An article recently appeared in the Guardian ( which was fluff piece about the need to reduce disposable packaging in milk production as well as promoting the benefits of 'raw' milk over the mass-produced stuff we usually get in supermarkets. But what exactly is 'raw' milk and is it really better for us as some claimants say? Milk produced in the UK is typically homogenised and pasteurised before being sold to the public. Raw milk removes these two main steps by bottling it almost straight from the cow, sheep, or goat without any processing. However, one of these is necessary, the other preferable
Homogenisation is simply standardising the fat content and quality of the finished product. If you're old enough to remember when the cream in milk bottles rose to the top, this was because it was not homogenised. The milk today is forced through a fine strain which breaks up the fat globules so they are evenly distributed and quality maintained. Pasteurisation goes back to the French scientist Louis Pasteur who in the 1880's discovered that gently heating wine to around 60-70 deg Celsius for around 30 minutes stopped the wine from spoiling and allowed it to age without compromising the taste. Until the 20th C, Milk was often adulterated with chemicals to mask the sourness of spoiled milk and even when more robust consumer laws became the norm, untreated milk from herds with TB or just poor sanitary standards where very common. Until it was regularly pasteurised, according to a report in the BMJ, between 1912 and 1937, around 65,000 people died of tuberculosis contracted from consuming milk in England and Wales alone. and the CDC in the US says " improperly handled raw milk is responsible for nearly three times more hospitalisations than any other food-borne disease source, making it one of the world's most dangerous food products".
But what of the claimed benefits by raw milk proponents? They say that farms and dairies are now covered by such strict hygiene and phytosanitary standards that the milk produced doesn't need to be pasteurised. They claim there are numerous health benefits: pasteurisation destroys milk's nutrients; homogenisation makes milk less healthy; unpasteurised raw milk has less bacteria, and raw milk helps us fight diseases and allergies. True, the heating process does lower some vitamin levels but these are very low already in milk, which is not a good source for these anyway. The claims about allergies are often non-specific and come from poorly conducted studies and there is no evidence that the pasteurisation process somehow damages or changes the milk to make it less nutritious. In 1983 12 people died in Scotland after consuming raw milk that was contaminated by deadly bacteria and since then it has been illegal to sell it here. All milk no matter how well produced can harbour pathogens such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, typhoid, streptococcal infections, salmonella, E coli and brucellosis. Milk is pasteurised for a damn good reason.