Pasteurisation, a Sour Story

The following is re-posted from The Good Soup, written by Angela. It helps to explain the differences between the type of raw milk that needs to be pasteurized and the quality fresh raw milk that doesn’t as well as what pasteurizing milk covers up.

Pasteurization, A Sour Story

The word ‘pasteurization’ conjures a picture of two related periods in history. The first is that breakthrough moment when pasteurization entered the scene of an industrially created health calamity: cows fed off the sludge byproduct of distilleries produced sick milk, resulting in outbreaks of diphtheria, tuberculosis, and thousands of deaths. The second is right now, when the Australian government is deciding on a raw milk standard that could make illegal all unpasteurized dairy products: locally produced or from overseas; made into cheeses or cultured creams; accessed through arrangements individuals make direct with farmers or via other creative means. All access could be stamped out. So, let’s take a moment to look directly at this process called pasteurization and see it for what it is:

Pasteurization is a process of applying high heat to milk to sterilize it. As useful today as it was 120 years ago, pasteurization is the easiest way to deal with sloppy industrial farming practices. Raw, industrially produced milk is not safe to drink. Cows kept for periods of time indoors, or in crowded pastures, must be fed on grain. Grain stored in sheds develops moulds and when eaten by cows can lead to mastitis (infections of the teat) and the leaching of bacteria into milk. As well as this, sloppy milking practices occurring too quickly can allow manure to be transferred to milk. To top it off, confined, overcrowded conditions can cause one diseased cow to transfer their illness to a whole shed. Isolation of this disease from milk is almost impossible, in a dairy industry where one farmer’s milk is combined with many others. A white liquid with no provenance perfectly disguises the practices of individual farms. There is no way such an industry can survive without pasteurization.

Pasteurization is one example of a broadscale bandaid solution to an endemic sore: modern industrial farming systems. But year after year, the bandaids are unsticking themselves, revealing the festering sores they nourish.

  • Bandaid: antibiotic use to support unnatural growth in animals. Sore: antibiotic resistance in animals and humans.
  • Bandaid: highly manufactured animal feed to support over populated internalized farms. Sore: dioxin and other chemical contaminations in meat products.
  • Bandaid: feeding animals on their own flesh to make profit out of an industrial byproduct. Sore: mad cow disease.
  • Bandaid: fowl shed capacities of 60 000 plus to produce enough chicken meat to satisfy our takeaway gluttony. Sore: an impending bird flu epidemic.
  • And the bandaid that is pasteurization? Well, the sore is just revealing its range, but it seems to include an asthma and allergy ridden generation of children.*

I’m not saying pasteurization isn’t necessary. It is, for a particular type of dairy production, just as tail and teeth removal are necessary parts of industrial pig farming. But there is another kind of dairy production occurring in the world that does not require pasteurization. This is the kind that occurs on pastures rich with diverse grass and legume ecologies. The farmers overseeing this production limit the numbers in their dairy herd to what their land can sustainably support. They might use handfuls of grain to coax their ladies into the milking stalls, but otherwise, their cows’ diets are solely the pastures they graze. These farmers have immaculate milking conditions, and would want nothing less. As small scale producers, selling under their own labels, any problems with their milk would be easily traced back to the source, so why would they take any risks?

The milk these small-scale, organic farmers produce is a complete food source. It contains:

  • 20 of the 22 amino acids your body needs to build proteins and assimilate nutrients. Many of them are also antimicrobial in their actions.
  • Lactobacilli bacteria, which digest the lactose in milk, resulting in lactic acid, which boosts nutrient absorption and makes lactose digestible.
  • All sorts of important saturated fats and unsaturated fatty acids, which have been shown to inhibit over-eating, increase your metabolism, reduce resistance to insulin and decrease reactions to food allergies. There is 3 to 5 times more of some of these fatty acids in grass fed cows as compared to grain fed cows.
  • Every vitamin, both fat soluble and water soluble, your body needs.
  • A wide spectrum of minerals (including an abundance of calcium), in ideal proportions for your body.
  • Over 6o enzymes (some inherent to milk, and some produced by the bacteria in milk), which break down starch, lactase and fat, and protect from pathogenic bacterial infections.
  • Millions of helpful bacteria, which produce enzymes that make milk digestible and fight off pathogenic invasions.

One of the disappointing side effects of pasteurization is that it denatures many parts of this whole food, including all the bacteria and enzyme activity (along with much of the nutritive components), which make raw milk both digestible and anti-microbial. And after all this, it leaves itself open to the very danger it’s meant to control. The promise that pasteurization will make us safe is false. Like most industrial food systems, the dairy industry’s conglomeration of an uncontrollable array of sources (many diary farms into the one branded bottle, many grains and byproducts from many sources to make feed for the cows, many chemical cleaners for machinery, many transfers and shipments at every step), means contamination can and does occur with relative frequency. The bandaid that is pasteurization is two fold in its damage: it supports a dirty and dangerous system while denaturing a system that could show up industrial agriculture for the cantankerous sore that it is.

*See J. Riedler et al, “Exposure to farming in early life and development of asthma and allergy: a cross-sectional survey,” The Lancet, Volume 358, Issue 9288, Pages 1129-1133.

To read more about pasteurization:

  • Ron Schmidt, The Untold Story of Milk: Green Pastures, Contented Cows and Raw Dairy Products, NewTrends Publishing, 2009.
  • Distillery Dairies
  • For a very well researched argument against the purported safety of pasteurization and dangers of raw milk, see the Weston A. Price Foundation’s rebuttal of raw milk scare mongers.

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