I've written extensively about the differences between raw grass-fed milk and dairy from cows raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), explaining the many health and environmental benefits of the former and the risks associated with the latter.
Contrary to popular belief, pasteurized CAFO milk is NOT safer than raw milk from a healthy, grass-fed cow raised according to organic standards. Data shows that illnesses linked to raw milk are minimal, and far lower than those from pasteurized CAFO milk.
The reason for this has to do with the abnormal diet fed to CAFO cows. Grass is a cow's natural food. Corn (nearly always GMO) and other grains, which are routinely fed to CAFO livestock, are not.
When cows eat grains, their body composition is altered and so is their milk, resulting in an inferior nutritional profile. Pasteurization also destroys many valuable nutrients — many of which have notable benefits for your digestion and immune function.1
Interestingly, cows, like humans, fed a high-grain diet will die prematurely. Many times a grain-fed cow's life expectancy will be decreased by more than 50 percent. This is not typically an issue however, as the animals are sacrificed long before that time.
Pasteurized CAFO Dairy Far More Likely to Cause Disease Than Raw Milk
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) frequently cites raw milk as a leading cause of foodborne illness outbreaks and deaths. However, if you look at the actual data, you will not find ANY deaths linked to raw milk in the U.S.
You can get the whole story in my previous article, “How the CDC Transformed 21 Raw Milk Illnesses Into 20,000.” In the U.K., not a single case of illness from drinking raw milk has been reported since 2002.2
Meanwhile, just last year, ice cream from Blue Bell Creamery — the third-largest ice cream maker in the U.S. — sickened 10 people with listeria; three died as a result. The price for causing three deaths? A mere $175,000 fine.3
Raw dairy farmers have been put out of business for mere suspicion of contamination. Even in the absence of a complaint of contamination, farmers and consumers are often harassed over the buying and selling of raw milk.
Such is the case in Harris County, Texas, where the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and raw milk consumers claim they're being threatened by public health officials even though they're not doing anything illegal. As reported by YourHoustonNews.com:4
“Raids have taken place at raw milk drop points to stop consumers from picking up raw milk. The raw milk consumers and producers are in fear of being shut down or fined by authorities.
‘Generally, when the health department has a concern about a business, they will talk to that business and they will go through the concerns.
What's been happening is that they have been showing up in Katy with the sheriff's deputies and in Austin they showed up with the police,' said Judith McGeary, executive director of Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. ‘This isn't how food inspections are handled typically. It is very out of line.'”
Clearly, the attack on raw milk is aimed at controlling the dairy industry, NOT to save you from yourself, should you be convinced that raw milk is a healthy food and choose to go out of your way to obtain and drink it!
Ongoing Listeria Contamination Found at Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream
In 2013, Chobani Greek yogurt was recalled following reports of gastrointestinal illness.5 The yogurt, which is pasteurized and not raw, was found to be contaminated with a fungus called Murcor circinelloides.
Listeria bacteria was also recently found in Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams' Columbus, Ohio, facility, prompting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue a warning letter to the company.
The same strain of listeria was found in samples collected in April 2015, suggesting the company is struggling with an ongoing contamination problem.6
As a rule, CAFOs are hotbeds for disease-causing bacteria that can easily end up in the final product, be it milk, cheese, yogurt or ice cream. Pasteurization is thought to kill off all of these bacteria, but reality tells a different story. Part of the problem is the sheer volume of food being processed.
All you need is for one portion of the processing plant to be contaminated in order for massive amounts of food to be contaminated — and it doesn't matter if it's been pasteurized or not. In the case of Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream, the source of the 2015 contamination was traced to a contaminated spout on one of its machines.
CAFOs also promote antibiotic-resistant disease that kills an estimated 23,000 Americans each year, courtesy of the routine use of antibiotics to keep livestock healthy enough while crammed together in unsanitary conditions.
But there's yet another major difference between organic grass-fed dairy farming and CAFOs, and it has to do with the amount of pesticides used on cattle feed. Not only does it contribute to environmental devastation, but the end product may also contain herbicide residues that could affect your health.
Use of Agricultural Chemicals Has Skyrocketed
Pesticide-producing giants like Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta promised their genetically engineered (GE) seeds (also referred to as genetically modified organisms or GMO) would allow farmers to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals used on their crops, leading to a greener, more environmentally-friendly agriculture.
The idea that chemical technology companies would act against their own self-interests by selling seeds requiring less of the chemicals that are the backbone of their profit centers should have been identified as a lie from the start, but many bought the sales pitch hook, line and sinker.
Today, with data showing the truth in black and white, it is high time everyone realizes that GE crops DRIVE the ever-increasing use of toxic chemicals on our food supply, making not only our food but also our soil and water more toxic — a fact that, ultimately, has serious ramifications for human health and all other life on Earth.
According to a recent report by the organic advocacy group Regeneration Vermont, use of herbicides and synthetic fertilizers on Vermont dairy farms nearly DOUBLED between 2002 and 2012.7
In 2002, Vermont farmers used 1.54 pounds of herbicide per acre. In 2012, they used an average of 3.01 pounds per acre.
Atrazine Dominates on Vermont Dairy Farms
One of the most commonly used weed killers on Vermont dairy farms is Syngenta's Lumax, the active ingredients of which are atrazine and metolachlor.
According to the report, as much as 80 percent of all the herbicides used in the state are atrazine-based. I recently wrote about the serious health hazards associated with atrazine, which include:
- Estrogen overproduction, which can contribute to the feminizing of males, reproductive problems and estrogen-sensitive cancers like breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, hairy-cell leukemia and thyroid cancer
- Birth defects, including abdominal defects such as gastroschisis, in which the baby's intestines stick outside of the baby's body
Atrazine also causes serious reproductive harm to amphibians, fish, birds and mammals, and has been shown to depress immune function in wildlife and laboratory rodents.
Herbicides May Pose Serious Threat to Our Children
While atrazine is the most commonly found herbicide contaminant in the U.S. water supply, many other weed killers are also associated with water contamination and pose very similar health risks. As reported by VTdigger.org:8
“Seven of the active ingredients in use — atrazine, simazine, acetachlor, alachlor, metolachlor, pendimethalin and glyphsate — have been linked to birth defects, developmental defects and contaminated drinking water … Five of the chemicals have been banned by the European Union.”
On June 6, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new risk assessment for atrazine,9 concluding the herbicide cannot be used safely even at lower concentrations.10 It is currently up for public comment and is not expected to be finalized until 2017, but it may well lead to tighter regulatory limits and possibly even an eventual ban, based on the level of concern found.
The report, “Vermont's GMO Legacy: Pesticides, Polluted Water and Climate Destruction,”11,12 notes that the use of nitrogen fertilizer in Vermont has nearly doubled as well, rising from 8.9 million pounds in 2002 to 16.5 million pounds in 2012, applied to a total of about 92,000 acres of farmland.
Impact of GE-Fed Dairy Cows
While there are many problems with CAFOs, the use of GE feed makes everything worse. As noted by Will Allen, one of the founders of Regeneration Vermont and author of the report, “There is no reason to use GMO corn.” Indeed, dairy farmers could opt for conventional corn or, even better, organic.
The cows would still suffer health problems since corn is not a natural food for them, but at least this would reduce (or eliminate in the case of organic corn) the amount of toxic herbicides contaminating the environment and ending up in the milk supply. Allen points out that the dramatic increase in herbicides, combined with GE seeds that are pre-treated with pesticides against pests that aren't even a problem, is really irresponsible.
“Allen also criticizes what he describes as the state's hypocritical stance on GMO labeling,” VTdigger.org writes.13 “While state politicians have defended Vermont's GMO food labeling law against attacks … they have done little to effect policy that would help dairy farmers shift to organic methods …14
Vermont's GMO labeling law has left a false impression that it ‘solved' the GMO problem in the state. ‘Nothing could be further from the truth,' Allen writes. ‘While we are forcing the labeling of Cheetos and Spaghettios, the state turns a blind eye to GMO corn used to feed cows that produce milk for Agri-Mark and Ben & Jerry's. GMOs are about more than a (consumer's) right to know. It's also about the GMO impact on the environment and the monopolization of the food supply.”
Dairy Advertising Versus Reality
A recent commentary written by Allen and Regeneration Vermont co-founders Michael Colby and Kate Duesterberg focuses on the false front the CAFO dairy industry presents to the public:15
“The great divide between the well-marketed image of Vermont dairy farming and its stark and toxic realities is becoming harder and harder to ignore. The marketing shows healthy cows grazing on lush pastures. But the reality is cows on concrete, being fed a diet of GMO-corn and the toxic residues from the hundreds of thousands of pounds of herbicides sprayed annually on the corn and hay fields …
Regeneration Vermont is in the process of trying to wake up consumers, the corporate dairy suppliers and the regulators that these dangerous toxins are probably in our milk, ice cream, cheese, butter and yogurt, and are definitely in our drinking and recreational waters. We believe that, in order to truly protect the Vermont brand by putting some reality behind it, an immediate transition to regenerative organic dairying needs to be fast-tracked.”
More than 200 (about 20 percent) of the dairy farms in Vermont have already made the transition to organic farming. This is a good start, but hundreds more need to follow suit. Also, these problems are hardly restricted to Vermont. Dairy farms across the U.S. are contributing to the destruction of our environment and human health.
Organic Farming Pays
Nationwide there are about 2,200 organic dairy farms, most of which have fewer than 200 cows. The “get big or get out” mentality has reduced the number of dairy farms in the U.S. by 60 percent over the past two decades.16 Despite that decline, the total milk production has increased by one-third — a feat attributed to CAFOs, which often house more than 15,000 cows and often use drugs to promote abnormal increases in milk production.
At that scale, you simply cannot raise cows according to organic, grass-fed standards. However, family dairy farms that decide to go organic often end up profiting. As reported by Epoch Times:17
“The pricing of organic milk is separate from the conventional milk market … [O]rganic prices have so far offered much greater stability … Organic Valley is the largest organic dairy cooperative in the country by far, with 1,800 family farm members. The price Organic Valley farmers earn includes a good profit …
The Buck family [in Goodhue, Minnesota] used to farm conventionally, but made the transition to organic in order to avoid spraying chemicals on the farm … [Ruth Buck] explained that the farm has the right number of cows (120) for the land (100 acres). ‘Everything balances out, and you don't need to push the cows,' she said.”
According to Darin Von Ruden, an organic dairy farmer and president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, organic dairy farmers typically have a profit margin of 5 to 10 percent when first starting out. Once established, they can make anywhere from 15 to 20 percent profit.
This is in stark contrast to conventional farms, which typically have a profit margin of 1 or 2 percent; a particularly good year might yield a 7 to 8 percent profit margin. The reason CAFOs are still so profitable is their sheer scale. But as just discussed, all this cheap milk comes at a terrible price.
Organic Watchdog Group Calls for Organic Merger Block
Many well-known organic brands are actually owned by multinational junk food purveyors — many of which have lobbied to prevent GMO labeling and otherwise fought against cleaner, safer food systems. Most recently, the French dairy company Groupe Danone announced it may acquire WhiteWave Foods at a price tag of about $10 billion.
If this deal goes through, Danone-owned Stonyfield would merge with the Wallaby yogurt brand. Danone would also end up controlling Horizon, the largest organic milk brand in the U.S. As noted by The Cornucopia Institute,18 this merger is a cause for great concern — so much so, Cornucopia is calling for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to block the merger.
There's already little competition in the organic dairy market, and this merger could easily result in price fixing and other problems associated with monopolization. As noted by Cornucopia:19
“Horizon already procures a large percentage of their milk from industrial-scale dairies managing thousands of cows each. The Stonyfield brand has always depended on family-scale farmers. That could all change after the merger.
You need to let the DOJ and the FTC know that they must scrutinize the Danone-WhiteWave acquisition closely for anti-competitive concerns in the organic dairy market and act to protect consumers, independent businesses and farmers alike from monopoly control of the market.”
Can Raw Milk Help Prevent Asthma?
As a result of the animals' diet and standard of living (being outdoors, exposed to natural sunlight, free to roam at will without the stressors of confinement and crowding etc.), high-quality raw milk has many health benefits that pasteurized milk lacks. For example, grass-fed raw milk contains:
- Healthy bacteria that are good for your gastrointestinal (GI) tract
- More than 60 digestive enzymes, growth factors and immunoglobulins (antibodies)
- Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
- Beneficial raw fats, amino acids and proteins in a highly bioavailable form, all 100 percent digestible
- Vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K in highly bioavailable forms, and a very balanced blend of minerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron), the absorption of which is enhanced by live lactobacilli
Research has shown raw milk exposure in early childhood increases the number of regulatory T-cells (Treg cells; immunosuppressive cells that modulate your immune system), resulting in a lower risk for asthma and allergies. According to the authors:20
“Farm milk exposure was associated with increased Treg cell numbers on stimulation in 4.5-year-old children and might induce a regulatory phenotype early in life, potentially contributing to a protective effect for the development of childhood allergic diseases.”
In another study,21 published last year, nearly 1,000 infants from rural areas in Austria, Finland, France, Germany and Switzerland were followed for the first year of life. Their consumption of different types of cow's milk was analyzed, along with rates of common respiratory infections. Children who drank raw milk had a 30 percent lower risk of respiratory infections and fever compared to those who did not drink raw milk.
Milk that was boiled at the farm had a diminished protective effect, and milk that was ultra-pasteurized, which is heated to about 135 degrees Celsius (275 degrees Fahrenheit) for a few seconds, showed no protective effect, likely because the protective compounds are killed or otherwise damaged by the heat.
Kids who drank fresh, raw milk also had significantly lower incidence of head colds and middle-ear inflammation compared to those who drank ultra-pasteurized milk. The researchers concluded that the public health impact of minimally processed raw milk might be “enormous, given the high prevalence of respiratory infections in the first year of life and the associated direct and indirect costs.”
Where to Find Raw Milk and Healthy Yogurt
Getting your raw milk from a local organic farm is one of the best ways to ensure you're getting high-quality milk. If you're still unsure of where to find raw milk, check out Raw-Milk-Facts.com and RealMilk.com. They can tell you what the status is for legality in your state, and provide a listing of raw dairy farms in your area.
The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund22 also provides a state-by-state review of raw milk laws.23 California residents can find raw milk retailers using the store locator available at www.OrganicPastures.com.
Yogurt is another dairy product that can do more harm than good if you stray from raw grass-fed dairy as the base. To identify the best commercial yogurts available, refer to The Cornucopia Institute's Yogurt Report and score card. Their investigation found many products being sold as yogurt do not even meet the standards for real yogurt!
Top-rated yogurts are generally VAT pasteurized at relatively low temperatures and are made from raw milk rather than previously pasteurized milk. While not as advantageous as making yogurt from raw milk in your own home, it's certainly better than most commercial yogurt. As a general rule, you'll want to seek out organic yogurt made from 100 percent grass-fed milk. Also make sure it's made from whole (full fat) milk, not low-fat or skim.