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:
The first is milk that is intended for pasteurization. In its pre-pasteurized form, this milk may be unsafe for human consumption because it has not been produced to strict hygiene standards, such as avoiding fecal contamination that causes the majority of foodborne illnesses associated with raw milk. Standards for pre-pasteurized raw milk allow for higher levels of contaminants, such as campylobacter or E.coli, since heating the milk will kill these bacteria.
The second type is raw milk for direct human consumption. Trained farmers follow stringent safety standards on the farm and in the milking parlour. This raw milk is always “single-estate”, never co-mingled with that of another dairy farm. It is rigorously tested to ensure it is free from harmful bacteria and comes from a healthy herd, free from tuberculosis and brucellosis. When CADA refers to raw milk, this is the type of milk we mean.
Is raw milk legal?
YES, in almost all countries around the world. 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.)