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Raw milk movement

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The raw milk movement is a crank movement linked to raw foodism. Its adherents argue that pasteurization and homogenization damage the nutritional value of milk, and believe that milk which is unpasteurized and non-homogenized is healthier than the milk which is typically sold in grocery stores.[1] It should be distinguished from the movement among foodies to permit the regulated sale of raw milk and the use of raw milk for the production of other dairy products, which makes no health claims and merely reflects a preference for the flavor of raw milk and raw milk products; of course, one often leads to the other, so the line is rather thin.

Due to the possibility of unprocessed raw milk containing pathogens such as bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis, or Salmonella, most medical authorities consider raw milk to be rather dangerous, much like eating raw chicken—which is to say, safe only if painstaking procedures are followed, which most people don't;[2] as it happens, many raw milk enthusiasts are germ theory deniers and often invoke conspiratorial thinking in their defense of raw milk consumption.[3] They also invoke anecdotal evidence in defense of raw milk consumption, while bashing food safety authorities, such as the FDA, with ad hominem attacks.[4]

The movement has grown in popularity in recent years, especially with the advent of the internet,[note 1] and appears most popular in the American Midwest.[note 2]

There is also a raw milk movement of sorts in France due to a couple of factors. One is the difference in taste between cheese made from raw milk and cheese made from pasteurized milk[note 3] and the other is the pride the French take in their traditional foods.

Crank ideas about raw milk[edit]

On top of the fact that people involved in the raw milk movement misleadingly call raw milk "real milk"[5] or "fresh milk",[6] and portray their movement as some sort of food freedom movement, there are numerous false ideas about the benefits of raw milk. Most of these assertions, such as processed milk causing lactose intolerance, are flat out unproven. Others, such as the assertion that raw milk contains helpful bacteria, are true,[citation needed] but the benefits are mitigated in practice by the non-negligible probability of the raw milk being contaminated with other, much more harmful bacteria which, in recent years, has led to disease outbreaks.[7]

"Magic" milk mythology[edit]

As if the raw milk movement's ignorance of proven science regarding pasteurization wasn't enough, alternative medicine cranks have picked up the movement and used raw milk as a magical cure-all treatment for everything from cancer to cardiac disease.[8][9] This, of course, is in spite of a severe lack of proof of it being used successfully as a medical treatment or cure.[10]

Recklessly ignoring raw milk's dangers[edit]

The people who promote the sale and consumption of raw milk often ignore the reasons for the pasteurization process: namely, that it removes harmful pathogens, such as E. coli bacteria, picked up from the cows' environment.[11] Listeria, especially, is a common bacterium found in raw milk which is killed during the pasteurization process.[12][13] (This applies to milk directly consumed as milk. Competently performed cheesemaking from raw milk carries extremely low probability of pathogenic bacteria surviving the process, as desirable cheese cultures displace other biota at the pH and temperatures involved.[citation needed]) In countries that have not outlawed the sale of raw milk, it is only available for sale under restrictions that usually include higher dairy standards, higher-frequency inspections, restricted sales outlets, and prominent labelling.[14]

For those who aren't satisfied with getting dangerously ill by e. coli and listeria outbreaks (there are an average of six outbreaks a year in the United States in the last two decades)[15] you can also brag to your friends about getting sick by exotic and unknown bacteria such as: Brucella, Campylobacter, Mycobacterium bovis and Salmonella. If you prefer getting sick in more adventurous ways you can try parasites and viruses.

As with many other health problems, some drinkers are more likely to end up in the emergency room than others: for instance children, pregnant women and the elderly, and those suffering from other illnesses. A major problem with estimating the real number of raw milk health problems is doctors not properly identifying the cause and cases not being properly recorded. Farmers who consume raw milk often insist raw milk is safe due to their life-long consumption of the milk (as well as that of their families and friends) without getting sick. It's sort of like saying "I've been riding my motorcycle without a helmet my whole life and never got brain damage so you're totally fine not wearing one." However, different people show different symptoms, and cases may not be properly identified. The good old force of random chance may leave an entire community of raw milk drinkers unaffected by the dangers of its consumption while they are ignorant of nearby outbreaks.

A possible alternative to pasteurization is food irradiation, which would kill bacteria but wouldn't subject the milk to heat. However, given the nature woo mindset of many raw milk advocates, food irradiation would probably be even less palatable to them, because, how on Earth could someone do milk-cleanse to remove toxins from the body, if the milk is irradiated with radioactive death particles?

Raw milk, like other raw foods, also contains a wider variety of proteins than its "cooked" counterpart, which carries with it a greater risk of a food allergy. There are food allergy sufferers who only react only to the raw version of a food item, and it's not inconceivable that a few people exist who might be allergic to raw milk but not to pasteurized milk. This is a much less pressing concern than the risk of food-borne pathogens in unpasteurized milk, though.

The risk for being infected by food-borne pathogens is over 100 times greater in raw milk compared to pasteurized milk.[16] At least one case of an unconcerned parent feeding their child raw milk sold "for cosmetic purposes only" has led to the child's death.[17] While the raw milk company involved obeyed all laws for required labeling, they also distributed newsletters arguing for legalized consumption. Cheese made from raw milk is not completely safe either; in 2017, 2 people died and more than 4 others became sick from raw milk cheese.[18]


The process of homogenizing milk is, of course, not a health issue in any way; it is merely a convenience for consumers, in that it prevents the milk from separating (the cream coming out of the emulsion and rising to the top). This is an inconvenience for those of us who enjoyed slowly licking the cream off the bottle lid when no one was watching.[19]

Homogenization involves breaking down the fat droplets. Even "nonfat" (skim) milk contains a tiny amount of milkfat, so it too is often homogenized.[20]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. As a result of easier-to-obtain misinformation
  2. As is discussed in this article, with the reasoning being that there are a larger percentage of dairy farms in the American Midwest, and thus more which produce raw milk
  3. During the process of cheesemaking, the desirable cheese cultures displace and eliminate any pathogenic bacteria that may already be present in raw milk.