What is raw milk?

Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized, that is, heated to 72°C or more and then rapidly cooled. 

There are two kinds of raw milk:

Is raw milk legal?

YES, in almost all countries around the world. BUT, in Canada, it is legal to consume raw milk in most regions, but it is illegal to sell, deliver or distribute it. Under federal Food and Drug Regulations, all milk for human consumption must be pasteurized. Every province also has its own laws and regulations forbidding its production and distribution. Changing these laws is the mission of CADA.

Where can I buy raw milk?

In countries where raw milk is legal, it can be purchased directly from farms and some grocery stores. In places where farmers may not sell it direct to consumers, raw milk may sometimes be obtained from a herd share, a system that allows consumers to purchase part ownership of an animal in the dairy herd and to consume it under the “personal use” exemption in that jurisdiction.

Nevertheless, there are many Canadian consumers who develop a direct relationship with a farmer willing to sell them the milk, or to produce milk for them under a herdshare arrangement. Regulators consider this illegal and farmers have been charged and fined for non-compliance.

Canadians can also bring raw milk across the border from  the US where it is legal in all neighbouring states. In Washington, Maine, New Hampshire, and Idaho, retail sales of raw milk are permitted. In New York, Montana, Vermont and  Minnesota, direct farm-to-consumer sales are legal. North Dakota allows herdshares.

Is raw milk dangerous?

There have been cases of serious foodborne illnesses associated with consuming unpasteurized dairy, as is the case with many other foods. If raw milk comes from unhealthy livestock or is produced without following appropriate raw milk safety standards, it may be risky to consume. The actual safety will be dependent on the skills and hygiene practices of the farmer who produces the milk.  This is why CADA advocates for legalization of raw milk only with appropriate, proven practices that ensure an acceptable level of risk.

Originally, pasteurization was legislated in order to deal with herds infected with tuberculosis or brucellosis and farms with substandard hygiene practices. Lady Eve Balfour, founder of the Organic Movement and Soil Association in the UK, stated that ‘pasteurisation was a confession of failure. The aim should be to abandon the practice just as soon as the need for it – unhealthy cows and dirty methods – can be eliminated.’ We can do this now — so let's make raw milk available to consumers who want it.

Is raw milk more nutritious than pasteurized milk?

On its website, Health Canada makes an inaccurate statement about pasteurization: “It does not affect the quality of nutrients present in milk, such as calcium, protein, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid and vitamin A.” What this statement fails to address is that the complementary enzymes necessary for the body to absorb these nutrients have been killed through pasteurization. Also proteins are altered, leading to malabsorption of some nutrients that survive the heating process. 

While our pancreas is able to produce all kinds of enzymes to help us digest our food, it does put a strain on it. It is easier for the pancreas when the foods already contain the enzymes needed for digestion. Raw milk’s enzymes make minerals like calcium, magnesium and phosphorous more absorbable and help us digest butterfat. Unfortunately, pasteurization destroys the wide array of enzymes in raw milk. 

Raw milk farmers who follow the safety standards which CADA advocates — training, testing and risk management — care about the quality of the milk they produce and the health of their herds. They ensure the animals graze on fresh grass in the warm months and on dried forage in the winter. As a result, grass-fed livestock produce milk that has a higher level of the cancer-fighting omega-6 fatty acid CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). 

The Canadian Artisan Dairy Alliance advocates for this artisanal food that not only tastes better, but is better for us. 

Is raw milk a good source of vitamin D?

Neither raw milk nor pasteurized milk is an outstanding source of Vitamin D. You would need ten 8-ounce glasses of fortified milk to reach 1000 IUs of Vitamin D (the recommended daily allowance.) It is best to obtain Vitamin D from healthy exposure to sunlight or by eating foods such as fatty fish and organ meats. Pasteurized milk contains synthetic Vitamin D as a public health measure; however, for many people, this form of Vitamin D is difficult to absorb. 

Sarah Smith, from the Raw Milk Institute, explains, “The overall amounts of Vitamin D3 in raw milk will generally be lower than that of fortified milk. However, it is important to note that there are various forms of Vitamin D and that raw milk will naturally contain multiple [natural] forms (including D2 and D3). The bioavailability of the naturally occurring forms of Vitamin D in raw milk would be higher than that of Vitamin D fortified milk.”

Is it true that raw milk can help with allergies and asthma?

YES. From antiquity to the 1920s, raw milk was recognized for its curative properties. An abundance of peer-reviewed scientific studies support this. Many of the studies examine the absence of asthma and other allergies among children who grow up drinking raw milk.  (Please see the Learn More / Health section of this website for more information.)

Does raw milk help with lactose intolerance?


If you are someone who suffers from lactose intolerance, you know the symptoms can range from embarrassing to debilitating — audible bowel sounds, flatulence, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. It can be a hereditary condition or it may arise from damage to the digestive tract through poor nutrition or use of antibiotics. Raw milk contains the friendly bacterium lactobacillus that your body uses to create the enzyme lactase which is needed to digest the milk sugar lactose. Pasteurization destroys lactobacillus. This is why pasteurized milk left at room temperature for hours will putrefy, whereas raw milk will only sour, becoming a delicious fermented drink. 

One objection to the claim that lactose-intolerant people can enjoy raw milk is an oft-referenced 2014 Stanford study. However, that study only included 16 subjects of the initial 383 volunteers and participation selection was questionable.

Other digestion difficulties are related to allergies to the protein casein, found in cow’s milk. Some people with this issue can digest dairy products from sheep, goats, buffalo and camels...not that you’ll see too many milking camel herds in Canada. 

Isn't raw milk like raw poultry which must be cooked to be safe?

Human breast milk contains at least 700 different kinds of bacterial strains and 2500 different proteins, including powerful anti-inflammatory enzymes. It even has pathogens found in it when routinely tested. Breast milk contains functional and protective proteins that provide very specific functions to the growing baby. Specialized sugars and carbohydrates plus fibre feed the good bacteria and starve the bad. Raw milk from humans, cows, buffalo, goats, sheep and camels is a whole food that nourishes, protects, and even gives genomic direction to the nursing young through mRNA data found in raw milk. Would you consider cooking breast milk?

Why is raw milk the only food that Health Canada thinks is so dangerous that educating consumers about the risk, and regulating producers to reduce the risk, is not enough to protect the public? 

CADA would like to know the answer to this too. There have been serious illnesses and even deaths caused by fruits and vegetables, meats and pasteurized dairy, yet these foods have not been banned. Health Canada has not prohibited consumers from deciding for themselves if benefits outweigh the risks of consuming known harmful, addictive and even deadly products like alcohol, nicotine and ultra processed foods. Banning raw milk, as if it were THE most dangerous of all of these foods and substances, makes no logical sense to consumers. This is why the ban is ineffective.

How is raw milk safety relevant to achieve legalization?

The safety of raw milk is the main issue holding back legalization.  Arguments that milk is unsafe were successfully made in Canadian court cases which ruled against legalization, examples being  R. v Schmidt 2011 (paragraphs 76, 85, and 87 to 90), R. v Schmidt 2014 (paragraph 20), and Affleck v The Attorney General of Ontario 2021 (lots). 

In 2016, a petition asking Health Canada to legalize raw milk was rejected because of arguments concerning safety.  In responses to consumers who write to ask for raw milk legalization, food safety is the main issue raised by Health Canada. In order to see legalization happen, we must address the issue of food safety. 

Should we lobby for raw milk to be sold as “pet milk”?

In 2014, the BC Herdshare Association met with BC’s Minister of Agriculture Norman Letnick.  He told them he supported legalization, but they had to address the Ministry of Health’s food safety concerns. He also said, “You have to go through it [legalization], not around it. No more loopholes.”  Selling pet milk for human consumption would be considered a loophole. Frozen raw goat milk is already available in pet stores, and there is no momentum among pet owners to get distribution expanded beyond this.  CADA will not be taken seriously if we say that our goal is to further expand the sales of pet milk for pets to drink. 

Is it true that raw milk is “inherently safe” or “inherently dangerous”?

Opponents of raw milk sometimes go so far as to say raw milk is inherently dangerous: "'Raw milk should not be consumed by anyone for any reason,' said John Sheehan, head of the FDA’s dairy office. 'It is an inherently dangerous product.'” -  https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2008-jun-22-adme-milk22-story.html . 

Some proponents assert that raw milk is inherently safe because the good bacteria in raw milk outcompete the bad bacteria implying that, as a result, you cannot get sick. 

In reality, neither statement is true. Raw milk is neither inherently safe nor inherently dangerous. The safety of any food, including raw milk, depends on how it is produced and handled. When produced and handled using appropriate food safety methods, it can be a very safe food. However, conventional commercial or "homestead" dairying methods do not guarantee safe milk.  A third approach, such as the HACCP-based dairying program developed by the Raw Milk Institute, can assist farmers in preventing milk from becoming contaminated by harmful bacteria, and making it as safe as any other food.

Has raw milk ever killed anyone?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Outbreak Reporting System (NORS) database lists two deaths in 2014 and many illnesses requiring hospitalizations, related to raw milk.  Details on the deaths are as follows:

In addition, unpasteurized milk was also responsible many cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious illness which can involve kidney failure or lead to disability.  Medical intervention may have prevented a larger number of deaths in these cases.

The good news is that the risk of death or hospitalization has gone down significantly since 2014. This was near the beginning of the establishment of the Raw Milk Institute which has developed safety standards for raw milk production. Since 2014, many states have legalized raw milk accompanied by licensing, education and regulation for raw milk farms.  

Two important studies have demonstrated that increased legalization in the U.S.A. has NOT led to increase cases of illness or deaths (Whitehead and Lake 2018, Stephenson, Coleman, Azzolina 2024). There have been no deaths since 2014 and a significant reduction in hospitalizations. These studies used data tracked by the CDC between 2005 and 2020. During this time there were only the 2 deaths noted above.  Hospitalizations from raw milk peaked in 2014 at 32. In 2019 there were only 2 hospitalization and in 2020 there was only one. This reduction in risk occurred at a time of increased legalization and increased consumption. Legalization reduces risk of death or serious illness from raw milk.