The raw milk debate has gotten a lot of media attention recently, thanks to a newly released 13-year study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a raw milk–related outbreak in Pennsylvania and an increasingly loud group of consumers who aren’t down with a little process called pasteurization.
The legality of selling raw or unpasteurized milk varies from state to state, leading to some Prohibition-esque raw milk sales in states where it’s illegal (yes, there’s an underground raw milk trade). Advocates eschew the heating process known as pasteurization, which reduces harmful pathogens and helps delay spoilage, and homogenization, which breaks up fat to create an even-textured liquid.
While most raw milk advocates cite mostly unproven health benefits, others argue that the taste is the main draw. Despite warnings from the Food and Drug Administration and Center for Disease Control about the bacterial risks that raw milk poses, there is a devoted and vocal following for milk that hasn’t been treated with these modern techniques.
To help sort through the debate, below are 10 myths and facts about unpasteurized milk. (And yes, raw milk proponents, you’re welcome to fire away in the comments.)
1. Raw milk is substantially more nutritious
Pasteurization does slightly reduce the level of Vitamin C, however, raw milk is not a significant source of Vitamin C to begin with, according to the CDC. The typical American diet provides plenty of other opportunities to consume needed amounts of Vitamin C.
2. Raw milk is just as safe as pasteurized milk
According to the CDC’s recent study, the rate of disease-related outbreaks from raw milk and raw milk products is 150 times more likely than that of pasteurized milk and milk products.
3. Raw milk kills pathogens naturally
Only the process of pasteurization kills the dangerous bacteria found in unpasteurized milk. Raw milk’s natural enzymes do not reduce the risk of food-borne illness.
4. Drinking pasteurized milk can cause lactose intolerance
Both raw milk and pasteurized milk contain the same concentration of lactose and do not affect a person’s ability to consume lactose. The cause of lactose intolerance is a lack of the enzyme beta-galactosidase.
5. Raw milk is safer and more nutritious for children
The CDC’s report noted that 60 percent of the victims of raw milk–related outbreaks were under the age of 20 and that children were more likely to become sick than adults.
1. Unpasteurized milk can carry dangerous bacteria and has caused many disease outbreaks
A wide range of bacteria is found in unpasteurized milk including Salmonella, E. Coli, Campylobactor, Listeria, and Norovirus.
2. Approximately less than three percent of Americans drink raw milk
Contrary to popular belief that many people are drinking raw milk nationally, the figures are in fact very small and drop even further when you eliminate raw milk drinkers who live and work on farms.
3. Outbreaks related to raw milk are twice as common in states where it is legally sold
During the CDC’s 13-year study, seven states changed their laws that allowed the sale of raw milk.
4. Raw milk from grain-fed and grass-fed cows is equally unsafe
Raw milk–related disease outbreaks have been traced back to both types of cows.
5. 78 people recently became ill from raw milk in Pennsylvania
An outbreak linked to a dairy farm in central Pennsylvania (where raw milk sales are legal) has caused bacterial infections in 78 people this year, which is the worst raw milk–related outbreak in the state’s history.