5 False Arguments for Raw Milk

Some people who enjoy raw milk also make up false claims that regular milk is more dangerous.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Alternative Medicine, Fads, Health

Skeptoid #383
October 8, 2013
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe

Today we're going to drop by our friendly local dairy farm and pick up a quart or two of what has become among the trendiest of foodie fancies, raw milk. Raw milk comes straight from the cow's udder and into your glass. It hasn't been homogenized or pasteurized and has nature's full complement of fat, making it a scrumptious, creamy treat. But many of its fans aren't satisfied with touting its flavor; they also claim it brings a host of miraculous health benefits hitherto undiscovered by science. Health experts, on the other hand, warn against consuming it in no uncertain terms, claiming that its unpasteurized bacterial load makes it an unacceptable risk. Is one or the other of these positions true, or do the real facts lie somewhere in between?

Some raw milk lovers take their passion very seriously, almost to the point of a religion. It's fine to like something, fine to uphold ideological positions, fine to advocate to others. But it's never OK to invent bad science to defend a position; and unfortunately, it appears that's exactly what some raw milk proponents do. Here are five common arguments that I found being repeatedly made about the supposed evils of regular pasteurized, homogenized milk:

1. Pasteurization destroys milk's nutrients: False.

As we know, regular milk is pasteurized, and this is the key difference between it and raw milk. Heating food to reduce spoilage has been in practice for about a thousand years, even though the mechanism wasn't well understood at first. We now know that heat kills the microbes found in food; including bacteria, fungi, algae, and a whole host of other organisms. Dangerous bacteria, like Salmonella and E. coli, are the most worrisome.

We could sterilize food if we wanted to kill everything in it, but complete sterilization would also cook or destroy the food. It was Louis Pasteur who discovered in 1864 that a much gentler heating for only a short time was sufficient to kill such a high percentage of the microbes that food spoilage was largely mitigated. Today milk is one of many, many foods that are pasteurized to increase their shelf life and safety. There are various processes for doing this, but the net result is that the milk is briefly heated and then cooled again. Opponents say that a side effect of this is to destroy essential nutrients in the milk.

To see whether this is true, we first have to ask "What are these nutrients?" So far, the answer to this has been wanting. The nutrients in milk are mainly energy from fat and lactose, and these are unaffected by pasteurization. Similarly, the molecular structures of proteins and minerals are far too robust to be damaged by the relatively low heat. One fact is that a number of vitamins are found in reduced concentration in pasteurized milk, including vitamins B1, B12, C and E. Though true, it's a fine trade-off, because milk of any kind is a relatively poor source for these vitamins. Vitamin A content is actually increased after pasteurization.

Often, advocates point to the fact that regular milk is fortified with vitamin D as evidence that pasteurization destroys that vitamin, so it has to be re-added. Untrue. Milk is not a source of vitamin D; it's one of many products that are fortified (such as breakfast cereals, orange juice, and baby formula), and have been since rickets was a major public health problem in the 1930s.

Lactobacillus is a bacterium found in our bodies, and also found in cow's milk. Lactobacillus does help with our digestion and the conversion of sugars to energy. And, it is killed by pasteurization. While some raw milk advocates raise alarm over this, there's no need. Lactobacillus thrives and reproduces itself inside our bodies. There is no need to drink milk to get it.

2. Homogenization makes milk less healthy: False.

Raw milk is not homogenized like regular milk. Homogenization is just what it sounds like; making the milk consistent from batch to batch, and making the fat level consistent throughout each serving.

Homogenization is a simple process. The first thing that's done is to mix together milk from different dairies, making it more consistent overall and day to day. The second part is making it consistent throughout. Raw milk separates into a light, fatty layer on top, and a heavier layer on the bottom. Homogenization turns it into an emulsion, in which the fat particles are tiny and evenly distributed throughout the liquid in such a way that they won't separate like raw milk. This is just a matter of forcing it through a fine strain which breaks up the fat chunks into tiny specks. Presto, a homogenous product.

Opposition to the homogenization of milk is manifold, yet so far, unsupported by any good science. Most of it sprang from a mass-market 1983 book, The XO Factor: Homogenized Milk May Cause Your Heart Attack, which put forth a number of fringe hypotheses which were quickly refuted in the medical literature but achieved much more mindshare among the general public. The book claimed, as its title suggests, that the homogenized fat particles were responsible for a lot of heart disease. Other claimed issues included digestion problems, but again, once controlled testing was done, it was found that people claiming hypersensitivity to homogenized milk reported just as many digestion problems no matter what kind of milk they were given.

Raw milk may avoid homogenization, but the result is just a taste preference. No health benefits or detriments have been discerned either way.

3. Unpasteurized raw milk has less bacteria: False.

The whole point of pasteurizing milk is to reduce the dangerous bacteria, obviously; so this claim really had me scratching my head wondering how on Earth someone could have come up with it. Here is an example of one article that claims raw milk is likely to have fewer bacteria than pasteurized milk, this one from a web site called "The Daily Green":

...Provided it comes from a reputable farm and has been processed clean, it should arrive with a fairly low bacterial count (all milk, even pasteurized, has some kind of bacterial count). What has been shown with raw milk is that if you introduce pathogens (i.e., bad bacteria) into it, they die off. They think it's because the "good" bacteria (i.e., natural probiotics) that are in the milk naturally kill the bad bacteria -- just the way good bacteria in our intestinal tract kill off bad bacteria.

So if I might paraphrase, the claim is that yogurt-style live probiotic bacteria in raw milk kills bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli; but pasteurization kills the probiotics and allows the Salmonella and E. coli to flourish. Fair enough; however, this claim is founded upon two factual errors.

The first error is that probiotics kill bad bacteria. It's true that bacteria do feed on each other a lot of the time, but this is a far messier battleground than the simplistic miracle claim of "good bacteria beat the bad bacteria". In fact, a 2010 study in Sweden found that patients infected with Salmonella did not have improved outcomes when taking probiotics.

The second error is that pasteurization kills only probiotics and not Salmonella and E. coli. In fact, targeting those harmful bacteria is the entire reason for pasteurization. If it kills harmless probiotics as well, no matter; we don't really care about that.

Either way, the evidence is very clear that raw milk carries far greater risk of bacterial infection than pasteurized milk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention devotes an entire web site to reporting this increased danger:

Among dairy product-associated outbreaks reported to CDC between 1998 and 2011 in which the investigators reported whether the product was pasteurized or raw, 79% were due to raw milk or cheese. From 1998 through 2011, 148 outbreaks due to consumption of raw milk or raw milk products were reported to CDC. These resulted in 2,384 illnesses, 284 hospitalizations, and 2 deaths. Most of these illnesses were caused by E. coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella, or Listeria. It is important to note that a substantial proportion of the raw milk-associated disease burden falls on children; among the 104 outbreaks from 1998-2011 with information on the patients' ages available, 82% involved at least one person younger than 20 years old.

Without qualification, raw milk is substantially more dangerous than pasteurized milk.

4. Raw milk cures all sorts of diseases: False.

It's pretty common to find in the raw milk literature the claim that conditions like eczema, asthma, and allergies are all successfully treated by drinking raw milk. This claim is completely absent from the scientific literature, but alternative medicine journals have asserted on many occasions that the bacteria in raw milk better challenges a child's immune system, and thus protects the child from such conditions. This is exactly how a vaccine works, so really all they're saying is that raw milk is a vaccine against eczema, asthma, and allergies.

There are no vaccines against these conditions — although "allergies" is such a broad category that it's impossible to make any blanket statements. If it were possible to vaccinate against eczema, asthma, and all allergies, then drug companies would have done it decades ago for immense profits, as they've done with the existing vaccines on the market. Make no mistake, medical science would love to be able to prevent these conditions.

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

5. Grass-fed cows produce safer milk: False.

Most cows are fed grain, since it takes too much land and rare climatic conditions to let cows pasture graze. Although a lot of raw milk sources say that grass-fed cows produce milk that's higher in this vitamin or that vitamin or what have you, the only difference that's been consistently shown is that it contains a higher amount of a fatty acid called CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid. CLA is sold as a supplement in the alternative health industry as a cure for things ranging from cancer to obesity. There are a number of small studies supporting these uses in the alternative medicine literature.

CLA is found in all meat and dairy products, and it is indeed found in higher concentrations in grass-fed animals. But that doesn't necessarily make it a wonder drug. Unlike the alternative medicine literature, the science literature makes almost no mention of CLA outside of animal studies. There's certainly no clear evidence that CLA supplementation has any evident medical benefit, although it certainly isn't going to hurt you. In the real world, the tiny amount of CLA you'd get by drinking grass-fed cows' milk instead of grain-fed is almost certainly insignificant.

Regardless, it cannot be reasonably argued that the milk from grass-fed cows is "safer" than that from grain-fed cows.

The default feedback I'm going to get from this episode is that I am on the payroll of Big Dairy, paid to spread misinformation and put the small, enlightened dairy farmers out of business. The only people who pay me are my listeners, for pointing out bad information like this that can impact public health. Raw milk is indeed a health risk, but from what I've been able to find, it's not a huge one. It certainly puts fewer people in the hospital than bad meat. If you enjoy the flavor and don't mind the limited availability, I say go for it. But please, like it for what it is, and don't make up bad science to fool other people into sampling a potentially dangerous food.

Brian Dunning

© 2013 Skeptoid Media Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Editors. "Probiotic Without Effect Against Salmonella." Science Daily. ScienceDaily, LLC, 19 Apr. 2010. Web. 6 Oct. 2013. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100419113654.htm>

Langer, A., Ayers, T., Grass, J., Lynch, M., Angulo, F., Mahon, B. "Nonpasteurized Dairy Products, Disease Outbreaks, and State Laws - United States, 1993–2006." Emerging Infectious Diseases. 21 Feb. 2012, Volume 18, Number 3: 385-391.

Macdonald, L., Brett, J., Kelton, D., Majowicz, S., Snedeker, K., Sargeant, J. "A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of pasteurization on milk vitamins, and evidence for raw milk consumption and other health-related outcomes." Journal of Food Protection. 1 Nov. 2011, Volume 74, Number 11: 1814-1832.

Paajanen, L., Tuure, T., Poussa, T., Korpela, R. "No difference in symptoms during challenges with homogenized and unhomogenized cow's milk in subjects with subjective hypersensitivity to homogenized milk." Journal of Dairy Research. 1 May 2003, Volume 70, Number 2: 175-179.

Reinagel, M. "Is Homogenized Milk Bad For You?" Quick and Dirty Tips. MacMillan Holdings, 7 Mar. 2012. Web. 6 Oct. 2013. <http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/healthy-eating/homogenized-milk-bad-you>

Wallace, W. "The Udder Truth." Salon. Salon Media Group, Inc., 19 Jan. 2007. Web. 6 Oct. 2013. <http://www.salon.com/2007/01/19/raw_milk/>

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "5 False Arguments for Raw Milk." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 8 Oct 2013. Web. 30 Aug 2015. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4383>


10 most recent comments | Show all 109 comments

I don't really care about the grand argument between drinking raw milk or running screaming from it, but have to point out that you said raw milk does not have vitamin D in it. Can you provide the study that shows that to be true?

Vitamins in Raw Milk:

Raw milk contains every known fat and water soluble vitamin. To get them all, make sure you drink whole raw milk or you'll miss those lost in the skimming process.

Vitamin C levels, already fairly low in cow's milk (typically less than 20mg/quart- about half the level found in human milk), have been shown to drop further when exposed to ultraviolet light such as from sunlight or fluorescent lights. Store it in the dark at home, and ask your store to look into UV filters for their cold-case lights. Here are some approximate but typical amounts of vitamins found in raw milk:

I found this list of vitamin content and evidence that the vitamin D is reduced greatly and necessary for the absorption of calcium, so therein lies the reason for fortifying with D.

Vitamin Content per quart (Approximate):

Pantothenic acid__3300ug
Folic acid__52ug

I would love the source to show no vitamin D so I can correct the other source. One of you has to be wrong, right?

mike, spokane, wa
July 26, 2014 10:54am

It reminds me of these microwave studies where they essentially burned the meat in a microwave: it has a significant effect, but no-one is seriously use the levels they do.

Bill, Canberra
July 27, 2014 1:38am

You're not addressing the most critical factor here - cows!

There is a HUGE difference between normal grass-fed cows, and hormone-injected, antibiotic-fuelled caged cows!

The milk produced by these cows is entirely different, so please state which milk you're referring to when applying this argument.

Thank you.

dopamine, Colombo
September 28, 2014 10:50pm

they demonize raw milk because dairy lobbyist!!!!
Here is whats in your FDA APPROVED MEATS
A total of 825 samples of retail raw meats (chicken, turkey, pork, and beef) were examined for the presence of Escherichia coli and Salmonella serovars, and 719 of these samples were also tested for Campylobacter spp. The samples were randomly obtained from 59 stores of four supermarket chains during 107 sampling visits in the Greater Washington, D.C., area from June 1999 to July 2000. The majority (70.7%) of chicken samples (n = 184) were contaminated withCampylobacter, and a large percentage of the stores visited (91%) had Campylobacter-contaminated chickens. Approximately 14% of the 172 turkey samples yieldedCampylobacter, whereas fewer pork (1.7%) and beef (0.5%) samples were positive for this pathogen. A total of 722Campylobacter isolates were obtained from 159 meat samples; 53.6% of these isolates were Campylobacter jejuni, 41.3% were Campylobacter coli, and 5.1% were other species. Of the 212 chicken samples, 82 (38.7%) yielded E. coli, while 19.0% of the beef samples, 16.3% of the pork samples, and 11.9% of the turkey samples were positive for E. coli. However, only 25 (3.0%) of the retail meat samples tested were positive for Salmonella. Significant differences in the bacterial contamination rates were observed for the four supermarket chains. This study revealed that retail raw meats are often contaminated with food-borne pathogens; however, there are marked differences in the prevalence of such pathogens in different meats. Raw retail meats are potential vehicles for transmitting food-borne diseases, and our findings stress the need for increased implementation of hazard analysis of critical control point (HACCP) and

brad, lexington s.c.
November 24, 2014 4:31am

Brad, that's a nice reminder that meats are supposed to be cooked and not eaten raw. Apply the same logic to milk: pasteurize and don't drink it raw.

Canyon, Verde
November 24, 2014 11:05am

Raw Milk has enzymes and phyto-nutrients. For example lactase enzyme that breaks down the lactose allows even lactose intolerant people to drink milk. Its great for people who are lactose tolerant as well, since the enzyme reduces any inflammatory response. The enzyme Phosphatase present in Raw milk helps absorb Calcium - infact a positive test for pasteurized milk is showing "0" phosphatase enzyme. Then raw milk has lipase which helps break down the fat. Plus 1000s of others that we do not know about. A mother's milk is raw - it has all the phytonutrients that helps a baby combat illness and boosts immune system. Boil the milk and you are poisoning your kid.

Pasteurized milk is a scam and a poison. Agree that Raw milk has bacteria - most of which are "good" - it help fight off the bad ones. If you drop e-coli and salmonella bacteria in Raw Milk it will die within 4 hours - tests have shown. The overpopulation of good bacteria will kill the salmonella and ecoli.

Plus do you think bad bacteria is really bad ? I beg to differ. A bad bacteria will make you sick and if you don't take any medicines what will end up happening is a boosted immune system. The best way to increase your immune system is by ingesting small amounts of bad bacteria and stay away from medicines.

The proof of the pudding is in eating. In 35 years not only I never been to a doctor but I never caught a cold. I only drink Raw Milk and will call 911 if someone tries to feed me Boiled Milk.

bobby, tampa
February 18, 2015 11:59am

You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if it's the wrong knowledge, it's not going to help you. The proof is in the pudding. If you want to know the truth, find out for yourself. The only way to do that is to try it. You will develop your own observations and conclusions based on your own investigative experimentation. What you will then discover, is that other people's opinions, however "credible" you believe them to be, are not worth as much to you as your own personal experience. When you have the conviction born of your own discovery, you will notice that people who have this conviction do not feel the need to argue their point. What's true, always works. Beliefs based on fiction, help no one. Most people confuse their beliefs and opinions with their own identity. Because of this, they guard their beliefs fiercely and value them more than truth because to change or exchange an opinion feels like loss to them. If you want to make real progress, be more concerned with truth than opinions. To lose a wrong opinion in exchange for a true one is always a gain, never a loss. So find out for yourself what's true.....It's the only way to know. Otherwise, you could be carrying around wrong opinions based on fiction that could influence others in a negative way, even if your intentions are good. What's more important to you? Proving your opinions right, or finding out the actual truth? Mega Om. The beginning and the end. ;)

TruthIsTreasure, Portsmouth UK
March 9, 2015 7:01am

Re. the Truth is Treasure post,all I can say is: you got it! Well expressed!

andrewg, Awahuri, New Zealand
May 22, 2015 5:20pm

Seeing I had the food standards page open for irradiation.

The current state of play (Raw Milk could be used in cheese manufacture and used in trade.. but obviously standards apply)


Its Australia only at present as NZ may want some whole sale changes or in fact has the standards infrastructure in place (which may be the case of.. proposals, Look at the kiwi experience and adopt a AS/NZS approach).

Being a cheese making hobbyist living in amongst the dairy areas, I'd still be ultra funny about collecting milk without FS procedures inbuilt into the collection,storage and distribution/sale.

No, I wont just toddle down to the local dairy.. Friends and family eat my cheese.

Mulga Gill, Sydney
June 22, 2015 12:57am

The statements themselves are delineating if not hypocritical. So let us direct this article briefly.

First of all as he states

"heat kills the microbes found in food; including bacteria, fungi, algae, and a whole host of other organisms. Dangerous bacteria, like Salmonella and E. coli, are the most worrisome."

Well this maybe true but the only time that these arrive are in unsanitary conditions mainly caused by man having the cows in containers /stalls etc. These dangerous bacteria never show up in clean environments.

Food spoilage is natural process that is supposed to happen. An apple that will sit on a counter for months and still look ripe as the day it was picked it not a healthy thing to eat.

Here is the statement that made me write this post

"One fact is that a number of vitamins are found in reduced concentration in pasteurized milk, including vitamins B1, B12, C and E. Though true, it's a fine trade-off, because milk of any kind is a relatively poor source for these vitamins. Vitamin A content is actually increased after

So since it is a poor source you change it? (pasteurization), making it weaker in some vitamins? and it somehow increases A , is that logical? Their should never be a trade off when tampering with mother nature and it's constituents the way something is naturally made in the world you live. It is made that way for a certain reason to sustain life. It is not made another way otherwise it would be , end of debat

sevendell7, St. Helena
August 14, 2015 7:54pm

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