Rachael Sales can still remember the smell of her son’s vomit in the rental car, two years after she and her husband cleaned it up. The Sales family had just stopped at a coffee shop on a road trip to Virginia. Their three-year-old son drank a chocolate milk that was made with pasteurized milk – something his body couldn’t handle.
“Chocolate milk throw-up is one of the worst throw-up smells,” she said. “It’s bad.”
Sales, 30, is a stay-at-home mom in Jacksonville who believes raw milk has helped heal her body from a variety of serious gut-related issues and an eating disorder. She and her son are among the 30 million Americans who have trouble digesting pasteurized milk. However, they both consume raw milk on a daily basis without issue and have seen an array of health benefits, such as improved digestion, sleep and mood stability. At roughly $10 per gallon, the family of five may spend upwards of $70 in a given month just on raw milk alone.
“We stayed consistent in buying it over the years, even when we were tight on money,” Sales said. “This is a priority for our family because I know how well we all do when we have it.”
The term “raw milk” would be confusing in most societies throughout history. That’s because pasteurization, which involves heating the milk to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, is a relatively novel practice that’s not even 200 years old yet. Before the advent of pasteurization in 1862, there was just “milk.” Over the past 150 years, however, pasteurized milk has replaced raw milk in the diets of most Americans.
Milk has long been called “nature’s perfect food” due to its rich nutritional composition, but heating it up destroys or reduces many of these beneficial components and makes it harder to digest. A study from 1987 concluded that 70 percent of the global population have trouble digesting milk. More recent estimates put the figure around 65 percent for adults and as high as 90 percent among certain ethnicities.
How is it that nature’s perfect food, enjoyed by tribes and civilizations throughout human history, has become so hard to digest for such a large percentage of people around the world?
“SWILL MILK” AND THE PUSH FOR PASTEURIZATION
Back in the 19th century, the industrial revolution was still bringing new challenges to urban areas. Residents in big cities didn’t have the luxury of sprawling green pastures where their cows could munch on grass and roam in the sun all day. Instead, many metropolitan farmers crammed their cows indoors and fed them grain mash leftover from whiskey distilleries. Some heifers were hoisted off the ground so they could be milked even after they were too weak to stand.
The unhealthy cows produced a thin, blue-ish milk known as “swill milk.” Scientists discovered that the milk was killing children in alarming numbers and journalists exposed the filthy conditions in which the cows were raised. These revelations led to reformation efforts that sought a viable solution to the pressing dilemma.
In 1892, Dr. Henry Coit launched the “certified milk” movement to establish higher standards for milk production and distribution. Around the same time, pasteurization – originally used for cleansing wine – was proposed as an easier alternative because it killed harmful pathogens in the milk. Rather than worrying about milk quality, cleansing the milk by essentially cooking it provided a simpler solution.
Significant ethical questions taint the legacy of Louis Pasteur, the French scientist credited with inventing pasteurization. Pasteur – who also created the rabies and anthrax vaccines despite no medical experience or license – kept much of his work secret. In 1911, an American physician claimed that Pasteur faked experiments. A 1995 biography on Pasteur revealed that he received unprecedented funding from the French government and lied about conducting the necessary animal trials before beginning human experimentation.
Pasteur died in 1895, several years before his invention became the government’s solution to the problem of dirty milk. The two men credited with advancing the pasteurization agenda are Nathan Strauss and Abraham Jacobi.
Jacobi, now considered the “Father of American Pediatrics,” was a socialist who spent two years in prison for his role in the German revolution of 1848. He was a member of the Communist League and friends with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Jacobi moved to New York City in 1853, where he befriended Strauss, a fellow German émigré and co-owner of Macy’s department store.
Strauss opened his first Milk Depot in 1893 and pushed city officials to pass mandatory pasteurization laws. Two decades later there were 60 pasteurizing plants and 14,000 milk shops. By 1916, Strauss depots had distributed 43 million bottles of pasteurized milk.
“Pasteurization by this time was big business and getting bigger,” Dr. Ron Schmid wrote in his 2003 book The Untold Story of Milk. “Large sums of money had been invested in plants and equipment for the new technique, and a great deal of money was to be made on further implementation of the technology.”
New York City passed the first mandatory pasteurization laws in 1910. By 1916, other major cities Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and Milwaukee had done the same. The certified milk movement continued after Coit’s death in 1917, but was ultimately overwhelmed by the consequences of government regulations.
Homogenization, which breaks up the fat globules in milk so that they no longer separate and rise to the top of the bottle, became popular in the 1930s. Thirty years later, ultra-pasteurization raised the heating temperature to 280 degrees Fahrenheit.
THE DEMISE OF LOCAL DAIRY FARMS
The impact of industrialization on milk production and distribution has been monumental. In 1940, there were 4.6 million dairy farms in the U.S. By 1997, that number had plummeted below 117,000. Today, there are fewer than 30,000 dairy farms left in America.
“This nation’s rural economy was based on dairy farms, and that’s no more,” said Sally Fallon Morell, founder and president of the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Morrell, who owns and operates a small dairy farm with her husband, has probably done more than anyone to advance the cause for raw milk in America over the past two decades. She launched the foundation in 1999 and named it after Dr. Weston Price, a dentist and nutrition pioneer who traveled the world to study non-industrialized peoples in order to understand the ideal human diet. The foundation advocates for a nutrient-dense, whole food diet rich in animal fats and has spearheaded “A Campaign for Raw Milk” since 2000.
Over the past quarter century, Morell has written myriad articles, given hundreds of speeches and even engaged in formal debates regarding the safety and nutritional benefits of raw milk. She is convinced that legal restrictions for raw milk have nothing to do with sincere health concerns. Rather, she suspects they are a result of corporate interests and nefarious government intentions.
“How do you get rid of the peasant farmer that you hate because he’s independent and doesn’t care what you think? Well, you either kill him, starve him or you pass pasteurization laws,” she told The Florida Standard.
Growing distrust in the ruling class has driven Americans to question a variety of government health recommendations. Morell thinks this could be a big reason why her farm – along with many others across the country – is selling more raw milk than ever before.
“This whole COVID thing has awakened a lot of people to the fact that the governments are not always telling the truth,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s what’s created this increased demand, but everybody that sells raw milk has noticed it.”
A CAMPAIGN FOR RAW MILK
The website for A Campaign for Raw Milk, RealMilk.com, offers a panoply of free resources ranging from highly technical articles to a raw milk baby formula recipe. The website features hundreds of testimonials telling stories similar to Sales’ about how raw milk has reduced allergies, asthma and behavioral problems in children, as well as helped adults with digestive disorders, arthritis, osteoporosis and even cancer. Some of the titles include “No More Meds,” “Allergies Gone,” “Osteopenia Reversed,” and “Raw Milk Saved My Life.”
RealMilk.com also houses an arsenal of formidable talking points in the rhetorical war between raw milk champions and pasteurization proponents. Various contributors cull through clinical studies and documentation, meticulously refuting or contextualizing each claim. One PowerPoint utilizes 148 slides to answer four questions about raw milk. The sheer volume and scope of these materials demand admiration, even by those who may dispute their conclusions.
The most utilized resource on the site is the “Raw Milk Finder.” Two decades ago, the site listed 37 raw milk providers nationwide. Now it boasts more than 2,000 on an interactive map of the U.S., including 122 in Florida. Selling raw milk is legal in the Sunshine State only if the product is labeled as pet milk or “not for human consumption.” Many of the other 37 other states where selling raw milk is not considered criminal activity have similar policies.
Tracking raw milk sales with precision is impossible given the unregulated status of the product, but site traffic on RealMilk.com has reportedly gone through the roof in recent years. The explosion of unique visitors to the Raw Milk Finder page in 2022 was the largest site admin Pete Kennedy has ever seen.
“The same amount of traffic we got on that site four or five years ago in an entire year we might get that in two or three months now,” Kennedy told The Florida Standard. “Most of the people who go to that site are interested in purchasing raw milk for the first time.”
LEGAL PROTECTION FOR FARMERS
Kennedy, an attorney in Sarasota, served as president of the Farmer-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund from 2008 to 2016. The fund has directly helped protect dozens of farmers who found themselves in hot water with state agencies, while indirectly helping thousands of others by deterring authorities from bringing charges over petty violations.
“It leveled the playing field,” Kennedy said. “Before the Legal Defense Fund started up, these agencies were better able to grind down farmers through judicial and administrative hearings and deplete them of resources. If we represented someone, there usually was no expense beyond the cost of their membership.”
Annual memberships top out at $125, a cost far below what many lawyers might charge for an introductory phone call. Ten years ago, the fund defended Vernon Hershberger in a highly publicized five-day trial that saw the Wisconsin farmer acquitted on three of the four criminal charges he faced. Kennedy estimated that the fund spent around $50,000 on the case, and recalled one of his attorneys telling him a private firm would have charged Hershberger closer to $700,000.
Morell played an integral role in starting the fund, motivated by what she considered “harassment” of small-time farmers. She claims that states would routinely shut down local dairy farms for weeks while processing milk samples and has even heard stories of government officials “browbeating” mothers into saying that their children got sick from raw milk. Now that farmers have affordable access to legal protection, Morell says that doesn’t happen much anymore.
“Bureaucrats are very lazy people and they’re bullies,” she said. “If they can’t get away with something easily, they just don’t do it.”
Farmers aren’t the only ones who get upset when government officials stifle access to raw milk. People like Sales who enjoy the health benefits of nature’s perfect food are not willing to settle for the chemically-altered pasteurized version that doesn’t even need to be refrigerated.
Pasteurization destroys key probiotics and inactivates enzymes in milk. It has been shown to reduce Vitamins A, B Complex, C and E, the presence of copper and iron, as well as the bioavailability of calcium, and phosphorus.
Conversely, raw milk is a nutritious whole food that boasts excellent health-supporting enzymes and probiotics. While pasteurized milk is one of most allergenic foods, many lactose-intolerant people can drink raw milk without issue.
Studies have shown that raw milk consumption is associated with significantly lower rates of asthma and allergies, strong protective effects against eczema, better pulmonary function in adulthood and reduced risk of manifest respiratory infections and fever.
SETTING STANDARDS FOR RAW MILK
Of course, not all unpasteurized milk is created equal. Morell and others understand the monumental difference between raw milk taken from grass-fed, pasture-raised cows and raw milk intended for pasteurization. The latter typically comes from cows in confinement dairies, also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Beyond serving as jet fuel for PETA activists, the horrendous conditions these animals live in functions as a breeding ground for harmful pathogens.
California farmer Mark McAfee, who co-founded the world’s largest organic raw milk dairy in 1999, underscores the importance of this distinction when it comes to debates about pasteurization.
“There are innate safety systems in raw milk that reduce pathogen risk dramatically, however, they can be overloaded,” McAfee said. “Those systems can be overwhelmed.”
McAfee saw this happening as the raw milk movement started taking off a little more than a decade ago. He was concerned with poor conditions he saw on small dairy farms selling raw milk, some of which had led to serious illnesses.
In 2011, McAfee founded the Raw Milk Institute with the goal of enhancing raw milk safety. The Institute trains farmers, establishes guidelines, educates the public and even conducts research. Without assistance from the government, McAfee and his team have helped elevate production quality across the country.
“Now we’re not seeing outbreaks because the people producing raw milk are taking it really seriously and now understand rapid chilling, cleanliness of the utter, animal health,” he said. “All those things, when coupled together and checked with testing, provide a safe product for everyone.”
“THE IMPOSSIBLE STANDARD”
It is true that raw milk has been attributed to serious illnesses. But then, so has chicken, beef, pork, eggs, fish, nuts, pasta, fruits and vegetables. Yet, no one is calling for bans on these foods.
Raw milk is often blamed for causing infection with the deadly food pathogen Listeria Monocytogenes (L-mono), a Campaign for Raw Milk presentation points out. However, a 2003 USDA/FDA report showed that compared to raw milk there were 515 times more illnesses from L-mono due to deli meats and 29 times more illness from L-mono due to pasteurized milk. Additionally, deli meats were 10 times more likely to cause illness on a per-serving basis.
Curiously, the FDA is not proclaiming that deli meats are “inherently dangerous and should not be consumed.” Neither do they declare that “everyone charged with protecting the public health” should “prevent the sale of deli meats to consumers.” However, these pronouncements are regularly made about raw milk.
In his analysis of CDC data on food illnesses from 1999 to 2010, the late Dr. Ted Beals found that the average person is at least 35,000 times more likely to contract illness from other foods than from raw milk. Beals was a medical doctor and pathology expert.
“Why is less than perfectly safe a manageable risk for every kind of food except in the case of fresh unpasteurized milk?” Dr. Joseph Heckman, Professor of Soil Science at Rutgers University, asked in his 2017 article published in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems.
Like Morell, Heckman questioned the motives and integrity of those who have reviewed evidence demonstrating the safety and advantages of raw milk over pasteurized milk.
“How some public health organizations, community of health professionals and food scientists ignore the accumulated published evidence on health benefits appears biased or a willful failure of scholarship,” Heckman wrote. “Why are no other foods held to the impossible standard of a perfect safety record?”
MILK AND MONEY
As recently as 2018, American dairy farmers made an average of $1.32 for each gallon of milk sold to processors – $0.60 less than the cost of production. Compare that with raw milk, which they can sell directly to the consumer for anywhere from $5 to $15 a gallon. Raw milk advocates point to these cost differences as the reason why powerful lobbying groups have worked so hard to prevent farmers from selling raw milk.
“The pasteurization community has become a highly technically advanced battleship,” McAfee said. “Raw milk is outside of the processor's authority. It’s not under their control. It goes from the farmer to the consumer.”
No one understands this battleship’s capacity for destruction better than Cheryl Finney, who manages her family’s Wainwright Dairy in Live Oak. Finney believes her father, Carl Wainwright, was the victim of collusion in 1984. She claims that Wainwright’s co-op “started holding his check” for the milk he supplied them, while at the same time the feed and electric companies suddenly began grossly overcharging him. Wainwright took them to court.
The judge dismissed the case as “hearsay” and “circumstantial evidence,” according to Finney, despite “proof” from University of Florida professors demonstrating the number of cows Wainwright owned could never have consumed the amount of feed he was alleged to have ordered. The incident – whether it was an illegal scheme or eerie coincidence – forced Wainwright to sell his land, dairy and home. He started working in produce and resolved to buy it all back one day.
In 2010, with the help of his wife and nine children, Wainwright saved up enough cash to repurchase everything he lost two and a half decades prior. The new operation became fully independent. The family now grows their own feed on their farm, pasteurizes and bottles the milk in-house, and even delivers their products directly to customers in a Wainwright truck.
Ironically, Finney believes Wainwright would not be in business today if not for the alleged collusion incident 40 years ago. Most traditional dairy farms rely on third-party co-ops in order to stay in business. A few years after Wainwright Dairy reopened, Finney says regional co-ops dropped the prices they were willing to pay for milk and held out for several years. Other small farms in the area were forced to go out of business, but Wainwright survived.
“When I bottle the milk, it was in the cow that morning. We package it and then my brother drives away and delivers it,” Finney told The Florida Standard. “Nobody can say what they’re going to pay us. We’re in control.”
Unlike most dairy farms, Wainwright Dairy sells both raw milk and pasteurized milk. They make sure to properly label their raw milk containers with the legally required disclaimers “FOR CALVES ONLY” and “NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION.” The Sales family buys their raw milk from Wainwright.
THE LOW-FAT LIE
One of the financial boons driving industrialized milk profits is that distributors can sell multiple products drawn from the same source. Cream is skimmed off the top of the milk and used for a variety of other products, such as ice cream, butter, cheese and yogurt. What’s left over can be sold as reduced fat milk – a product that was long advertised as a healthier option to fatty whole milk.
A popular New York Times article published in 2002 entitled “What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?” pointed out that “the government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in research trying to prove” the “low-fat-is-good-health dogma.”
The story cited Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, who argued that “the idea that all fat is bad for you; the exclusive focus on adverse effects of fat may have contributed to the obesity epidemic.” In the years since, subsequent articles, books and podcasts have advanced similar “fat is good” and “we’ve been lied to” arguments.
McAfee believes the dairy industry perpetuated the now debunked narrative because it was a “market convenience.” The recent shift in scientific consensus, however, presents a watershed moment for them.
“The dairy industry doesn’t know what to do with that,” McAfee said. “They’re still stuck on the low-fat thing and that’s one of the big reasons why they’re losing market share.”
The average amount of pasteurized milk consumed by Americans fell at a faster rate during the 2010’s than it did during any of the previous six decades. Overall, annual pasteurized milk sales in the U.S. have dropped by nearly 14 billion pounds since 2010. Morell expects the current trends to continue until pasteurized milk goes the way of the dinosaur.
“Very soon the day will come when the populace will recognize pasteurization for what it is: a rust belt technology based on 40-year-old science instituted for the sake of short-sighted budgetary concerns,” she predicted four years ago.
Today, Morell remains even more bullish on the future of raw milk, saying: “Within 20 years, I think there won’t be any pasteurized milk.”
RAW MILK LEGISLATION
For nearly a decade now, U.S. Representatives Thomas Massie (R–KY) and Chellie Pingree (D–ME) have been trying to pass the bipartisan “Interstate Milk Freedom Act.” Florida Congressmen Matt Gaetz and Daniel Webster co-sponsored a 2019 version of the bill, which would put an end to federal interference with the interstate traffic of unpasteurized milk and milk products that are packaged for direct human consumption.
“I think it's not really liberal or conservative – the notion that you should be able to eat what you want to eat,” Massie told Reason in 2014. “You should be able to control what goes into your own body. You should be able to control what your family eats.”
Last November, Massie blasted the FDA’s nearly four decades of opposition to raw milk and impugned the administration’s motives. Along with Morell and so many raw milk advocates, he believes safety concerns are not the real reason for the government’s intervention.
“The FDA that banned the transport of raw milk, a wholesome food that’s been consumed by human beings for thousands of years, is the same FDA that authorized myocarditis inducing mRNA injections with no long term data and zero liability for the manufacturers,” Massie tweeted. “Follow the money.”