Plenty of information is available on raw milk and its claimed health benfits, but almost all of it is tainted by pro- or anti-raw milk biases. Here we try to answer some of the most frequently asked questions on subject.
The safety of raw milk is directly dependent on the health of the animals supplying it and the environment in which it is produced. Animals must be free from disease and infections and milking machinery must be clean and in good condition to be able to produe raw milk with as little danger as possible. Upon extraction, the raw milk should be sealed and chilled as quickly as possible to prevent exposure to air and potential bacterial growth.
There are many, many papers, websites and blogs written on both sides of the raw milk argument and we have compiled some reading in the Useful Links section. Note that some of these will be non-UK sources and so have different legal outlooks.
Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurised. Pasteurisation involves heat-treating the milk to prevent pathogens and enzymes from spoiling the milk, making it safer and longer lasting. The process has a slight effect on the nutritional content of the milk, and so raw milk, which has not undergone this process, is often sold as a more natural or wholly natural version.
It can be, especially if not produced from healthy animals in a clean environment. Raw milk, if not prepared safely, can contain harmful germs such as Brucella, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella. These can lead to diarrhoea, stomach cramping, and vomiting. Less commonly, it may result in severe or even life-threatening illness.
While proponents of raw milk claim that raw milk has better flavour and nutrition and helps build a stronger immune system, there is currently no medically proven benefit to drinking it, and in fact the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US have both warned about the increase risk of infection posed by drinking raw milk.
The sale of raw milk directly to customers (e.g. via a farmers' market, farm shop or delivery service) is legal in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It is not legal to sell raw milk to a retail store and sales are banned outright in Scotland. Bottles must display the warning "this product has not been heat-treated and may contain organisms harmful to health", and the dairy must conform to higher hygiene standards than dairies producing only pasteurised milk.