This week we spoke to Ben Pratt from Natural Food Finder about raw milk. This is a hot topic at the moment with major mainstream news outlets getting involved in the debate with to regards to its safety. Ben has done extensive research into raw milk and its benefits and is a chapter leader for the Weston A.Price Foundation.
Tom Godwin: Hi Ben, it has been a while since we had you on last, it is great to have you back on!
Thanks Tom. It is great to be back chatting again about all things nutritional. It is great as well to see you getting involved in supporting local, whole foods through the Weston Price Foundation.
TG: You are heavily involved with the campaign for raw milk, what exactly is raw milk?
Yes I am very keen on encouraging the consumer to be more aware of and to retain the right to drink raw milk direct from the farm. Simply put raw milk is milk that has been drawn from a cow, buffalo, goat or sheep that has not been sent to a dairy or been pasteurised before consumption. The majority of milk today is sent to one of the 5 major dairies where it is pasteurised, homogenised and standardised before it is bottled and sent to the supermarkets for sale.
Pasteurisation is where the milk is rapidly heated for 20 seconds to 72 degrees Celsius to kill any potentially pathogenic bacteria. Pathogens will be killed, as will any beneficial bacteria. The fragile proteins in the milk will also become damaged at this temperature and the enzymes in the milk will be completely destroyed. Homogenisation is where milk is forced through a tiny filter valve at 2100 PSI which then breaks down the cream into microscopic globules so that they never gather into a cream line that settles on the surface. Standardisation is the process of skimming or removing the cream from the milk and then adding it back in at set or standardised levels. In the UK skimmed milk typically has 0.1% fat, semi-skimmed 1.8-2.0% fat and whole milk 3.5% fat. It is interesting that milk even from Holstein cows is typically 4.0% fat, whereas Jersey or Guernsey milk can be as high as 5.5-6.0% fat. So whole milk is not truly ‘whole’ it is just the standard fat content allowed in modern milk. So getting back to your question ‘what is raw milk’, it is milk that has not had any of these processes performed on it. Raw milk is not pasteurised, homogenised or standardised. It is milk in it’s absolutely natural state, directly from the animal.
TG: What are the health benefits of raw milk?
The answer to this question is not as straight forward as some people think. There are many claimed health benefits and then there are those that have been tested and proven through scientific research. Raw milk has been purported to provide a valuable source of all the essential amino acids, to be a source of probiotic bacteria, to contain immune promoting compounds, to be rich in approximately 60 nutritive enzymes, to provide a rich source of calcium that is fully bioavailable, to provide a good source of the anticancer compound CLA (if grass fed milk) and it is also a source of vitamins. These things all sound good enough, but perhaps a comparison to pasteurised milk will highlight this even more. Pasteurised milk will contain amino acids, but a proportion of these will be denatured, all probiotic bacteria will be destroyed, all enzymes will be destroyed, calcium will still be present but much less available for absorption, the immune-protective compounds will be partially destroyed, much of the CLA (if present in the first place) will be destroyed and there will be degradation of some of the vitamins present in the milk.
Perhaps the most publicised benefits of drinking raw milk are to do with a reduction in asthma and hay fever symptoms in those who have previously suffered. A recent study investigated this showing significant improvement in an article published in the medical journal, The Lancet.
TG: Why is raw milk so important?
Milk has always been consumed in its raw form. Pasteurisation has only become a product of the modern industrial age. It has only been common practice in the UK since the Second World War. To be honest raw milk is perhaps no more important than any other naturally occurring whole food. However, it is the increasing scarcity of raw milk and the intentions of others to remove raw milk from the food supply that makes it such an important issue! We are legally allowed to purchase tobacco, of which statistics suggest will bring about the death of 50% of its users, whereas certain groups claim that raw milk is too dangerous and should be banned no longer to be used for human consumption.
TG: Is raw milk safe?
Now there is a good question! Well that depends who you choose to ask! Ha ha! I recently watched a video recording from the Foods Standards Agencies recent board meeting where this was discussed. It is clear that despite the fact that they shared statistical evidence showing that there have been no deaths in England or Wales as a result of drinking raw milk for more than 17 years that some of those on the board had already made up their minds that it was unsafe. Not only has there been no deaths from raw milk, there has also been very few reported cases of illness either. This is point is even more stark when you consider that between 1992 and 2009 there have been more than 2500 outbreaks of food related illness from all causes affecting more than 65,000 people. Only 20 of these outbreaks were related to raw milk or cream which affected 242 people. This represents only 0.8% of the total outbreaks of food related illness and 0.4% of the people affected. Whilst it is appreciated that there is a smaller population that drink raw milk compared to pasteurised milk, it can hardly be said that raw milk is inherently dangerous on the back of these statistics. What about all the other foods that have caused more than 2300 people to be admitted to hospital and 149 deaths during the same time period from 92-09? Should the same stringent standards not be taken with these foods? As you can see this is a complex issue. If anyone is interested I have already written 2 blogs on the subject of raw milk safety. These can be found on Natural Food Finder at raw milk safety 1 and raw milk safety 2.
TG: Is it legal in the UK?
Consuming raw milk is absolutely legal in England, Wales and Ireland. There are no restrictions at present in relation to the sale or consumption of raw buffalo, goats or sheep’s milk. Cow’s milk has some restrictions. It can only be sold to the consumer directly from the farm through means of a farm shop or a delivery scheme. It cannot be purchased by an intermediate retailer who then sells it on to the consumer. There are approximately 100 small farms registered to sell raw cow’s milk in the UK with about another 35 or so who sell goats, buffalo or sheep’s milk. This makes the coverage of raw milk to the consumer somewhat limited. However, there are no restrictions in relation to the sale of unpasteurised cheeses which can be freely found for sale in most supermarkets, good delicatessens or cheesemongers.
TG: How can I find a supplier of raw milk?
Well to be honest the easiest way at present it to go to my website, www.naturalfoodfinder.co.uk and to visit our interactive Raw Milk Map to find which supplier is closest to where you live. We currently have more than 50 suppliers listed and continue to seek the information of all the farmers who produce in the UK. However, neither the FSA nor DEFRA are willing to part with this information so we are only able to add new details as we learn of them. We do have the largest online listing of raw milk producers in the UK so you chances of finding a supplier here first are pretty good. However, you may also get speaking to vendors and farmers at local farmers markets to see if they are aware of any registered raw milk farms. Hey and if you find one that we haven’t listed yet, be sure to let us know so we can share that good news with others.
TG: How can interested people get more information on Raw milk?
There are a few other websites that carry useful information regarding raw milk beside Natural Food Finder. Here is a list of options:
Well Tom it has been a pleasure to share a little time with you again, especially discussing a topic close to my heart. It should be everybody’s right to choose the food they want to eat and if milk is to be one of them then to enjoy the full nutritional benefits it must be high quality, pasture raised, clean raw milk from local, sustainable farms.