Will Raw Milk Make You Sick?

Like your vision after a few Long Island Iced Teas, the answer to that question is blurred.

Yes, if you’re chatting with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They’d tell you that raw milk is a carrier of food-borne illnesses like salmonella, E. coli, and listeria, and that pasteurized milk (milk heated to a temp that kills off harmful germs) is safer to consume. This is why in 1947, Michigan became the first state to put the smackdown on raw milk production, demanding pasteurization of all milk produced by the state, making raw milk the first food in American history to be banned or limited in its raw form. Today, eight states fully ban the sale of raw milk for human consumption, and another nine states partially ban it.

If you’re sharing a beer with journalist David E. Gumpert, author of the books The Raw Milk Revolution and Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights, the answer would be no, as long as the raw milk came from cows pastured on organic green grass, and the milk is hygienically collected on a small farm. Raw milk from a large, industrialized farm can make people sick, like it did at Organic Pastures, California’s largest raw milk dairy. He’d probably say that raw milk’s antibiotic properties can help cure health problems like asthma and allergies, which studies in Europe have shown, but which the FDA refuses to research here. Even though the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has projected that more than 9 million people consume raw milk in the U.S., and that it accounts for less than 1 percent of all food-borne illnesses per year.

Gumpert's research shows that people only became sick from raw milk in large numbers in the early 1900s, as they and the milk business ditched the country for big cities. Cows were forced to eat grains and live in unhealthy, crappy conditions known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. And it was this outbreak of illnesses and deaths that caused the FDA to support a ban on raw milk in the first place.

So is raw milk getting a raw deal? Unfortunately, until government organizations like the FDA start researching the modern effects of raw milk, we won’t know if it's a superfood that dons a cape and kills illness in our bodies or if it’s the true villain in this story.