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Environmental Studies


 What is pasteurization?
 Pasteurization issues

Weighing the risks and benefits of raw milk

   What are the Benefits?
What are the Risks?
   Reframing the issue

Local Economies, Small Farms and Consumer Choice

Who is doing the research and who gets to decide?
 Decisions and funds
   Raw Milk Research
 Ethical Implications

References & Links

Comments & questions to:

cow in fieldfarm

Who is doing the research and who decides?

Decision makers and funding

     One major problem with much of our farm policy research is that we do not have unbiased decision makers creating food policies. Many of those making food policy legislation are closely invested in its law and therefore have high stakes in the consequences of food policy. According to Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, “for years during the Bush Administration, the chief of staff at the USDA was the former chief lobbyist to the beef industry in Washington. The head of the FDA was the former executive vice president of the national food processors association.  These regulatory agencies are being controlled by the very companies that they’re supposed to be scrutinizing” (Food Inc, 2009).  This conflict of interest is dangerous; it is very unlikely that these kind of officials will maintain an unbiased position when casting legislation. 

     In addition to the policy stakeholders, the FDA has been criticized for funding biased science and creating biased information: “Public health might be better served if the FDA could sponsor research by independent investigators to further its regulatory decisions, yet congressional agriculture committees consistently deny requests for such funding…the regulatory agencies themselves also could help create a more independent environment for their work” (Nestle, p 368, 2002).  Industry-funded science is an all-too-common phenomenon, especially in times of low budgets, when funding tends to be scarce.

Raw Milk Research

     In the context of raw milk research, the FDA believes that it is essential to pasteurize milk to protect our society, and claims “research shows no meaningful difference in the nutritional values of pasteurized and unpasteurized milk” (FDA, 2009). 

     Yet, other research shows that the loss of nutrients through pasteurization can be significant. A campaign by the Weston A. Price Foundation, funded to support research of raw milk along with the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund found dramatically different data on the loss of nutrients in studies.  This data is simply one data set amid many different studies explained on the foundation’s website.


Vitamin C
Raw milk but not pasteurized can resolve scurvy. “. . . Without doubt. . . the explosive increase in infantile scurvy during the latter part of the 19th century coincided with the advent of use of heated milks. . .” (Rajakumar, Pediatrics. 2001;108(4):E76).

Longer and denser bones on raw milk (Studies from Randleigh Farms).

Carrier protein inactivated during pasteurization. (Gregory. J. Nutr. 1982, 1329-1338).

Vitamin B12
Binding protein inactivated by pasteurization.

Vitamin B6
Animal studies indicate B6 poorly absorbed from pasteurized milk (Studies from Randleigh Farms).

Vitamin A
Beta-lactoglobulin, a heat-sensitive protein in milk, increases intestinal absorption of vitamin A. Heat degrades vitamin A. Said and others (Am J Clin Nutr. 1989;49:690-694. Runge and Heger. J Agric Food Chem. 2000 Jan;48(1):47-55).

Vitamin D
Present in milk in protein-bound form, assimilation possibly affected by pasteurization. Hollis and others ( J Nutr. 1981;111:1240-1248).

Lactoferrin, which contributes to iron assimilation, destroyed during pasteurization.

Lower in pasteurized milk. Wheeler and others (J Dairy Sci. 1983;66(2):187-95).

Lactobacilli, destroyed by pasteurization, enhance mineral absorption (MacDonald and others. 1985).

     How do consumers know who to trust? Should they be able to make decisions based on this conflicting data?  It is important to be critical of governmental decisions in regulation to determine who is funding the research, and whose interests are at stake. The FDA is being influenced by large-scale dairy industries, such as the International Dairy Foods Association, which is highly involved with milk prices, and closely linked to FDA and USDA policies.  IDFA has 220 dairy processing members that run 575 plant operations, and range from large multi-national organizations to single-plant companies. Together these 220 members represent more than 85% of the milk, cultured products, cheese and frozen desserts produced and marketed in the United States. By representing the large-scale interests and promoting anti raw-milk cheese policies, the IDFA supports research that will ignore the smaller farms who have less political influence and dramatically different interests.

     Independent research needs to be conducted to augment scientific studies in this field; stakeholders with an interest in the economic and political outcome of policy cannot be the ultimate decision makers. Citizens must have the freedom to choose in this situation, and honest science must exist upon which consumers can base their decisions.

The Ethics behind regulation:

     Because we are all implicated in food issues, the decision-making process must reflect all of the consumers at stake.  Not only must we ensure consumer knowledge, but we must take into account the risks of consumers that desire raw milk cheese and those who do not.  If a specific group of consumers wants to take a slightly higher risk, they should be permitted to do so, just as long as their decisions do not impact those who do not wish to be implicated. If another sector of the population has no desire to take the risk, we must ensure their rights to knowledge about their food sources, and permit them to opt out, so long as doubt exists about the safety of raw milk.

      Consumers’ decisions are not the only ones impacted by legislation.  Regulations impact farmers, producers, local economies, corporations, and the environment. “Ethical issues arise whenever actions that benefit one group harm another.  Food choices have economic, political, social, and environmental consequences that place improvements to the health of individuals or populations in conflict with other considerations” (Nestle, p. 362, 2002). We must weigh these risks against each other when making decisions, whether about raw milk or other food legislation policies. 

      We also must take into account the fact that some of these groups are better represented than others, and that industry research is much more powerful than small farmers in the regulation process.  It is critical that we ensure that all voices are heard and taken into account.  Large dairy groups, such as the National Cheese Producers Federation and the National Cheese Institute hold a remarkable share of power and market share in the dairy industry, and firmly support the FDA's anti-raw milk policy.  The National Cheese Institute envelopes 85% of the dairy industry.  Smaller farms lack the power of large institutes, but advocacy groups and raw cheese proponents such as the American Cheese Society serve the purpose of promoting these farmers' interests.  However, especially when confronted with legilsative barriers, they often struggle to gain prominence (and funds). 

      Restricting small farmers’ actions through regulation can mean overturning their livelihoods completely, as it is very costly to reshape a farm to comply with specific legislation.  Because food regulations tend to be catered towards larger farmers, it is critical to protect small-scale farmers whose entire business may be at risk.

      Citizen participation through advocacy and choice is critical; raw milk cheese farmers rely on consumers to purchase their products.  As many government policies instill fear in the consumer, farmers struggle to maintain a market, and are less likely to succeed in gaining legislation. 

A plethora of raw milk cheese.  The benefits of raw milk cheese are highly contested by researchers.

raw milk cheese

This kind of announcement is often avoided in public markets because it is illegal to proclaim. Raw milk cheese often is sold under facades such as "fish bait" or "pet food"

Last updated:  5/06/10


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