This is one of a series that Darcy is working on for CTV, prompted no doubt by the recent government crackdown on Chilliwack’s “Home on the Range” cowshare. Here’s an excerpt from her story, titled “Raw milk, magic elixir or health hazard“:
“Diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bowel in 1920, Winifred Dye Britton was prescribed a strict diet of raw milk and eggs and plenty of fresh air by her Oregon doctor. It worked.
Kimberly Hartke said her great grandmother would have died without the health benefits of the Milk Diet, a popular treatment reputed to cure everything from arthritis, infertility, indigestion to ulcers and congestive heart failure.
“It literally re-grew her colon and gave her red blood cells and allowed her body to heal. If she didn’t have it she wouldn’t make it.”
Hartke works for the Weston A. Price Foundation, America’s largest raw milk advocacy group based in Washington, DC. She says many natural remedies like drinking raw milk fell by the wayside in the wake of modern medicine and pharmaceuticals, but many people support her organization because they still believe in its health benefits.
“This food can literally be a lifeline to people,” she said.
But Britton’s story illustrates the much contested question of whether raw dairy has any proven health benefits and if they outweigh potential risks.
For believers, unpasteurized milk is a magic elixir responsible for boosting the immune system and curing many ailments, including irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, asthma and eczema. But to health authorities, drinking raw milk is inherently dangerous, possibly lethal – and should be avoided at all costs.
“From a public health standpoint, it’s all risk and no benefit,” Dr. John Carlsey, a public health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, told ctvbc.ca.
Canada made the sale of raw milk illegal in 1991, saying that heat treatment, or pasteurization, is the only way to destroy potential pathogens in milk that could cause potentially deadly outbreaks of E. coli.
The agency says a court decision this week upholding the legality of cow-share co-ops in Ontario will not make it reexamine its policy.
B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, told CTV News raw milk needs to remain illegal to protect people from an unnecessary health risk.
“A number of illnesses can pass relatively easily from the cow into the raw milk that can multiply in the raw milk and they can cause serious illness and even death in the people that drink it — particularly in people like children that have compromised immune systems.”
Health claims and the scientific evidence
Raw milk enthusiasts often say raw milk rebuilds immune systems and improves overall digestive ability. But how much scientific truth is behind these claims?
Robert D. Ralyea, a food scientist with Cornell University, told ctvbc.ca many of the health benefits are only anecdotal.
“Probably, to some degree, raw milk helps your immune system because there are things you have to fight off. But if you have a compromised immune system, it’s not going to help you,” Ralyea said from his New York lab.
Ralyea said many scientific studies cited in favour of raw milk date back to the 1920s and 1930s, something he feels may make them outdated.
But Mark McAfee, the owner and CEO of California’s largest raw milk dairy, says the age of the science doesn’t make it any less valid.
“Doctors in the ’20s and ’30s knew that raw milk could help a number of conditions. And that was a long time ago. But science didn’t change. Gravity didn’t change. Just because it was discovered 75 years ago doesn’t make it less correct or accurate.”
Some recent claims do hold significant scientific credence, including research that suggests drinking raw milk could ease lactose intolerance.
A recent study by the Michigan Fresh Unprocessed Raw Milk Workgroup, a group consisting of representatives from the department of agriculture, the University of Michigan, dairy farms and consumers, concluded 82 per cent of people suffering from lactose intolerance with pasteurized milk could drink raw milk easily.
Ontario farmer Michael Schmidt told ctvbc.ca he’s seen proof of this firsthand.
“Eighty per cent of our customers can’t drink regular milk,” he said.
“These are people who struggle with their children because they can’t digest regular milk. These people are telling me with tears in their eyes, ‘It’s just such a blessing raw milk exists.'”…”