There are two types of raw milk according to Mark McAfee, chairman of the Raw Milk Institute: one intended to be consumed raw and one intended to be used for pasteurisation, and contrary to popular belief they are NOT the same.
When buying raw milk, it is very important to make sure you're buying milk that has been produced with the intention of being consumed raw, and not just raw milk produced by an industrial dairy that haven't gone through the pasteurisation process yet. In countries where raw milk is regulated, definitions for the two different standards exist. However in Australia (where there is only one standard called pasteurisation) people are still grappling to understand the difference.
Even scientists don't seem to know that there are two types of raw milk. According to Dutch Professor and researcher Dr. Ton Baars, scientists always talk about raw milk 'in general', not knowing that they need to discriminate between milk and milk (source). He says he now realises that ‘although scientists find an independent and protecting effect of raw milk consumption on asthma and allergies, they cannot recommend a general consumption of raw milk’. He says that the FDA reject raw milk consumption because scientists are warning against it. He suggests that we all need to start discriminating and show the differences between general raw milk, and raw milk produced by farmers connected to organisations like the Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI) or the German Vorzugsmilk-farmers.
One type of raw milk is ideal for drinking raw and the other is produced knowing that the milk going into the vat is to be pasteurised. There are two different expectations and two different known outcomes involved. One comes from high quality, grass-fed, boutique dairy farms and the other from industrialised dairies (more).
In Australia we are fortunate that many small scale dairy farmers pasture-raise their cows. Some of these dairy farmers say that drinking this milk is not a problem for them or the community around the farm. This may be true for the people involved because they have built up immunity to the farm bacteria in the milk. However it is necessary for people to read this entire article to see how the differences in production lead to two completely different products. It is important to produce top quality raw milk for consumers who may not be used to drinking raw milk, who have never drunk it or those with health or gut issues. Understanding why there is a difference is really important.
History: Why pasteurisation became necessary.
The Industrial Revolution, which took place from the 18th to 19th centuries, was a period during which predominantly agrarian, rural societies in Europe and America became industrial and urban.
The emergence of two kinds of raw milk started and became amplified after the War of 1812 when America's whiskey supply was cut off. Soon every major city had a grain distillery producing acid refuse of grain as byproduct. This mixed with water was known as distillery slop. Distillery owners began housing cows in confinement dairies next to distilleries and feeding the hot slop directly to the animals. This unnatural diet has no value in nourishing cattle. Instead it made them diseased and emaciated. These sickly cows produced toxic swill milk blue in colour that was further whitened with plaster and chalk. These people were also taking all sorts of horrifying shortcuts to produce and access milk in the growing cities of America. The book The Untold Story of Milk tells a horrid story about outbreak of diseases, death of children and the efforts to curb it. It documents how distillery dairy owners fought back and bought political influence to keep these practises going for decades no matter the cost. The milk from some of these dairies resulted in a 50% morality rate. It became known as the milk problem. Thus the need emerged for both pasteurisation and certified raw milk.
The Milk Cure
As a result of the milk problem, raw milk from grass-fed animals became known for therapeutic value and demand grew. Pasteurised milk and certified raw milk actually co-existed in North America from the 1890s through to the 1940s.The Mayo Clinic ran a 16-year Milk Cure program with astounding success. Patients were administered raw dairy — referred to as "white blood" — to treat cancer and maladies like chronic fatigue. The milk used in all cases were raw milk from pasture-fed cows rich in butterfat. The treatment was a combination of detoxifying fast and nutrient-dense feeding. This protocol was an orthodox, accepted therapy in the early 1900s. Certified raw milk brought value to the farmer, consumer and the animals, until World War II when many lost their deep appreciation for nutrition, read about it here. For a deeper historical perspective about how one kind of raw milk became potentially dangerous, read the book The Untold Story of Milk by Ron Schmid, ND.
ARMM advocates for CERTIFIED RAW MILK because when production standards and controls for best quality raw milk are followed, the results are a reduction of risk and a track record of safety like we see in countries where it is regulated.
The following may help dairy farmers and consumers to better define what goes into the creation of these two very different products. It also makes a case for the benefits of certified raw milk from the raw milk consumer's point of view:
Rewards for the dairy farmer
Raw milk intended to human consumption rewards the individual dairy farmer who works hard at creating a high quality raw milk. It brings value to the single dairyman because the farmer can take charge of his own brand and reputation. Raw drinking milk always comes from only one dairy and NOT from many dairy's milk co-mingled into one tank. This standard has serious value added because of a consumer relationship demanding high quality and safe raw milk. The farmer's future as a dairyman relies on quality assurance and attention to detail in many areas. There are real rewards for creating a trusted brand that consumers will love. The social interaction with the local consumer brings loyalty and support the dairy farmer can rely on. Dairy farmers can become self-reliant and take control of their business.
The same cannot be said for raw milk intended for the pasteuriser. This standard rarely rewards the individual dairy farmer who produce a high quality raw milk, because most of the milk produced by Australian dairies are co-mingled with others. There is no real assurance that the other dairies have produced the same high quality milk. There are fewer management inputs because of the expectation that the milk will be heat treated. There is also less control of the price the farmer gets paid for his milk. Processed milk is in world over supply. This means there is too much of it on the market and not enough buyers, therefore it has generally become a cheap food with little value. (Branded milk from small, high quality dairies are the exception though. Many Aussie consumers are willing to support them and pay a fair price.)
In this article Mark McAfee say of pasteurisation: "Pasteurization has killed “the connection between the farmer and the consumer.” Some farmers who produce pasteurized milk have “No Trespassing” signs at the edges of their property that warn “Trespassers will be shot and survivors will be shot again.” They have no reason to visit with a consumer about selling their dairy products. They get paid by a processor, not by consumers. All their fluid milk is sold off to a common processing plant to be commingled with all the other dairy milk in a commodity market system. The farmer now has no idea that he is “over producing” or making the wrong products. The farmer has no idea that people cannot drink pasteurized milk because of lactose intolerance. If the farmer could ever talk with a consumer, he would not continue to produce in ignorance."
Rewards for the raw milk consumer
Consumers say they find therapeutic benefits from drinking raw milk. An ARMM survey from early 2015 show raw milk consumers are typically well informed about raw milk. They report that regular consumption brings relief from conditions like asthma, eczema, chronic fatigue, food allergies, digestive illness, ear and respiratory infections and promotes general good health. Read some of those stories on our testimonials page.
"More and more consumers are now looking for foods that are unprocessed, unpasteurised, and unchanged from what nature intended. Consumers are seeking out dairy products that do not cause allergies, are easy to digest, and contain a wide range of vital nutrients and enzymes. Organically produced, raw milk from cows grazed on green pasture contains highly beneficial nutrients, including: OMEGA-3 fatty acids, beneficial bacteria, enzymes, vitamins and minerals."
Raw milk is abundant in essential Vitamin A, D and K and in minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus in its natural form for the body to absorb and utilise. Consumers say regular consumption reduces duration of colds and flu, reduces allergies, boosts the immune system, assists detoxification, improves healthy gut flora etc. In this video Sally Fallon Morell of the Weston A. Price foundation say that the most common thing they hear from parents is the improvement of their children's behaviour after they have switched from pasteurised to raw milk. Sally say that we now know that 85% of the immune system of the body comes from our gut bacteria which is why we need raw milk to replenish those stores. Demand for raw milk will continue because it is a nutrient dense food. Consumers want the nutrition for good health and wellbeing. This is not a fad.
Conventional milk is increasingly under attack for a variety of reasons. Many Australians have switched to alternatives like soy milk, hemp milk, rice milk etc because they decide that processed milk is not for them. According to a 2016 study by the CSIRO, 1 in 6 Australians leave (processed) dairy behind to relieve stomach cramps, wind and bloating. Researchers suggest that Melbourne have become the food allergy capital of the world. The hygiene hypothesis and germophobia are cited while authorities continue to ignore the plea for legal access to raw milk for human consumption. Australian children now have the highest rate of food allergy in the world according to this article. Processed milk is also considered the most common food allergen in the USA, see here. Pasteurise milk is considered safe but clearly we have a dilemma because consumers have problems tolerating it.
Economic benefits of raw milk
Raw milk produced for human consumption has high value and huge demand. Raw milk producers can enjoy the privilege of being able to set their own price based on their unique circumstances. Direct sales allow dairy farmers to make a profit and to cover their costs. They can earn a living to support themselves, their families and their workers. Raw milk sales boost local economies because other businesses often thrive around raw milk collection points. Local sales enable money to be invested back into the local economy. ARMM have posted many stories on the website and Facebook page about the variety of ways prosperity flow to the community when the middle man is cut out. Raw milk has real value because it is a local food and enthusiastic local customers are a steady market.
Most milk produced for the processor are transported hundreds of kilometers away from the farm. It often benefits unknown communities elsewhere. The money generated by the market sale of that milk trickles back to the farmer in minuscule amounts. The majority of profit stays in the pockets of large milk co-ops and processors. Milk is routinely sold by supermarket giants in Australia (and overseas) as a loss leader, contributing to the perception that this milk farmers work hard to make has little value. Processed milk is also vulnerable to world wide market forces that determine its value. All of this means insecurity and instability for the dairy farmer. This situation is not sustainable for them. (Branded milk from small dairies are the exception because local Aussie communities now stand up to support their farmers to give them a fair price.)
Bacterial content of raw milk
A raw milk producer has to remember that a percentage of their milk may be consumed by people who live in the city or by newcomers to raw milk. These people do not have the same developed immunity to the milk as the dairy farmer or the regular raw milk consumer. The newcomer from the city may be recovering from Crohn's disease, may have recently taken anti-biotics or have other gut issues. It is critical that these people access high quality raw drinking milk containing only good bacteria. In the Australian dairy farming community little is known about producing raw milk for human consumption because industrial milk have dominated the conversation. Discussions have revealed that Australian dairy farmers have good intentions but have a lot to learn if they come from the industrial model.
If proper production standards are not followed, it is quite possible that someone can become sick from the milk or a so called 'outbreak' can occur. Some dairy farmers move forward in ignorance because of the assumption that if the farmer drinks it problem free, then so will the consumer. This myth have been busted many times in the USA, often very publicly and painfully. The USA have many examples of people who have become ill after drinking raw milk from dairies who start selling under a Grade A license, but don't really know what they are doing. Fortunately this situation is easily remedied by checking production standards, installing a food safety plan and getting some education from an experienced authority like the Raw Milk Institute. See this video as a great example.
Consumers want the bacterial diversity uniquely found in fresh, clean unprocessed milk. In order to achieve a safe, low risk product with integrity, certain standards have to be followed and maintained. Mark McAfee say that raw milk is supposed to be a clean living food not a dirty dead food.
When it comes to raw milk intended for the pasteuriser, there is an expectation that the milk will be rendered 'safe' after pasteurisation because it kills off potential pathogens. However some dead bacteria are still present in the milk and can vary from batch to batch. Unfortunately some consumers develop allergic reactions and inflammation due to the presence of dead bacteria in the milk. Microbiologist Kristian Ronacher explains in this video that processing causes the dead bacteria to split open and release their internal components. The non-specific immune system of the person who drinks the milk can recognise some of the markers on the split open bacteria's cells. The body mounts an immune response, like producing mucus, to expel the foreign material from the body. Mark McAfee also talks about this issue in this video from time marker 43:00 minutes and from 54:00 he talks about seven kids who died from anaphylactic shock (an immune response) from this dead bacteria in pasteurised milk. Even though this milk is considered safe to drink by food safety authorities, it does not guarantee that consumers won't have trouble consuming it. Adverse responses to commercial milk are a huge problem amongst raw milk supporters (for a variety of reasons).
A new study in Applied and Environmental Microbiology show how microbes in raw milk (produced for the pasteuriser) are influenced by dairy cow environment. It looks at some of the many factors that influence the composition of milk microbiota, like animal caretaker hygiene and microbiome, herd health and herd environment. Click here to read this interesting article.
A very high level of sanitation is practiced in deriving raw milk for drinking. Each individual teat is sanitised before the milking cups are applied. As an example, the milk at one UK dairy is typically produced in clean conditions, goes from 'teat to tank' without contacting the air and is cooled to 4'C within five minutes according to this article. Proper cleaning of the cow's udder and care that the suction cups do not come loose, drop or suck in anything other than milk is very important. Purpose-built milking equipment keeps milk safe from exposure to external contaminants, and is easy to sterilise after use. Samples are regularly submitted for testing to ensure that the milk is pure. A farmer's business relies on raw milk sales. There is no room for sloppiness. Hygiene must be irreproachable.
The National Farmers Union (the voice of British farming) believes existing hygiene controls (in the UK) mean raw milk is safe to the consumer. Spokeswoman Isobel Bretherton said: “It is important that controls on the sale of this product are proportionate and appropriate for the modern consumer and dairy farmer.”
Isobel added that: “All dairy farms are subject to Food Standards Agency dairy hygiene inspections that aim to ensure a satisfactory standard of hygiene is maintained and indeed enforced. Inspections cover premises, equipment, milk-producing animals and milk. The inspections ensure that milk producing animals are healthy and premises are clean, protecting the supply of milk from the risk of contamination by bacteria and other substances.” Source.
There is an expectation with raw milk intended for pasteurisation: it will be heat treated and therefore the milk will be rendered safe. Therefore it does not matter so much if some dairies get away with sloppy hygiene practises or 'dirty milk'. We are told by dairy farmers that this do happen. There is a general expectation that pasteurisation will 'fix' it.
No food can be considered a 100% safe. In rare cases contamination or improper processing of bottled milk do occur. People have gotten sick or in some cases died from pasteurised milk. Neither raw milk for human consumption, nor commercial milk have a perfect safety record. No food can be made a 100% safe. There is always some risk. However history have proven that the risk can be mitigated. Soil scientist Joseph Heckman and Dr. Ted Beals both talked about this topic very eloquently at the recent IAFP Raw Milk debate (source).
Raw milk from large scale confinement dairies should never be consumed raw. The filth in the milk can overwhelm the natural protective components in the milk (like lactoperoxidase and lactoferrin), making it potentially deadly.
Shelf life of raw milk
There is an expectation for raw drinking milk to have long shelf life. Consumers will demand it and if they continue to get milk that sours quickly, they will look for 'greener pastures'. Therefore the dairy farmer has to produce a high quality raw milk using world best practise for production. After purchase it becomes the responsibility of the consumer to keep it properly chilled. Here is a short checklist for the consumer:
- The milk should be put in a cooler box with enough ice straight after purchase. If the consumer wants raw milk to last a long time, be sure not to break the cold chain.
- Bottled milk should be kept at under 4'C, unopened in the bottom shelf of a refrigerator. Keep the milk in the coldest part of the fridge until it is ready to be opened and consumed.
- Once a bottle is opened, do not to pour it over a steaming cup of hot tea for example. Doing so will reduce the shelf life of that particular bottle. This will make a difference to a bottle of milk that was opened and now sitting in the fridge for a few days.
- Invest in a digital thermometer for your refrigerator. You will be surprised how much the temperature can vary in household fridges when Australia is experiencing weather extremes or with family members opening the fridge regularly. The alarm feature for the Hygiplas Fridge/Freezer is great to alert you when your fridge is struggling to keep up.
The conditions mentioned above are generally a good recipe for better shelf life. Raw milk will sour quicker than usual if the consumer neglects to keep it properly chilled at ALL times. In some cases it can also be the producers fault. These basic indicators can be used to assess if the dairy farmer is producing a good raw milk. Mark McAfee (chairman of the Raw Milk Institute) say that there is no magical wand for the farmer to produce quality raw milk, because it takes hard work and ingenuity to create. He says long shelf life is one of the basic indicators of quality. In this video at time marker 19:19 Mark explains that:
- if the milk lasts only 4 days before souring, it is not so good
- 7 - 8 days are maybe ok
- and if the milk still tastes good at 2 weeks, the farmer is probably doing a very good job
- and if it lasts 3 weeks, it is top quality.
To reiterate, if the farmer produce a high quality raw milk and the consumer follows the checklist above, then it is possible to achieve a shelf life of up to 3 weeks before souring. If the consumer is not getting a shelf life of at least a few days from production there may be reason to ask some questions.
Commercial raw milk is pasteurised to achieve extended shelf life. This is due to the microbial nature of raw milk produced for the pasteuriser, as is laid out in this recent study. It is the way this milk is produced, its microbial levels, microbial diversity and other factors that gives this milk a very short shelf life. Even though Louis Pasteur's method is the industry's golden standard, this process denatures delicate milk proteins and other milk components. This milk is difficult to digest or tolerate for a variety of reasons. In a recent live video Mark McAfee explained why young children do not have the capacity to digest long shelf life foods like pasteurised milk.
Grass-fed raw milk
Producing raw milk as mother nature intended have many benefits for the dairy farmer, consumer, animals and environment. Cows typically eat grass when available and hay as supplement. Keeping cows grazed on pasture year-round ensures the quality and nutritional benefits of the milk. It is richer in omega 3 fats, vitamin E, beta-carotene and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). CLA is a type of fat associated with a wide variety of health benefits (more here). The CLA content is typically two to five times higher in grass-fed cow's milk than conventionally fed cows. For more information see the article The Grass-Fed Raw Milk Movement.
Many of Australia's family owned farms keep their cows on pasture. However confinement, factory farm dairies do exist in Australia and their milk is not labelled as such in the supermarket.
"It is not uncommon for commercial dairy cows to be fed waste products, like banana peel, or stale bread. Just like us, nutrition is vital to health, so cows eating unnatural, acidifying, potentially mouldy and calorific, but nutrient-poor fodder will produce sub-standard milk, and will also be more susceptible to illness and infection. These compromised animals can shed pus from mastitis into the milk, which is then simply pasteurised to deactivate any live organisms. The result is dead milk laced with dead pus." source.
Organic, local & ethical
Dairy farmers who produce raw drinking milk hear from consumers first hand. The preferences range from nutritional to ethical to environmental. The farmer will hear about his customer's value system, world view and priorities. They get asked how the animals are raised, fed and treated. Some consumers ask for specifics like a 100% grass-fed, organic certified, no soy, no grain, no anti-biotics, animal welfare certification etc. This direct connection allows both the farmer and consumer to reconnect with how the food is produced. Dairy farmers are held accountable for their products and encouraged to practise more sustainable farming. Compassionate consumers enjoy farm visits with their children to see the humane treatment of the cows and to be assured that they are properly cared for. Raw milk producers overseas enjoy a unique and beautiful relationship with the community as we have seen from the articles posted on ARMM's Facebook page and website. The direct relationship means consumers ask a lot of questions and the farmer gets to build a good knowledge base of what the consumers want and need. Animal welfare is high on the list for a lot of people, because the wellbeing of the cows reflects on the quality and desirability of the milk. According to Mark McAfee from the Raw Milk Institute, you cannot use anti-biotics when producing raw milk for human consumption because it interferes with the cow's digestive tract and immune system. Adopting a more wholesome farming model has benefits for everyone involved: dairy farmer, consumer, the entire herd and the environment. The Calf at Foot Dairy in Suffolk, England is an example of a raw dairy who have taken animal welfare to new heights. Demand for this dairywoman's milk far outstretches supply. She is a pioneer of a new way of dairy farming that is not a fad, but a return to a healthy tradition.
Australia have the most organically farmed land in the world according to professor Tor Hundloe of Bond University in this article. However he thinks in terms of the benefits of exports for Australian farmers. Australian raw milk consumers want this utilised for Australia's own citizens to enjoy, instead of only thinking in terms of export. Australians want to enjoy locally grown organic foods like raw milk and are prepared to pay for it. Fresh raw milk is a local food and should benefit locals first.
Dairy farmers who produce raw milk for the pasteuriser are more removed from the public (unless they produce for a smaller branded milk.) This gap between farmer and consumer have proven to be demoralising for some farmers in times of crisis. Also the pressure to produce larger volumes in order to survive may cause some dairy farmers to take shortcuts that leave them feeling like their integrity is compromised. It is not a healthy situation to be in when the value of the product you work hard to produce are vulnerable to fluctuating and fickle world wide market forces. Dairy exports may benefit big companies, but it does not really benefit dairy farmers in times when there is world oversupply of processed milk. Read more here.
Education on raw milk
A raw milk industry for Australia is an exciting new concept. Consumers and dairy farmers will enjoy having discussion and anticipating access to it. Raw milk for human consumption is a niche market for the small scale farmer only because they can take the necessary care to produce a high quality raw milk. According to Moo View Farm's website:
"Herds in dairies which produce raw milk are typically far smaller than in factory farms, resulting in less mud in high-traffic areas, such as gateways, less manure, hence less soiling, and animals exposed to virtually no stress, as there is no overcrowding. A small herd makes it easy for the farmer to monitor each animal’s health, whereas in commercial dairies the volume of traffic and the anonymity of the herd allow sick animals to go unnoticed. It is important to remember that illness in the cow contaminates the milk."
A lot of training goes with the conversion from a small existing dairy to a boutique raw milk dairy. Also for the creation of a new raw dairy. Once standards for the production, sale and distribution of raw milk for human consumption have been set, education will be required because it is different from the pasteurised milk standard. The Australian public will also have to receive some education. Raw milk was at one time considered medicine according to the Milk Cure program. It was from grass-grazed cows not industrial dairies. Consumers will have to learn why there is a difference to understand why certified raw milk can be produced as a safe and low risk product. Exciting times lie ahead.
Raw Milk for pasteurisation is an established system and not much can be added to it in terms of education.
ARMM hopes this deeper look into the two kinds of raw milk will bless the raw milk movement and enable it to move forward. We have the ingredients and the DNA to create fantastic raw milk for human consumption. For decades Australia have been leaders in industrial milk but our small scale farmers have what it takes to convert and produce raw milk for their local communities. Australia can still sell processed milk to local and overseas markets but Australia also have a duty to care for its own citizens who choose raw milk.
Disclaimer: This article was written after observing the comments and questions posted on ARMM's Facebook page over a long period of time. Some Australian dairy farmers and raw milk supporters still do not understand why there are extra quality assurance measures taken beyond the conventional, industrial model. This is meant to serve as a general guide and a deeper look into those differences for educational purposes. This should not be taken as advice. These instructions are meant to educate people about the general differences, for a better understanding on why they are two different products. For a presentation on raw milk production from experts in this field, please see the resources at the bottom of this page under related articles.