Unpasteurized-milk proponents say benefits outweigh the effort that goes into assuring a sanitary, healthful product
Imagine a gallon of milk you bought at the grocery store. Now imagine where that milk came from. You’re likely picturing a cow right about now. But where is it? And how is it being milked?
The majority of milk we drink has been collected in mass quantities by machine and pasteurized—a process involving heating the milk to rid it of bacteria and potentially harmful pathogens. Government entities including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture say milk is safer to drink this way. Others, like Oroville rancher John Naillon, disagree.
Naillon knows exactly where his milk comes from, how it got from the cow to his belly, and even what that cow has been eating. For Naillon, pasteurization is sacrilegious. He prefers his milk raw, the way he believes nature intended it.
“It’s healthier for you,” Naillon said recently by phone. “Pasteurized milk is poison. There are no nutrients, no vitamins, once you’ve boiled and sterilized it.”
Naillon has been raising his own cattle for 40 years and, as assistant organizer and herdshare coordinator of the 700-member Chico chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation, he is a major proponent of raw milk. The nonprofit’s mission is to encourage nutrient-rich diets through education and support for community farming. Part of that mission includes a campaign for raw milk.
“There are many health benefits to consuming raw milk,” according to the foundation’s realmilk.com website. “Early studies showed that children consuming raw milk had greater resistance to disease, better growth and stronger teeth than children consuming pasteurized milk.”
The Weston A. Price Foundation argues that our bodies naturally digest raw milk better than pasteurized milk because that is what humans consumed for thousands of years, until pasteurization became popular in the 1930s. It even suggests that pasteurization, because it changes the milk molecules, has contributed to the rise in lactose intolerance. The organization also says on realmilk.com that the process of pasteurization kills many of the nutrients we drink milk for in the first place, as well as the properties of milk that allow it to naturally get rid of harmful pathogens and bacteria.
“Weston Price looks at how indigenous people and our great-grandparents did it, before GMOs and hybrid this and that,” Naillon explained.
The foundation has chapters all over the world. Its message is clear, but members are fighting an uphill battle. For example, it is legal in the state of California to sell raw milk, but that is not the case in all 50 states. And because the U.S. government—the FDA, USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—is on the side of pasteurization, raw milk carries with it a stigma of uncleanliness and potential illness.
“Before the invention and acceptance of pasteurization, raw milk was a common source of the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, diphtheria, severe streptococcal infections, typhoid fever, and other foodborne illnesses,” reads the CDC website, which warns against drinking raw milk, particularly for those susceptible to illness, including children and the elderly.
As for claims that pasteurization kills valuable vitamins and nutrients, the CDC counters that “many studies have shown that pasteurization does not significantly change the nutritional value of milk—pasteurized milk is rich in proteins, carbohydrates, and other nutrients. Heat slightly affects a few of the vitamins found in milk—thiamine, vitamin B12, and vitamin C—but milk is only a minor source of these vitamins.”
Several local physicians and nutritionists were contacted for this story. None returned phone calls for comment.
Raw milk is available locally at the Chico Natural Foods Cooperative and at S&S Organic Produce & Natural Foods. Both sell the Organic Pastures brand, which operates out of Fresno.
An alternative is to obtain an “equitable interest” in a cow or goat. Naillon, who has about 40 cows on a ranch he and a group of people lease in Cottonwood, is just one of several people locally who offer shares of the herd.
“We have a milking parlor, a closed system, that can handle eight cows at a time,” Naillon said. He sells one share for $28 a year. That entitles the buyer to one gallon of milk a week for $7, plus he asks for a $5 donation for gas. “Our milk is tested religiously every three to four weeks. It’s sent to a lab to check for bacteria or pathogens. We’re meticulous because raw milk handled improperly will kill you in the blink of an eye.”
This is an important point, and one neither he nor the Weston A. Price Foundation takes lightly.
“Know your farmer,” Naillon stressed, adding that it’s a good idea to visit the farm to see the operation. Sanitation is key, but so is what the animals are being fed. He said his cattle are all grass-fed; he doesn’t use grains or anything that’s been genetically modified.
“Individuals who purchase raw milk and other natural foods for themselves and their families need to know their farmer, because they bear the responsibility for ensuring that they are getting safe and healthy products,” the Weston A. Price Foundation explains on realmilk.com.
The bottom line? It may take more effort, and there may be some risk involved with raw milk, but for Naillon and other raw-milk advocates, its benefits outweigh the extra work and time that go into ensuring a clean and healthful product.
“At home, we make our own butter, sour cream, cream cheese, yogurt, and our own raw cheese,” Naillon said. “Eating natural and healthy is a lot of work. But it’s worth it.”