Milk in the raw

 

Non-pasteurization trend wins praise, critics

(Montrose Daily Press, CO)

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

MONTROSE — Michal Anne Plume swears by raw milk.

Plume, who volunteers at Kinkin Corner Dairy, credits unpasteurized milk with putting the kibosh on her bursitis and cutting her annual colds to zero.

“If I’m going to drink milk, it’s got to be raw,” Plume said Wednesday, during a break from her chores at the dairy.

 

Raw-milk enthusiasts like Plume, Kinikin Corner Dairy owner Scott Freeman and many of his cow-share customers, say the product is better for the human body.

The state health department and other experts disagree.

“There is no scientific evidence,” said Patti Klocker, assistant director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Consumer Protection Division. “There are higher risks (from) drinking raw milk of illness than there is of pasteurization damaging any of the nutritional benefits.”

The CDPHE ordered the dairy on April 7 to halt raw-milk distribution, after at least 11 people became ill with campylobacter, a bacteria that can cause diarrhea, fever, severe cramping,

nausea and vomiting in humans. The bacteria occurs naturally in cattle and can be spread through their fecal matter.

Eight of those with confirmed infections apparently drank raw milk from the dairy; another two reported also drinking raw milk, although they did not know the milk’s origin.

Freeman is working with the state to meet requirements it imposed Tuesday. The state’s actions ignited a firestorm of criticism from Freeman’s customers who want their raw milk back — and near-equal passion from among raw milk’s critics.

The dairy way
Freeman had been a dairyman before opening the Kinikin Corner Dairy in 2005. He came back to the profession after spending 20 years away from it. These days, he runs the cow-share cooperative, which, until the state’s order, provided investors with 1 gallon of milk per week, per share of a cow owned.

Managing the 30 head of Holstein and Holstein-cross cattle — 16 of which have to be milked two or three times a day — takes up to 16 hours a day. The herd enjoys open pasture, and a weather-port style shelter.

Freeman and volunteers use a bucket-milker to take the milk from the cows. The containers are transported into the processing area, where it is machine-separated. The milk is then bottled and refrigerated for cow-sharers to pick up on an honor-system. Volunteers also take milk to drop-off points for Freeman’s customers in the Roaring Fork Valley and Telluride.

Though the CDPHE has ordered more testing of the milk, Freeman says such tests are nothing new.

“I’ve been testing the milk monthly all along,” he said.

He and other raw milk producers began sending their milk to a particular lab on a particular day about eight months ago, to test for salmonella, E.coli, coliform count, standard plate count (the total amount of bacteria in milk) and antibiotics.

“We’re passing easily and have been for eight months,” Freeman said. “The whole reason of raw milk is to be as organic as possible.”

He said dairy-industry standards for colony forming units, or CFUs, is around 10,000. In the past three years, the Kinikin Corner Dairy’s highest counts have been 2,000 and its latest test showed 80 CFUs — well below the established limits.

Does raw equal risky?
Despite recent headlines trumpeting the recalls of everything from peanut butter to pistachios, food-borne illnesses in the United States have held steady for five years, the Associated Press reported.

The AP noted, however, that prior to 2004, food-borne illnesses had been on the decline. Campylobacter was reported as the second most common of such illnesses, occurring in 13 of

100,000 food-borne illness cases (not necessarily involving raw milk) studied by the Centers for Disease Control.

Kinkin Dairy supporters say that only eight people among 200 cow-sharers and their associates were sickened — a comparatively low number.

Seattle attorney Bill Marler said that doesn’t mean raw milk is safe. Marler has represented several clients, or their survivors, in food-borne illness cases, even taking on Con-Agra.

“The amount of raw milk that is sold commercially is actually quite small and is unfortunately growing,” he said. “The number of illnesses and the frequency of illnesses, in my opinion, certainly indicates that it is a growing problem, not a shrinking one you can ignore.”

Colorado does not allow the commercial sale of raw milk. But a recent law allows for cow-shares, which Marler, speaking generally, said is being used to sidestep commercial-sale bans.

One of Marler’s clients, a formerly healthy 39-year-old Californian, developed a rare and progressively paralytic illness after drinking raw milk. Marler said she’s been rendered quadrupalegic and claims raw milk is to blame.

“A lot of times, raw milk groups have a tendency to say the health department is out for them, rather than that the health department is doing its job. That’s part of their marketing scheme, to feel like they’re being put upon,” Marler said.

“It’s not like I had a particular jag against raw milk, it’s just frankly another food that poisons people and the producers have to be as responsible as the corporations.”

The more things change ...
Freeman said attitudes toward raw milk are cyclical. “When pasteurization was first mandated, people fought it. Now, people are clamoring to get back to raw milk,” he said.

“Nothing is consistent except change.”

Raw milk is healthier, he said, but added it’s hard to explain why without “hammering on” pasteurization.

“Pasteurization has its place,” Freeman said. He said it had been necessary in the past century, when milk production shifted to industrial dairies without adequate protections, but the secret to clean milk is keeping healthy cows on clean ground.

“For human nutrition, raw is just inherently better for you,” Freeman said.

Heat-treating changes food’s makeup, he said, and can neutralize important enzymes.

“The vitamins are either destroyed or reduced in their viability. Raw milk has all those things naturally there.”

Plume goes further, calling pasteurized milk “a dead substance.” She said pasteurization has made people complacent.

“All the cows are only grass-fed. ... They’re eating what God intended,” Plume said.

The CDPHE’s Klocker said the state cannot guarantee the safety of milk unless it’s pasteurized.

She indicated that just because the producer uses good sanitization practices, that alone does not mean the raw milk is safe to drink.

“It needs the pasteurization step,” Klocker said.

She said CDPHE continues to work with the dairy. “They’re very concerned. They want to do the right thing.”

Freeman detailed his sanitization practices, which he said require only slight modifications to please the state.

“People need to make their own decisions,” he said. “Most of my customers do their own research and then they come find me.” 4-18-09

 

 

 

 

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