This blog post was fascinating and yet misinformed and misleading, and I couldn’t help leaving a big ol’ reply in the comment box. Whether because it was too large, or pointed out too many mistakes, or was written in a pissy sort of fed-up tone, it has never shown up or was deleted. (I’m not sure which, because I didn’t check back for a few days and never recieved any email alerts about it. Spencer insists having seen it posted as comment #2 at one point). But here it is, for posterity. I wrote it while the girls and Spence napped on Wednesday. Not the best form, but I tried.
I would like to comment on the scientific accuracy of this paper. As a farm intern on a pasture based farm in MD, studying pasture based beef and dairy production, I would like to note in particular these misleading statements:
1) The statement, “As the understanding of animal nutrition grew, farmers discovered that cattle would gain weight faster if they fed them grain which is economically beneficial” is incorrect on several counts. Farmers have know for hundreds of years that cattle grow faster on a grain based diet. The only aspect that has made it possible on such a large scale today is that our medical technology has increased to the point that we can keep a cow alive while feeding it something which its body is not adapted to eating at all; the other aspect that has made it so common is the subsidizing of corn and grain growers by the government. In all actuality the long term cost of raising so much corn and grain and medicating our cattle so frequently to keep them alive is very high–both to farmers and those affected by the soil loss, flooding, water contamination, increase in bacterial resistance, and food contamination caused by these conventional forms of agriculture.
2) The statement, “Nutritionally speaking, it was hypothesized that grass fed cattle have a lower milk fat content.” I have never once heard this argued by raw milk proponents or pastured milk proponents. In fact, pastured dairy farmers usually use a mix of breeds with a heavy emphasis on Jerseys, which are known to have more milk fat in their milk, as well as better pasture genetics. The milk is often celebrated as being richer than grain-based milk, rather than lower in fat. The true argument, which is not brought up here at all (probably because there is not a case against it) is that pastured milk has more omega 3 fatty acids in relation to omega 6 FA’s, which makes it much healthier for human consumption, as well as 5 times the amount of CLA that grain-based milk has. Not only that, but it is generally much higher in vitamin content because properly managed pasture has more readily available vitamins in it than hay–combined with the fact that pastured dairy cows produce less milk than conventionally fed dairy cows and thus have a more concentrated supply of vitamins in their milk. Shame on Ms. Jay-Russell [ this woman left another comment briefly praising the piece] for not pointing out that this is a straw man and encouraging this student to study the subject more closely; coming from such a prestigious institution as UCDavis, one would hope for more rigorous standards.
3) The statement, “Even at the most sanitary facilities, milk is often contaminated by fecal material carrying pathogens during the milking process”. This is worded poorly. No dairy facility that produces milk “often contaminated by fecal material carrying pathogens” is “sanitary” by any stretch of the term. In fact, this is the main reason that most milk is currently pasteurized–because most conventional dairies would rather pasteurize than spend the small amount of extra time to ensure that their cows are not living in their own excrement all day (rather than on fresh, clean pasture), and that their teats are totally clean and devoid of manure before attaching the milking machine apparatus. Any sane producer of raw dairy products goes the extra mile to make sure his cows are clean and cleanly housed and have no fecal contamination on their teats before milking, as well as getting the milk tested regularly for any sort of bacterial problems. Whether you support pasturing livestock or not, it is ultimately the cleanliness of the operation that makes raw milk safe or not, because raw milk producers do not have the crutch of pasteurization on which to rely instead of good husbandry and sanitation.
4) The statement, “But there is a misconception of pasteurized milk across the country that has led to people making deadly decisions.” This is not only an inflammatory statement, but the author makes no effort to back up her claim with fair evidence besides an anecdote about one child’s raw milk related illness, which, though tragic and unfortunate, was not “deadly” (she seems to have omitted that part of the story as well), and brief mention of the CDC numbers regarding raw milk outbreaks. The CDC relates that between 1998 and 2013 there have been 2,451 total illnesses and 2 deaths related to raw dairy consumption, compared to 2,824 total illnesses and 8 deaths related to pasteurized dairy consumption. Of those, there were 1,786 fluid milk related illnesses for raw dairy, none involving any deaths; and 2,200 fluid milk-related illnesses for pasteurized dairy, 3 involving deaths. So, numerically, pasteurized milk has actually been more “deadly” in the last century than raw milk. A side note: because raw milk dairies tend to be small, when there was an outbreak it was much smaller, and easier to contain (1,786 fluid milk-related illnesses coming from 99 outbreaks). The pasteurized milk outbreaks tended to come from huge dairy processors and conglomerates, making any outbreak much more dangerous and harder to track (2,200 fluid milk-related illnesses and 3 deaths coming from 9 outbreaks). The data opens up much more room for conversation and study than an unfounded claim backed up by one personal story.
Lastly, I find it telling that this student desired to attack not only raw milk consumption but pastured dairy production as well. Telling of her inexperience and limited knowledge of dairy and animal science, and telling of a bias against non-conventional agriculture. Next time, please include more actual data, and take that extra minute or two to know what you are really arguing against (i.e. the claim about lower milk fat in pastured dairy).