On April 20, 1862, Louis Pasteur and his colleague Claude Bernard heated up some booze to about 60 degrees Celsius and discovered a way to prevent spoilage by killing bacterial growth.
When applied to milk processing, pasteurization went on to save countless lives and made the farmer’s job easier. But pasteurization, like all great discoveries has its drawbacks.
Pasteurization, a fairly simple procedure, consists of quickly heating up a substance to just below its boiling point and rapidly cooling it. Unfortunately it does not distinguish between good and bad bacteria and kills both. Enzymes like lipase and phosphatase and immunoglobins which boost the immune system by seeking and destroying viruses and harmful bacteria present in raw (unpasteurized) milk. These enzymes, along with much touted vitamins like B6, are lost or diminished in the process of pasteurization.ost or diminished in the process of pasteurization.
Some argue that many people who are thought to be lactose intolerant are actually pasteurization intolerant. This is because the enzyme lactase, which is produced by bacteria in raw milk and helps with the digestion of milk sugar (lactose), is destroyed in the pasteurization process.
Because pasteurized milk lacks beneficial microorganisms it will rot with time, whereas unpasteurized milk will sour naturally.
All of these facts have led to a growing movement of raw milk crusaders. These are individuals and groups who believe that pasteurization is unnecessary and can even be harmful.
Proponents of pasteurization argue that the health risks of raw milk outweigh the benefits. And indeed pasteurization prevents the spread of some extremely nasty bacteria including species of Mycoplasma, Streptococcus Aureus, and diseases like Salmonellosis, Brucellosis, Tuberculosis, and Campylobacteriosis all of which are potentially lethal and can make the worst case of the flu seem like a walk in the park.
Because of the health risks associated with raw milk, Canada maintains a ban on all unpasteurized milk and cheese aged for under 60 days.
Despite the nutritional benefits of drinking raw milk, the fact remains that pasteurization saves lives.
The passion of raw milk crusaders seems a bit misplaced. Perhaps the problem is not pasteurization itself, but rather that as a society, we’ve become so distanced from the sources of our food that we need to treat it as a source of infection rather than a source of nourishment.
The ease with which pasteurization renders food laced with dangerous bacteria into something which is safe, means that farmers and processors are free to cut as many corners as they need to stay afloat financially.
Pasteurization makes it possible for nefarious farming practices to continue. The unfortunate truth is that most of the cows that produce the milk we drink live their entire lives in tiny stalls eating manufactured diets designed to speed milk production, receiving chemicals such as recombinant bovine growth hormone (RBGH) in the United States and a surfeit of antibiotics to stave off diseases that flourish in this type of environment.
These practices also keep milk inexpensive. Smaller farms that are careful about cleanliness and pay close attention to the health of their herd are rare and expensive to run.
In the U.S., where certain states allow the sale of raw milk, the practice is tightly regulated. This means that it remains a luxury product, and largely out of reach for the poor.
It would be irresponsible to advocate banning pasteurization as it is a necessary measure to keep such a vast food supply safe. Nevertheless, maybe governments should think twice about implementing policies that foster factory farming practices.
We need to push for a return to small farms and a better understanding of the connection between the producers of food and what we buy off the shelf. We need to demand better food quality and be willing to pay for it. We’ll all be healthier for it in the long run.