it, that we’re still debating–as Milky Way and Ken Conrad were, following my previous post–whether milk comes through a cow’s udder sterile or having picked up certain beneficial bacteria.

Our government and public health research establishment are so committed to eliminating raw dairy from the public consciousness that they wouldn’t consider exploring raw milk’s probiotic nature and dynamics. They wouldn’t, after all, want to find positive news. 

Another amazing phenomenon is the failure of our public officials to explore the role of raw dairy is its role in community and economic development.

Raw milk sales from farmers to consumers keeps money within communities. Because consumers need to replenish their milk supplies, they regularly return to farms , every week or two weeks, and in so doing, buy other farm products like beef, chicken, eggs, honey…and circulate more money in the community. The Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association made this point in its 2009 survey of raw milk production in the state.

This point is made once again in a survey of raw milk producers in Vermont by Rural Vermont, the grass-roots farmer-consumer organization made famous last week when it decided, in response to bullying by the state agriculture authorities, to suspend three instructional classes on how to prepare raw milk yogurt, whipped cream, and cheese. It conducted its survey last year in hopes of convincing the Vermont legislature to make changes to the raw dairy laws, which were updated two years ago–for example, many farmers want to be allowed to sell the value-added raw dairy products like butter, yogurt, and cream.

Rural Vermont extrapolated from its survey that raw milk accounts for slightly more than $1 million in annual sales in the state, up 25% from a year earlier. It also figured raw milk production and sales were directly responsible for creating 331 jobs in the state.

The average price for raw milk in Vermont is $6.52, the survey found–about 50% above store prices for pasteurized milk.

As someone who has participated in any number of surveys of small businesses, I can guarantee that the results are understated in terms of total revenues. Business owners, no matter what their products, nearly always try to underplay their results. Even though the survey sponsors may guarantee anonymity, business owners are by their nature suspicious, and figure the tax authorities could well get their hands on the information…and come nosing around doing audits or whatever.

Add the difficulties associated with raw milk, and you have yet another powerful reason for raw milk producers to avoid saying too much. The Rural Vermont survey takers admit they had difficulty locating many raw milk producers, since those officially selling less than 50 quarts daily don’t have to register with the state to qualify to sell raw milk, and many have kept themselves off the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Real Milk site.
 
The survey notes, “In discussions with farmers, it has been determined that there are many raw milk producers that will not publicize/register with the Real Milk Directory for fear of agency repercussions or of perceived onerous compliance issues…” The result, says the survey, is “a vibrant underground raw milk market in Vermont.” In other words, lots more milk is being sold than is officially being tallied.

There’s been lots of talk in Washington about easing regulations on small businesses, but this talk apparently doesn’t extend to the dairy industry. Start talking about economically encouraging raw dairies, and the public health types, led by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control, will begin hyper-ventilating about the dangers of raw milk. And now they are moving to cripple yet another off-shoot of raw dairy: the fast-growing raw cheese industry…even though the data fail to suggest any kind of serious public health challenge with raw milk cheese.

***
The latest publication to report on the raw milk business is Mennonite Weekly Review. One of the messages that comes through loud and clear is similar to that in the Vermont survey described previously: raw dairy farmers have developed an aversion to publicity. The article is a good summary of what’s happening, but note that all the Mennonite farmers are quoted anonymously.

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22 Comments on "Vermont’s Raw Dairy Farmers Are Doing a Booming Business, and We Don’t Even Know Half the Story"


Guest
Galina Ch
February 23, 2011

EXAMPLE: " I know of a child about one year old who seems to be poisoned whever she takes raw cow's milk. A rash breaks out on her body, with itching, and she has gone into convulsions, even the milk was modified according to the prescribed formula."
Despite the fact that there are occasional invividual idiosyncracies like the above, milk is the natural food for babies and children….
At first glance, the above case may appear to be unusual but it is not – usually one or more such instances are met by every physician who treats babies. The condition is not unknown in adults. Unless one has had expirience with these cases, the conclusion is apt to be that the milk is a poison – or acts as such – and should be discarded. The real cause is seldom found in the nilk, though occasionally a stomach is found which will not tolerate it and in which toleration cannot be established.
Milk is a sub-acid food and if the system is in a sub-acid state then it is not acceptable and may be not even be coagulated in the usual manner by digestive juices, the digestion being so long delayed that it becomes almost a poison. To overcome this, it is only necessary that a drink prepared from the juice of grapefruit or tomatoes – not oranges -be taken one-half hour before the milk, then the digestive juices will be prepared for it and it will be readyily coagulated and digested.
In the majority of cases, the system is super-acid and the degree of reaction is in a proportion to the acidity. Sometimes the milk at first induces a feverish condition followed by a rash, and if its use is continued the symptoms are aggravated. At this point, the aveage person concludes that the milk is not a good food and discontinues its use. A physician who has had expirience will know that instead of being a poison, milk is actually acting beneficially for the patient. The symptoms of poisoning and fever with raising of temperature even to 103, indicate the normal action of the milk in neutrealization the bodily acids and toxins, elimenating the poisons which had resulted from this neutralization, and equalizing the vital forces. Therefore, if the milk is wisely continued for a sufficient length of time, the symptoms will gradually subside, rash disappear, temperature will go normal, and it will be found that toleration has been established. This is what took place: the acid present caused too rapid coagulation with excessively large lumps of curd, and this condition may be so severe as to cause gas and the distention of the stomach, which in turn induces fever and convulsions. In some cases the action of liver may be as fault, being either slugish or over active.

Guest
Milky Way
February 23, 2011

Ken (and Bill A.),

From previous post…sorry off topic. Great paper and a very good journal – thanks for the link. There seems to be some confusion in their differentiation between "skin teat flora" and "udder."

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2672.2006.03004.x/full

Looking at the authors' methods:

"-A sterile swab moistened with saline was rubbed over the skin area around the teat canal orifice and then immediately used for streaking on different agar media.
-Approx. 1 ml of milk was drawn into a sterile bottle from each cow teat and this was then placed in an ice bath. Within 45 min, a sterile swab was dipped into the milk and used to inoculate the agar media."

Given the sampling approach, the results measure the "bovine teat skin normal flora," not the udder itself. This is not to downplay the importance of the interesting findings about the importance of teat microflora as a protective mechanism to prevent udder infection. But, the study design only allowed examination of the teat flora and the milk exiting the teat (it did not measure bacteria in the anatomical udder).

MW

Guest
Bill Anderson
February 23, 2011

I noticed that section as well, when reading the study, MW. However, based on my (limited) first-hand experience, bacteria can colonize the teat canal.

Guest
Bill Anderson
February 23, 2011

p.s. the problem is that it would be very difficult to get a pure sample of bacteria in the teat canal without cutting open the udder and killing the cow.

Guest
Milky Way
February 23, 2011

Bill,

Yes, the study shows the importance of natural microflora in the teat canal as a defense against udder infection. It doesn't show anything about the microbiota beyond the teat canal.

Back on topic, David wrote: "Our government and public health research establishment are so committed to eliminating raw dairy from the public consciousness that they wouldn't consider exploring raw milk's probiotic nature and dynamics."

This type of study really doesn't answer the question of whether or not raw milk is a probiotic. How many and what type of bacteria actually enter the bulk tank and reach the consumer? How do different practices at different dairies affect this dynamic?

From a scientific perspective, I think these are important questions to ask before making conclusions about "good bacteria" in raw milk. More research is needed…

MW

Guest
Milky Way
February 23, 2011

Bill,

I wrote my response before reading your "p.s." Yes, you would likely need to sacrifice the cow to examine the microbiota in the udder.

MW

Guest
Milky Way
February 23, 2011

And…this has been done. Healthy udders do not have significant numbers of bacteria ("good or bad").

MW

Guest
Smy Opin
February 23, 2011

Not all good things that can be destroyed by heat are bacteria –
enzymes and antibodies come to mind.

Although sorry if that is off topic – I"ve lost track of how this bacteria in udder discussion began…

Guest
Grassfarmer
February 23, 2011

What does any of this have to do with the current article?

I am one of those unknown producers, in another state. I think almost all data concerning "natural" (raw) milk will be incorrect. I think there is a much larger impact from Farm to Consumer sales than will ever be counted. The industry knows this, they see their milk sales drop, hence the fight.

Guest
Ken Conrad
February 23, 2011

http://www.extension.org/pages/Sources_and_Causes_of_High_Bacteria_Counts_in_Raw_Milk:_An_Abbreviated_Review

From the above article under the section entitled, Microbial Contamination from within the Udder states, Raw milk as it leaves the udder of healthy cows normally contains very low numbers of microorganisms and generally will contain less than 1,000 total bacteria per ml (Kurweil, 1973). In healthy cows, the teat cistern, teat canal, and the teat apex may be colonized by a variety of microorganisms.

http://www.aspergillus.org.uk/secure/veterinary/Fungdisanim13.htm

The above article states, Mycotic mastitis has been associated with over 26 species of fungi in probably both primary and secondary roles and has generally followed antibiotic treatment of bacterial mastitis.

There is little doubt that mycotic mastitis existed before the advent of antibacterial antibiotics, but since then there has been an increasing number of cases reported almost invariably associated with prior antibiotic treatment of diagnosed or suspected bacterial mastitis.

Please note how the article focuses on infection yet fails to explain why antibiotics are implicated. Could it perhaps be due the fact that antibiotics coupled with the invasive nature with which they are administered disrupt the natural internal flora of the udder thus interfering with an important check and balance system?

Unless one uses a propellant to force antibiotics into the upper part of the udder the majority of antibiotics are deposited into the teat cistern and from there are manipulated by hand through the cistern duct and into the main udder cistern.

I consider the teat cistern, teat canal and teat apex as internal components of the udder. If one milks their animals by hand then in all likelihood milk is being forced up trough the annular ring and into the udder cistern, which can occur as well with milking machines if they are not functioning properly. Calves with an aggressive sucking technique can also stimulate the above action. The introduction of milk from the teat cistern into the udder cistern regularly occurs and will invariably inoculate the main udder with bacteria. As well the older the cow the more likely this will occur.

The internal flora of the udder although variable in healthy animals is natural and from my perspective necessary.

Ken Conrad

Guest
Bill Anderson
February 24, 2011

Again, thanks for the links and insights Ken.

MW, the things you are saying may be more relevant when talking about CAFO milk. Because of the heavy use of anti-biotics for "dry cow treatment" (between lactations) the udder will be wiped out of beneficial bacteria every year, and so when healthy examples of CAFO cows are disected they don't find any bacteria in the udder.

It may also explain why Staph. Aureus is such a problem in CAFO dairies, but not in smaller organic dairies of the type that tend to sell raw milk.

This is the problem with so much of this "scientific" research — the unspoken assumptions, and what the political/economic agenda is of those who fund the research.

I couldn't help but notice this blatant bias in a University of Wisconsin study about the death curves of different campylobacter strains in raw milk — they innoculated the milk with a totally unrealistic quantity of campy (upwards of 1 million per mL of milk) and observed how it took as much as 14 days in some cases for it to expire, and then went on to conclude that "the neccessity of milk pasteurization is re-affirmed." Excuse me? Milk with an SPC of over 300,000 on the farm is not even eligible for Grade B processing. Talk about bad science, and yet this is the standard accepted within these so called "peer reviewed journals."

Scientists are people like you and me, and are subject to mistakes, bias, and agendas.

Guest
Bill Anderson
February 24, 2011

Here is the biased study I was talking about, couldn't help but laugh at the statement on page 1157 — "The presence and possible persistence of C. jejuni in raw grade A milk reaffirms the need for pasteurization."

http://aem.asm.org/cgi/reprint/44/5/1154.pdf

As you will note, though, in no case did campylobacter grow in either raw or steralized milk, despite the ridiculously large number of organisms innocculated. In all cases, the campy population continuously decreased.

Guest
Dave Milano
February 24, 2011

From Bill A:

the heavy use of anti-biotics for dry cow treatment (between lactations) may explain why Staph. Aureus is such a problem in CAFO dairies, but not in smaller organic dairies of the type that tend to sell raw milk.

Yes. And as a model it also explains why (per Kens comment) fungal mastitis is a frequent sequela to antibiotic treatment of bacterial mastitis. And why human c-diff results from antibiotic use, and, following the same logic, why prophylactic antibiotic use, even at low levels, causes disease susceptibility and even allergies (http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol7no3_supp/levy.htm). Taking another step down the same path, it explains why glyphosphates weaken our crops.

This is paradigmatic thinking of course, antithetical to our current agricultural and medical ethos of treating bacteria (and fungi, protozoon, and nematodes) as the enemy, and downplaying or ignoring the negative potentials of interfering with microbial balance.

Guest
Mark McAfee
February 24, 2011

In scientific testimony in multiple court suits in CA it was agreed by all experts that healthy cows internal udder ecosystems are pretty much bacteria free. However the experts also agree that raw milk joins it's essential milk genome bacteria when it exits the teat canal. The teat canal just like the human breast is colonized with protective and beneficial bacteria that are specialized for that location of the body or animal.

We are bacteriosapiens. Cows are Bacteriobovines. Bacteria are essential to life. Add antibiotics to cows feed and the bovine is no longer genetically normal!!!

Bacteria genetics are essential to the completion and functioning of human and bovine genetics.

Nature would not ever provide a sterile food to it's bacteria needing young. Bacteria are essential to the immune systems of mammals.

Mark

Guest
Ingvar Odegaard
February 24, 2011

From Bill A. and Dave M.s comments above how can such a study be a basis for that particular conclusion without the referee calling fraud? And calling pointless on the whole effort? That sort of conclusory behaviour is laughable (if fraud is laughable). Shouldnt those that put their names to it be scorned?

If we have gone off the rails between Ingaz Semmelweis and today, then the over-arching concepts and resulting general guidelines vis–vis bacteria and infection, bacteria and health are aptly described where? Where is sterile absolutely essential? And why? The Russian grandfathers rules included sterilizing-through-boiling the containers for his cows' milk.

Mr. J. Ingvar Odegaard

Guest
Bill Anderson
February 25, 2011

Even the Russian grandpa's milk can was not truly sterile. There are bacteria in the air, so unless it was done in a sterile room or chamber (aseptically), the boiling water is only killing the bacterial buildups that may be on the inside surfaces of the milk can. It can't kill the bacteria that are ubiqitous in the air. And it can't kill all spores (that takes temperatures beyond the boiling point of water at normal atmospheric pressures).

Only a technicality here… its still important to be clean.

Guest
Steve Bemis
February 25, 2011

We simply need to know how many people drink raw milk.

Guest
Bill Anderson
February 25, 2011

Fascinating!

http://sysbio.harvard.edu/csb/research/dutton.html

Cheese as a model for the study of microbial ecosystems

One of the most important challenges facing microbiology is how to understand the formation, function, and evolution of microbial ecosystems. While microbes have traditionally been studied as individuals in the laboratory, microbes usually do not exist as individuals in nature, but as part of complex, multi-species communities. Microbial communities have long been acknowledged as crucial for the proper functioning of our global ecosystem and have been implicated in influencing human health, both positively and negatively. In order to fully understand how microbes function within the context of the complex communities in which they exist outside of the laboratory, we need model systems with which we can combine the advances in genome and community-level analysis with the tradition of classical genetics and culturing-based approaches to microbiology.

Our lab is focusing on the study of the simplified, experimentally tractable microbial ecosystems found growing on the surface of cheeses as models for the behavior of microbes in complex communities. These communities, and their rich assembly of metabolic capacities, contribute much of the diversity in flavors, smells, and textures of the hundreds of different varieties of cheeses.

Our lab will apply a range of culture-dependent and independent methods to study the microbial diversity in the surface-associated communities that make up the rind, on identifying and characterizing inter-species interactions, and on developing an experimental model system to study microbial ecosystems.

Guest
Sylvia Gibson
February 25, 2011

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704520504576162660949338624.html?mod=WSJ_WSJ_US_News_6#articleTabs%3Darticle

Seems Europe is ahead of the US regarding germ exposure. It would be common sense.

Guest
Ken Conrad
February 25, 2011

Sylvia

The article states, The findings don't yield much in the way of practical suggestions, however. Dr. Ege said.

Here are my suggestions,

If they cant get to the farm then bring the farm to them. Feed them raw milk!

Fret not if your kid picks his or her nose and eats it!

Let your kids walk around in bare feet. They may not have cow shit to squeeze through their toes however mud will do.

Do away with the germicidal cleaners and steer clear of antibiotics, vaccines, Acetaminophen and aspirin etc.

Ken Conrad

Guest
Sylvia Gibson
February 25, 2011

Ken, You made me laugh, thanx! It was the booger eating part…I saw an adult doing that at a stop light no so long ago. I remember building roads in moms flower beds with my brothers Tonka trucks, We also had cow chip fights at grandma's. I convinced my brother to eat a mud pie…My kids knew if they made me mad enough, they'd have to clean the chicken coup ( a job they hated). We all survived.

Guest
Dave Milano
February 25, 2011

For Gail Houze, who could not get to the link I referenced after David's previous post. This should work:

http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol7no3_supp/levy.htm