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– Ambrose Bierce
The Rise and Fall of Raw Milk
by Ron Schmid, ND
According to author and naturopathic physician Schmid raw milk has been victimized by the same forces that gave us Wonder Bread, processed Amercian cheese, and pasteurized beer. Rather than dealing with the challenges of handling fresh, unadulterated products, the food processing factories have elected to give us fancier packaging and longer shelf life. The only casualty appears to be our health. -SM
Human consumption of animal milk is usually linked to the beginnings of grain farming some 10,000 years ago.1 Most treatises on the history of the human diet assume that animal husbandry began with the dawn of agriculture, making dairy products a relatively recent human food. But archeological evidence indicates that 30,000 years ago people in the High Sinai Peninsula at the north end of the Red Sea used fences to aid in confining and breeding antelope for their milk.2 They likely were one of many cultures that used milk long before the beginnings of agriculture. Physically, civilization rests on the soil, because the soil produces the nutrients for the grasses that feed the animals that feed the people. Fertile soil ultimately provided the milk upon which civilization was quite literally built.
In the whole range of organic matter, milk is the only thing purposely designed and prepared by nature as food. Early humans did not hesitate to appropriate this gift of nature for their own use. No state of civilization has ever been attained without the subjugation of animals and the subsequent use of their milk; from the infancy of human society, distinction has been assigned to the bovine species in history. Those species include the bison, buffalo, yak and domestic animals of the genus Bos, like cows and bulls. Where people have gone, the ox and his kind have followed. In every country, bovines are either indigenous or naturalized. In most, their milk has at one time or another been used as an essential article of human sustenance - in many, as the chief.3
The earliest Hebrew scriptures contain abundant evidence of the widespread use of milk from very early times. The Old Testament refers to a "land which floweth with milk and honey" some twenty times. The phrase describes Palestine as a land of extraordinary fertility, providing all the comforts and necessities of life. In all, there are some fifty references in the Bible to milk and milk products.4 Milk is often used metaphorically to signify privileges and spiritual blessings.
In the New World, the Jamestown colony was established in 1606, and times were very tough for a number of years. Despite several infusions of hundreds of new settlers, by 1610 a pitiful remnant of 60 is all that remained. It was Sir Thomas Dale's arrival with a hundred cows the following year that marks the beginning of dairying in America, and the beginning of some prosperity for the Jamestown settlers.
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"The cow is a primary producer of wealth. She can support a family. She not only turns grass into milk in quantities sufficient to feed a family but also provides extra to sell and she contributes a yearly calf to rear or fatten. The family that takes good care of its cow is well off.
"The dairy cow doesn't ask for much but she asks every day. People who are creating wealth with a cow either are hard working and reliable or they get that way in a hurry. The need to milk the cow twice a day determined the location of churches; people had to be able to walk there and back without disruption to the schedules of cows. It is certainly no coincidence that such a large number of our finest American statesmen were born on farms. Important virtues are nurtured on the farm, including a graphic understanding of the relationship between working and eating. I have come to understand and accept the words of that great 19th Century agricultural essayist, William Cobbett: 'When you have a cow, you have it all.'"6
At the end of World War II, 3.7 million of America's 5.4 million farms had milk cows. Most still sold raw milk directly to neighbors and through local distribution channels, a situation that would change drastically under relentless official pressure for compulsory pasteurization of all milk. A series of articles in popular magazines in 1944, 1945 and 1946 served to frighten the public into support of these efforts. A side effect of this movement was the demise of America's small farms.
Ladies' Home Journal began the campaign with the article "Undulant Fever," claiming - without any accurate documentation - that tens of thousands of people in the US were suffered from fever and illness because of exposure to raw milk.7 The next year, Coronet magazine followed up with Raw Milk Can Kill You, by Robert Harris, MD.8 The outright lies in this article were then repeated in similar articles that appeared in The Progressive9 and The Reader's Digest10 the following year.
The author of the Coronet article represented as fact a town and an epidemic that was entirely fictitious: "Crossroads, U.S.A., is in one of those states in the Midwest area called the bread basket and milk bowl of America….What happened to Crossroads might happen to your town - to your city - might happen almost anywhere in America." The author then gives a lurid account of a frightful epidemic of undulant fever allegedly caused by raw milk, an epidemic that "spread rapidly…it struck one out of every four persons in Crossroads. Despite the efforts of the two doctors and the State health department, one out of every four patients died.
But there was no Crossroads, and no epidemic! Author Harris admitted this in a subsequent interview with J. Howard Brown of Johns Hopkins University.11 The outbreak was fictitious and represented no actual occurrence. Harris' own public statements both before and after the Coronet article show that not only was the article a complete fiction, but that he knew that such a thing could not possibly happen. In an article he wrote in 1941, Harris stated: "Mortality in acute cases of undulant fever was formerly about two percent, but this has been greatly lowered by modern methods."12 In a 1946 paper he read before the Maine Veterinary Medical Association in Portland in 1946, he stated, "The small proportion of deaths from acute illness, varying from two to three percent, rarely higher, can be made almost, if not quite zero."13
The undulant fever epidemic lies and many others like them were repeated in subsequent magazine articles read by tens of millions of people, as well as in countless newspaper articles in the ensuing years. Writing in The Rural New Yorker in 1947, Jean Bullitt Darlington made a particularly fine effort to set the record straight with an article titled "Why Milk Pasteurization? Sowing the Seeds of Fear."14 Darlington exposes the lies and distortions in the magazine articles referred to above. Present day attacks on raw milk are often more subtle but no less vicious.
Ron Schmid, ND, is the author of The Untold Story of Milk (New Trends Publishing, 2003).
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