The Problem With Milk – Part 1 – The Kitchen Rag

Recently while flipping through a magazine I stumbled across a “got milk” add featuring Taylor Swift with a milk mustache. On the one hand I was glad that such a teen idol was using her fame to encourage healthier habits in teenagers; on the other hand I couldn’t help wondering what kind of milk was she advertising for. Skim milk, irradiated, homogenized, 2%, or raw?

There seem to be so many different choices for milk now-a-days that simply advertising for “milk” is not enough. The food industry has created so many varieties, each with it’s own myriad of  “health benefits” that it completely baffles the consumer.

In this post I will begin to explore the origins of milk pasteurization and the real reasons for the huge switch from raw to pasteurized milk at the turn of the century.

Before the advent of pasteurization the milkman would distribute jars of fresh, raw milk on every porch around the break of dawn (to anyone who didn’t just own their own cows already). For breakfast, each family would drink fresh, delicious milk with their eggs and bacon. The milk came from neighboring farmers or next door dairies. In the poor quarters milk was one of the main sources of nutrients for children and infants.

In the early nineteenth century whiskey companies hit the jack pot. They began building distilleries next to dairies and feeding cows the remaining slop. In a previous post I explained how ruminants cannot digest grain without major side effects to their health and consequently to ours.

Distillery owners then began housing cows next to distilleries and feeding the hot slop directly to the animals as it poured off the stills. Thus was born the slop or swill milk system. What began tentatively as an experiment became gradually ingrained, as the system proved to produce more milk at a lower cost than any other method.  Ron Schmid, “The Untold Story of Milk”, Page 32

The cows were living in abominable conditions and most of them didn’t survive two years. Healthy cows live up to 10 years or longer.

Here, in a stagnant and empoisoned atmosphere that is saturated with the hot steam of whiskey slop, and loaded with carbonic acid gas, and other impurities arising from the excrements of hundreds of sickly cattle, that are condemned to live or die on rum-slush. For the space of nine months, they are not permitted to stir, excepting, indeed, they become so diseased as to be utterly useless to the dairy. In some few cases the cattle have stood in the same stalls for fifteen to eighteen months; but so rapid is the progress of disease under this barbarous treatment, that such instances are exceptions to the general rule, and of rare occurrence. Robert Hartley, “An Historical, Scientific and Practical Essay on Milk”, published in 1830.

Most of the milkers did not comply to any sanitary measures, some of them having tuberculosis themselves. For a while no one seemed to connect salmonella and diphtheria outbreaks with the state of the nation’s  largest dairies.

In distillery dairies, the tubercle bacillus was probably passed by all of these routes. Diseased cows were milked in an unsanitary manner. Milkers were often dirty, sick or both. Milk pails and other equipment were usually dirty. Contamination with Salmonella and numerous other pathogenic organisms that may lead to diarrhea in susceptible individuals was undoubtedly common. Diarrhea was the most frequent cause of death in infants during those years, and many infants contracted tuberculosis, scarlet fever, diphtheria and other infectous diseases that were sometimes passed on in milk. Ron Schmid, “The Untold Story of Milk”, Page 37

The invention of pasteurization fixed all of these sanitary problems. It is unfortunate that instead of fixing the problem everyone poured their efforts into fixing the symptoms. All the doctors and social reformers of the day advocated for the pasteurization of milk. No one considered the conditions and the nutrition of the cows as the real source of contamination. There were no major break out of tuberculosis and salmonella in the US before the distillery/dairy system. Nevertheless, the solution was to kill all the bacteria in the milk and continue to drink swill milk with no nutritional value. In fact the last swill milk dairy, says Ron Schmidt, author of “The Untold Story of Milk”, was shut down in late 1930’s, page 36. But the damage was done. After all the illnesses connected with raw milk people became scared and relied on the pasteurization method to make it safe. It is true pasteurization makes diseased, dirty milk coming from sickly cows safe to drink, but the question lingers whether this milk is really worth ingesting at all.

In our highly technological society we don’t have distilleries and dairies located close together but the conditions in most industrial dairies these days are not too far from it. Cows are kept in small spaces just the same and milked three times a day. Most of them develop mastitis of the udder and a highly acidic stomach due to the high amounts of corn and soy they are being fed. Both of these sicknesses require antibiotics and while the regulations stipulate that when a cow is receiving antibiotics it should not be milked, most industrial dairies do it anyways since the milk will be pasteurized, ultra pasteurized, or if need be, irradiated before it arrives the consumer.

Dr M. E. Ensminger states in the Dairy Cattle Science textbook: “Without doubt, one of the most serious menaces threatening the dairy industry is animal ill health, of which the largest loss is a result of the diseases that are due to a common factor transmitted from animal to animal. Today, with modern, rapid transportation facilities and the dense dairy population centers, the opportunities for animals to beocme infected are greatly increased compared with a generation ago.”Ten percent of all calves are afflicted by calf scours and 18 percent of all dairy calves so afflicted die. Nearly 40 percent of all dairy cows have some for of mastitis, according to the National Mastitis Council. Ron Schmid, “The Untold Story of Milk”, Page 210


Pasteurization saves the day! It kills  pathogens like E. coli, Salmonella, Camphylobacter, etc. Yet the dead cells of these toxic bacterias remain in the milk that we all buy at the store. Of course we can’t see them with the naked eye because the milk industry has found a way to distribute it all evenly throughout the milk with a process called homogenization.

In the Unites States homogenization became common soon after pasteurization, largely because it solved two practical problems for the dairy industry. The first was the inconvenient separation of the milk and cream. With pasteurization it was possible to ship milk long distances, but the cream rose in transit, which meant the most valuable part of the milk – the fat- was unevenly distributed from one customer to another. Homogenization spreads the cream throughout the milk, so everyone gets a share. The second problem was cosmetic. After pasteurization, dead white blood cells and bacteria form a sludge that sinks to the bottom of the milk. Nina Plank,”Real Food”, Page 76

There is a lot of dead bacteria in pasteurized milk, which irritates the stomach lining in people with poor gut flora, causing food allergies and auto-immune diseases.  However, pasteurization does not kill just harmful bacteria; it also kills most of the vitamins, lipase, and lactase in milk. Without lipase and lactase humans cannot digest milk properly.

Pasteurization destroys folic acid and vitamins A, B6, and C. In 1941, the US government issued a report stating that “the cows of this country produce as much vitamin C as does the entire citrus crop, but most of it is lost as the result of pasteurization”. Pasteurization inactivates the enzymes required to absorb the nutrients in milk: lipase (to digest fats); and lactose (to digest lactose); and phosphatase (to absorb calcium). Phosphatase explains why raw milk contains more available calcium. Pasteurization also creates oxidized cholesterol, alters milk proteins, and damages omega-3 fats. Nina Plank , “Real Food”, page 78

Of course most of these vitamins and nutrients only occur in the milk of healthy cows that are grass fed; cows fed the typical industrial diet of corn, soy, and antibiotics compound the problem by lacking many of the nutrients to begin with.

Pasteurization played a major role in decreasing infant mortality at the turn of the century that was caused by the consumption of contaminated milk. Unfortunately the milk industry took advantage of the advent of pasteurization and continued the same barbaric treatment of the cows, advertising their milk as safer and healthier than the raw milk from the farmers whose healthy cows grazed on pastures.

In my next post I will continue to explore the benefits of raw vs. pasteurized milk and examine the conditions in which raw milk can be considered safe. To read part two go here.