Raw milk is a complete food that has not undergone any treatment like skimming, homogenization, pasteurization or ultrafiltration. It is a live food, and if stored properly and consumed within two to three days, it maintains all of its original nutritional properties: nutrients, vitamins, provitamins, enzymes and probiotic bacteria.
High-quality raw milk is rich in vitamins and bacteria that help improve the immune system of children and adults. Specifically, it contains vitamin A, important for sight, cellular development, antitumoral activity and immune defenses; and vitamin D, necessary for cellular activity, brain development, prevention of cancer and immune system development.
When milk is pasteurized, the vitamin content is partially reduced, especially in the case of vitamins B6, C and folic acid. Proteins are also altered, as are the fats, compromising the milk’s biological value. In one study, pasteurization of mother’s milk in preterm infants resulted in a reduced fat absorption, a reduced bone growth, and a reduced protection of neonatal infection.
A European study (PARSIFAL), conducted in 2007 by a team from the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine in Basel, looked at 14,893 children aged between 5 and 13 living in rural areas of Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, comparing the consumption of farm milk (raw or boiled) versus pasteurized shop milk. It showed that farm milk consumption was associated with a reduction in asthma (-26%), hay fever (-33%) and food allergies (-58%).
Furthermore, a more recent study published in 2011 (GABRIEL) investigated whether raw milk could make a difference versus boiled milk in the frequency of asthma and allergies. Selecting and analysing of 800 farm children the study shows that there is an additional protecting effect within the group of farm children who have been given raw milk. The strongest reduction was found in the risk of hay fever and asthma among the ‘exclusive raw milk drinkers’ (any unboiled milk). Just the boiling of the milk leads to a loss of the protective effect found in the exclusive raw milk drinkers.
The biodiversity of micro-flora present in raw milk also brings beneficial effects to raw-milk cheeses, which contain higher quantities of probiotic bacteria (Lactobacillus rhamnosus, L. casei, L. plantarum) than cheeses made with pasteurized milk. Other studies have shown how cheese made from the milk of pastured animals, particularly those grazing in hilly or mountainous environments, contains many more “good” fats than cheese made from milk from intensively farmed, indoor-raised livestock. These good fats (like conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3s) help prevent cardiovascular disease and even arteriosclerosis. During pasteurization, these fats are almost completely destroyed. Omega-3s are often added to milk after pasteurization, but the result is significantly inferior than with raw milk from pastured animals.
Finally, in addition to the safety and healthiness of raw milk, it is worth remembering that raw milk is synonymous with respect for the environment and biodiversity, and is the best way to promote the work of small-scale herders and artisans who work mostly in marginal rural areas (mountains, hills, etc.).
Supporting raw-milk production means moving value from distribution to production, helping to differentiate supply and protecting consumers’ right to choice.