Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dairy Dual Part 2: Hormones, Antibiotics, and Raw Milk

PART 2. (For part 1 go here).
...In addition to the facts that small scale dairies are 1) more humane, 2) produce less waste, and 3) can have better economics here are a few more benefits of small scale dairies:
Milk bottles. Public domain.
4) Less use of rGBH, antibiotics, and other hormones
Since 1993 the growth hormone rGBH has been available to increase milk yields  in U.S. dairies (although it has never been approved in Canada or EU countries). This hormone is thought to compromise human health by altering hormone balances and potential causing an array of cancers. In cows it increases mastitis (infections of the milk ducts) and is thought to perpetuate the over-use of feedlot antibiotics and the corresponding antibiotic resistant pathogens. See Food and Water Watch’s How artificial hormones damage the dairy industry and endanger public health. In 2007, 42.7% of large-scale dairies used rGBH compared to only 9% of small scale dairies. 1 (One concern is that despite the public increasingly demanding rGBH-free milk many school districts continue to serve it). 

5) Milk from small organic dairies may contain less naturally occurring estrogens
Another difference in types of dairies is how much natural estrogen hormones may be found in the milk, especially if the cows are not milked continuously. Many of us work hard to keep pesticide residues off of our vegetables, but since natural estrogen hormones can be 100,000 times more potent than their synthetic counterparts, feeding your children organic animal products will probably do much more to reduce their exposure to pesticides than only feeding them organic fruits and vegetables. 
Many pesticides are fat-soluble and are concentrated in the milk of animals. For these reasons,  “dairy may account for 60-80% of the estrogens consumed” in America. Also, when cows are milked during pregnancy, shortly after birth, or relentlessly throughout the year (the “efficiency” standard in modern American factory dairies) they may have up to 33% more estrogens in their milk. These were the findings of Dr. Davaasambuu of Harvard when comparing milk from grass fed free range cows in Mongolia who are only milked for five months out of the year to conventional American milk. (For a summary of some of her other studies see this Wiki). Since environmental hormone overloads compromise endocrine systems and appear to be contributing to obesity, diabetes, and early puberty in American children, it is curious if and how utilizing different kinds of milk (raw vs. pasteurized, grass fed vs. grain fed, milk from pregnant verses non-pregnant cows) could decrease these trends. 
5) May offer an opportunity to buy raw milk or milk products or lightly pasteurized milk
Cheese from public domain.

The food commodity that has been vilified more than any other in the 20th and 21st century is probably raw milk, (milk that has never undergone the heat treatment to be considered pasteurized or in more recent years, ultra pasteurized- processes that are intended to use heat treatment to kill all bacteria good or bad in the product but that also appears to be decreasing vitamin content and enzymes that assist the body in digesting milk). All this despite the fact that pasteurized and unpasteurized milk combined constitute only 1% of all food born illnesses in the United States, and most affected will fully recover. 
Therefore, it seems mostly inflammatory fear mongering when people like Dr. Richard Raymond make statements  saying that parents who feed their kids raw milk should be criminalized and that a parent who feeds their child raw milk “might as well lock your car on a 100 degree day while you stop by the casino to try and win the jackpot”.  Locking a kid in a hot car is outlandishly dangerous, and many children die from this. In contrast, situations of raw milk illness are quite rare compared with amounts consumed. 
Mark McAfee has a very large organic farm that sells raw milk. In the same period when five people were potentially sickened by his milk, 1,400,000 people (70,000 a week times twenty weeks) would normally drink the milk from his farm during this time period! The CDC says that there were more than 1,000 cases of illnesses from raw milk 1998-2005,  during a seven year period. In contrast E. coliO157:H7 infections, from all sources, are thought to sicken over 75,000 people annually! By Dr. Raymond’s logic, perhaps we should lock up all parents who feed their kids hamburgers, sushi, peanut butter, and, of course, spinach. 
Such attitudes are damaging to decision makers and consumers, but also to the small scale farmers themselves who may have exorbitant costs in transporting their milk to a pasteurization facility or who loose large profits in state where no raw milk sales are allowed or raw milk is not allowed to be transported across state lines. Raw milk is actually held in a war of sociological and political grounds with industrial milk producers fearing for their own economic interests under the umbrella of “safety”.  
     Safety is relative; it is not an inherent biological characteristic of food. A food may be safe for  some people and not for others, safe at one level of intake, but not another, or safe at one point in time but not later. Instead, we can define a safe food as one that does not exceed an acceptable level of risk. Decisions about acceptability involve perceptions, opinions and values, as well as science. When such decisions have implications for commercial or other self- interested motives, food safety enters the realm of politics.

But unlike industrial milk and milk cheeses where producing most cheaply often means buying milk from many dairies, small scale farmers are better able to produce artisan products from single herds where the milk may be made into cheese and other products on site with less processing time potentially reducing risks of pathogen introduction or development. 3

There are spectrum of issues with pasteurized and non-pasteurized milk products. Outbreaks from both pasteurized and unpasteurized products do occur and both can be very severe.  I think we must acknowledge that there are risks in everything and farmers deserve support and consumers more opportunities to choose for themselves. Perhaps instead of outlawing raw milk, or raw milk products in stores or restaurants, we should provide a label with a safety warning and instructions for home pasteurization and allow customers to choose their own risks.
As seen, small scale dairies offer many unique benefits and you can help preserve small dairies by:
1) Supporting local dairy providers.
2) If you are able, buying directly from the farmer. (If they have only raw milk available, and this makes you uncomfortable, support pastuerized products from their dairy cooperative or pasteurize the milk yourself .
3) Educate yourself about best farm practices that are most likely to support pathogen free milk and support those farms.
4) Support a more fair farm bill that creates an equal playing field for small scale farmers.

     1) p.14 quoting United States Department of Agriculture. “Dairy 2007.” October 2007 at 79. 
     2) Nestle, M. (2006). Safe food: Bacteria, biotechnology and bioterrorism. Berkley, CA: University of California Press (p.16) 
     3) West, Harry G. (2008) Food fears and raw milk cheese. Appetite 51 (25-29). Accessed at

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