Why Raw Milk Has Trouble Emulating Organic Farming Movement

Joseph Heckman, left, with Blaine and Mark McAfee, at a California organic agriculture conference in 2014 at which they passed out raw milk and cookies to attendees.

In what may be the most extensive academic article about the modern raw milk movement, Rutger University professor Joseph Heckman provides what he describes as “an historical account of the raw milk movement and its long association with the organic farming movement.” In the paper, published in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, he describes a number of important similarities, but eventually concludes that public health safety objections make it unlikely that raw milk will ever blossom the way organic farming has, as a mainstay of commercial food in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world.

Heckman says in the paper that conflict around raw milk’s safety became apparent to him on his home turf at Rutgers, beginning with a seminar series he inaugurated in 2008 to bring in raw milk experts guest lecturers. While he refrains from providing the gory details of the conflict, his simple reference to a “surrounding storm of controversy and numerous questions” gets the message across. (Here is a post I did a few years back on his academia challenges.)

To capture his key points, I have excerpted from the paper, which can be found online (and accessed in its entirety by clicking on one of the options below the preface).

“One of the myths about organic farming (Heckman, 2010) is that before the widespread use of synthetic chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, the farming that was being practiced was organic without the banner of the name. While this was partly true in some places in the world, such as that described by F. H. King (1911) in Farmers of Forty Centuries or Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea, and Japan, it was clearly not so in many places where soils were being destroyed on a massive scale by erosion. Along with the soil erosion, there was also concern over loss of native soil fertility and soil organic matter content (Heckman, 2013). These problems were described in detail in the opening chapters of The Living Soil (Balfour, 1976) and in Look to the Land (Northbourne, 1940). In these and other pioneering works, organic farming systems were proposed as a viable ecological solution to the crisis of soil destruction. In contrast, modern conventional agriculture chooses technological approaches to address soil erosion by promoting genetic engineering and chemical herbicide-no-till farming systems.”

“For the last several decades public health officials and food safety scientists have almost exclusively focused on warning and educating people against consuming fresh milk by highlighting safety concerns. Documentary films Farmageddon, Organic Hero or Bioterrorist and Milk War have provided graphic illustration of clashes over raw milk between government agencies on one side and dairy farmers and consumers on the other.”

“A psychiatric physician attending one of the raw milk seminars at the Rutgers University (Schwartzman, 2010) and well-versed in the dynamics of mass psychology spoke up about how the battle over legal access to raw milk was about much more than just food safety. In his blog (Government vs Raw Milk) he defines and explains a social phenomenon called the emotional plague as originally outlined by Dr Wilhelm Reich. Schwartzman explained: ‘I contend no matter how much proof of safety is presented or what additional information is provided, the government authorities will never relent in their efforts to end sales of unpasteurized milk…The safety of unpasteurized milk and the best interest of the public are not the sole or even primary reason for the government’s attack… In their minds they must stop ‘dangerous’ activities and behaviors, never realizing their prohibitive actions are not really for good of others but rather to make themselves feel better by putting an end to the behavior that makes them intensely anxious. Controlling others makes plague-ridden indivi- duals feel better, at least temporarily.’ “

“Educational campaigns against access to raw milk may be seen as a failure given that demand for pasteurized fluid milk has been steadily declining (Berry and Gee, 2012), whereas the growth in demand for permits to sell raw milk has been described as ‘explosive’. “

“Any evidence for health outcomes uniquely associated with consuming fresh unpasteurized milk is typically dismissed with blanket pronouncements. For example, the CDC (Raw Milk Question and Answers, 2017): ‘There are no health benefits from drinking raw milk that cannot be obtained from drinking pasteurized milk that is free of disease-causing bacteria.’

“The US FDA similarly plays up the risks and dismisses the benefits. How some public health organizations, community of health professionals and food scientists can ignore the accumulated published evidence on health benefits appears biased or a willful failure of scholarship.”

“People concerned with making food choices have several options: (1) place their trust in the pronouncements of the ‘experts’, (2) ask a trusted health care professional, (3) read and review published literature and arrive at their own interpretation and assessment, or (4) become knowledgeable about their food choices from real-world experience.

“The fourth option is not unlike what farmers and gardeners experience when they decide to implement organic practices on their land. When a farmer transitions away from commercial chemicals to the organic system, they observe the unique qualitative changes in soil properties that result from switching to a biologically based soil fertility system. The special soil properties achieved and the benefits to plants of feeding the soil with complex organic nutrient sources are now well documented and cannot be dismissed as simply anecdotal (Rodale Farming System Trial, 2016).”

“The body of scientific literature comparing fresh milk vs heat- processed milk suggests that health outcomes are often different (Table 2). The evidence is based on animal as well as human feeding trials using cow milk or human breast milk. It generally shows that when milk is heated, some of the nutritive qualities are diminished; weight gains and growth are often less with heat- treated milk. The more recent studies indicate that consuming fresh milk helps protect children from allergies, asthma and respiratory infections.”

Heckman’s article is also a treasure trove of historical and other resources related to raw milk–it’s well worth a close read.

37 comments to Why Raw Milk Has Trouble Emulating Organic Farming Movement

  • Ken Conrad Ken Conrad

    Yes, Dr. Heckman’s article is well worth a close read. I passed it on to my local MLA who in turn forwarded it to the Conservative Agriculture and Health critics.

    The following statements you quoted exemplify the human obsession with ego and/or greed.

    “Controlling others makes plague-ridden indivi- duals feel better, at least temporarily.”

    “How some public health organizations, community of health professionals and food scientists can ignore the accumulated published evidence on health benefits appears biased or a willful failure of scholarship.”

    The latter quote in fact is exactly what’s encountered when attempting to address the dangers and inadequacies of vaccinations.

    • Richard Barrett

      Thanks Ken for getting this information to the MLAs but please also get it to the Federal MPs, especially the Minister of Health,

      The Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, email: [email protected] ph. 613-992-8072 . Follow up with Postage free

      Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Foods, The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, email: [email protected] ph. 613-995-9325

      I have requested that they both meet with Mark McAfee to have his assistance on Amending the Food and Drug Act.

      • Gordon S Watson

        as I’ve posted here before, Richard Barrett, you are wasting people’s time and energy, lobbying the federal govt. on the raw milk issue. You are obliged to confer with James Mclaren, who finally realized that, in the Dominion of Canada, production / distribution of raw milk for human consumption, is a provincial jurisdiction. When you do, please get him to make available to David Gumpert’s forum, what Sally Fallon had to say, after her meeting with the Ministre de Health … about a decade ago (I think)

        what would be most helpful, is : find a cheesemaker in La Belle Province, who sells fresh cheeses made from REAL MILK, right from the dairy, WITHOUT aging them for 60 days. Which is perfectly legit. in dat province under the Revised Statutes de Quebec. That would bring to the point, the logical contrast with raw milk legislation in The Rest of Canada.

        This week, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the “Free the Beer” case, to do with interprovincial trade barriers. If the Supremes rule that the No Brainswick law to do with liquor smuggled into its little fiefdom, is indeed un-constitutional, then, by extension, there goes the entire dairy management supply racket, too. Genuine Free Trade within our own country … what a concept!

  • David,

    Not so fast….being directly involved in the normalizing raw milk markets here in CA and also the cutting edge food safety systems that permit safe raw milk, I think this is simply a matter of time.

    Last week, professors at Fresno State University toured our dairy and creamery. They then extended an invitation to have me present to the class’s of their students next spring. Yes….the fresno state dairy and creamery units want to assure that students learn about raw milk benefits and food safety systems!! They want to make sure that future dairymen know and understand all the niches!!

    Last week more CA dairies left the markets. They failed and are no longer producing milk, my story about fresno state professors is provided against a backdrop of failed economics from CAFO dairy systems. Opposition is weakening severely.

    A new paradigm is emerging and raw leads the way. Persistence, steadfast market building, education and food safety systems.

    It is simply a matter of time.


    • Ken Conrad Ken Conrad

      At this point Mark; I’d be wary of California’s true intent considering it’s recently introduced draconian vaccination laws.

    • Imphamn

      I agree with Ken Conrad. Be very, very careful. Those people you think are showing positive interest are not to be trusted. They will destroy your livelihood in a minute and think of themselves as heros for it.

    • Richard Barrett

      Yes, it is just a matter of time for more access for raw milk. We have to get the information out that in the States when the Somatic Cell
      Count gets over 750,000 that it gets thrown out. In Canada it gets thrown out if over 400,000. The average in Alberta is about 200,000.
      How often is the SCC over 25,000 for the Raw Milk Institute Certified farms?
      Sorry to hear that a few dairy farmers have to feed chicken manure to their cows in order that they have enough money to feed their children. I wonder how much of the public knows it. Manure feeding in Canada is illegal.

  • John Dutcher

    I know a woman that works for the state and I know that her attitude is generally one that since she is in a position of authority, she knows best, and I can show her other points of view or other proven theories and she just won’t believe it unless it comes from a higher authority i.e. FDA or some other alphabetical bureaucrat government agency.
    Dr. Heckman’s paper is spot on!!

  • Shana Milkie

    Thank you for sharing this important work, David and Dr. Heckman. Even though I hope more people become aware of raw milk’s benefits, for right now I’d be happy if farmers could produce it and consumers could acquire it without hassle.

  • Linda

    I’ve lost 30lbs drinking raw milk. Goats milk. I have a cup every morning. It all boils down to consuming nutritious whole foods that give the body what it needs. The fact that raw milk is illegal is ridiculous. But it does matter who is supplying the milk and the clean safe care they take with the animals. Cows or goats. We the consumer should be given the choice…

  • Joseph Heckman

    For the record Mark McAfee an Organic Farmer guest speaker at this Organic Conference held in Long Beach, CA. The conference brought together organic agriculture researchers from around the world to present the latest findings from studies of organic systems. At the conclusion of the program, Mark and Blaine served up organic raw milk and cookies from Organic Pastures Dairy.
    The conference was sponsored by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Co-operative Research Programme on Biological Resource Management for Sustainable Agricultural Systems and USDA-National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) OREI program. It was co-organized by the American Society of Agronomy (ASA) Organic Management Systems Community, USDA-NIFA, and the International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems (ICROFS) of Denmark.
    I was among the invited speakers. The work I presented at that conference is now published here: Heckman, J.R. 2015. The Role of Trees and Pastures in Organic Agriculture. Sustainable Agriculture Research. 4: 47-55. http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/sar/article/view/50105

  • Dr Heckman,

    The soils conference provided a warm welcome to raw milk. It was truly a pleasure to speak and present to a room filled with elevated consciousness. Just a year ago, I was honored to share a stage with a USDA soils Phd ( Jennifer Lucera ) at the NFU conference in San Diego. She presented on soils and roots of plants. I presented on the villi in the gut and nutrition…at the end we brought both ends together. What happens in our soils is a mirror image of our American Gut. Physiologic comparisons are mirror images of one another. Villi are our roots. Food is our gut soil!!

    As far as mandatory vaccination is concerned, I totally agree that the CA law went over the line.

    When CNN reported last week that flu shots were less than 10% effective, that indicated a very severe weakness in the very public marketing campaign that promotes the ” glory of vaccinations”.

    Show up, stand up and speech up….

    That’s out greatest failing as activists. First…..show up in masse. Second….have the guts to stand up and be heard. Third, have something to say that checks all the boxes. Your message better resonate and make sense.

    I suggest that those boxes include: peer reviewed published science that supports the cause, personal testimonial, documented food safety data, and perhaps simple freedom to eat whole unprocessed foods!!!

    Then lastly…..never ever give up!! Be relentless in the effort.

    • JHeckman

      You are the best at this: Show up, stand up and speak up….
      In 2008, you were the first present in the Raw Milk Seminar Series at Rutgers entitled: “Raw Milk, Mother Nature’s Inconvenient Truth”
      And in 2010 you came to speak at the America Society Agronomy meetings in Long Beach for our COSA program on Know Your Farmer Know Your Food
      And in 2014 at the America Society Agronomy for the Organic Conference in Long Beach.
      Thank You

  • John Dutcher

    Dr. Heckman,
    Thank You, looks like loads of information!!!

  • William March

    John D. If you want to eat a cow manure sandwich that’s you right to do so ,but if somebody else makes the sandwich than health laws apply .You see people have been known to get sick from improperly handled food .Manure comes from a cow which usually lives in a barn ,barns contain a variety of different ingredients such as urine,barn dust ,bird droppings ,rodent dander ,etc.Since some of these ingredients contain bacteria we want someone inspect them to insure they are safe and to make sure you only get manure on your sandwich .When I go a resturant I want to know it has been inspected ,so I don’t get any cat meat in my chicken fried rice .If you still want to have a manure sandwich I would suggest having it on an organic brioche roll with fermented veggies and extra mayo.Thank you

    • John Dutcher

      You do not seem to get the gist of what I was saying, the regulators want to control what we consume, whether I make the sandwich for myself or you make it for me, matters not to the regulators. William, I have been a livestock farmer for 35 years, my cows do NOT live in a barn. You are disconnected, sir!! And, if you think that inspection is going to keep you from eating cat meat, you have been mentally swindled. Do you not watch nay news at all? Do you not see restaurants being closed down regularly for violations, after they are inspected, ever heard of bribery/payoffs??? You are a bit naive William. Also, William, for the record, us humans are bacteriosapiens, we cannot live without bacteria!!

    • Imphamn

      Wow if you still think bacteria alone is what mainly causes disease you have A LOT to learn about human nutrition and animal biology in general. No I don’t, nor anyone else, need a government agency to “protect us” from bacteria. And again if you think that’s what the FDA, NIH or whoever is doing for you now, you are very naive.

    • Richard Barrett

      William March, you just reminded me of when I got a manure sandwich. On the farm in Manitoba , Canada My brother and I were taking out the manure with a sled pulled by horses. My feet are tucked in at the back bottom and I am hanging onto a fork. My brother is standing on top driving. Suddenly we hit a big snow drift and sled stops, the back half slides off with me, I fall forward, but my mouth was open enough with my brother’s foot two inches away from my face, pushing in the manure. Boy, was I spitting. No, I did not get sick from that sandwich.

  • Pete

    I don’t think the problem is politics driven by health concerns. While that is the oft heard justification for opposition the real issue is money and power. If raw milk could be produced and distributed at massive scale via the distribution chain it too would be in stores nation wide.

    But the nature of raw milk doesn’t lend itself to that like organic milk did.

    The other issue is simply economics. While there is crazy demand all over the country, often individual localities do not have sufficient demand to support even a single dairy farm; especially not at a sustainable price. A few notable farms in specific markets have been successful but many many other raw milk dairies have struggled to scale; a problem compounded by the lack of dairy infrastructure in many places, the difficulties of learning curves for new dairymen and the labor issues with combining marketing and farming into the same enterprise.

  • Pete

    I’d challenge the proposition that the organic farming movement is necessarily something to be emulated. Those farmers built a market from scratch only to be shoved aside once it became big enough for the major food processors to take interest.

    Right now the organic milk is upside down over expenses with no end in sight as the market is flooded with cheap CAFO milk that the USDA steadfastly refuses to crack down on.

    It was good while it lasted but the organic milk market is maturing and turning into a commodity market; which means the get big or get out, least cost production phase is now in play.

  • Pete. I totally agree with your observations. One big difference between processed organic and raw organic.

    One can be channeled through established processors facilities and distribution etc. raw organic can not be managed in the same pathway. The value for raw is established by different measures. Raw has innate value. There are no magical, kill steps to replace ethics and hard work.

    Organics screwed itself. Sadly….it needs to unscrew itself. We will see how politics works on that one.

    Raw is a grass roots farmer direct to consumer connected paradigm….thank god!!!

  • D. Smith D. Smith

    The biggest problem I see with this whole thing is that the pasture land desperately needed in order to run large herds of cattle and sheep, and the woodlands needed to support hog raising, is all fast disappearing. Contractors are buying up all the available land and building useless stuff on it. I’ve been saying this for three decades or more now. We keep building, and the cities keep sprawling, but yet everyone demands pastured foods. It’s just not going to happen if we continue to follow this pattern. No one seems to get it, however, because all this land buying/selling brings lots of money into play and that’s where the interest seems to lie. What a shame.

  • William March

    John D Since this blog is about raw milk let’s change manure to raw milk for our discussion .A person can drink all the raw milk they want in areas where it’s allowed to be sold ,it is subject to inspection for safty as all prepared foods are ,for example fresh fruits and vegetables are inspected buy the consumer when they make the purchase ,do you buy rotten tomatoes or wilted veggies ?.Small family run kitchens selling along the road are also inspected for cleanliness .Large food processors are inspected by many different agencies whether they are local ,state ,or federal depending on the product they sell.I did say cows live in barn, I should have said they are milked in barns ,unless the farm has a milking parlor .Barns contain a cocktail of various contaminates as I noted previously .The cows are milked the milk leaves the cow through aline to the milk tank to be cooled then to a bottle if it is bottled on the farm, or to the milk truck if is picked up .As the milk goes through this process many little bugs and creatures can get in the milk that’s why it is suggested it be pastuerized .It is the consumers choice if they want to drink raw milk ,today it is pretty much available everywhere ,a few states do not allow the sale, the USDA says you can drink it ,and can be brought accross state lines by individuals it cannot be sold commercially accross state lines ,although it is done so on a large scale .A large scale buying group sold milk in New Jersey recently and a person got sick ,this operation sells raw milk in about 5 states and buys milk from many uninspected farms .This group will not give authorities the location of the farms where the milk was purchased so the milk can be traced back to the farm it came from ,since this contamination is serious this represents a threat to the public health .Buy the way this group has changed their name and are back in business like nothing happened ,so they can go about making $$$$$$$$$.regardless of thre threat .Is this OK with you?.I assure you that I have a background and knowledge of bacteria as I worked for a company that studied bacteria and I grew live bacteria on my kitchen window sill for the company to be studied ,although my wife was not happy with it .We do need bacteria in our life ,but we should not be consuming harmful bacteria if at all possible ,the benefit must out weigh the risk.Thats why like it or not we need inspectors to keep an eye on things .After I retired I sold raw milk to a group in another state I gave it up about 5 years ago .I thank you for being a responsible farmer for 35 years .My family has farmed in Lancaster and York PA.since 1728 .Thank you

    • Imphamn

      You grew bacteria in your kitchen. Wow so did I on a piece of stale bread, many times. It’s really not difficult. Go run and hide from all the dangerous bacteria. You worked for a company that studied bacteria. I’ve been a pharmacist for 24 years. I can tell you all you want to know about microbiology (which I studied in school) along with human anatomy, physiology, pathology, molecular biology, medicinal chemistry, immunology, infectious disease, pharmacology, pharmacognosy, and genetics. I have also been drinking raw milk for years, and giving to my children, who are now teenagers. Why don’t you just admit you are a corporate troll on this site.

    • Imphamn

      But somehow, in Europe they have figured out how to make raw milk available in vending machines and the world hasn’t ended there yet. And somehow, people survived for HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of years drinking raw milk. But now, somehow it’s SO DANGEROUS and RISKY. Give me a break with your BS scare tactics.

  • John Dutcher

    Thank You for the compliment, my family farming heritage dates back to 1700’s in Russell County, Virginia Territory,that is as far as I have gotten. In your second sentence, you hit the nail on the head “in areas where it’s allowed to be sold”, like adults need “permission” to consume whatever foods they wish????? Your point about someone getting sick from raw milk, because there was a lack of an inspection process is really not a good point. There are literally hundreds of people that “die” each year from consuming inspected foods,ALL food has an illness potential. I ,also have a pretty good knowledge of bacteria, not only from an educational level, but also from experience. The key to bacteria, is balance, just like in your guts “and” in the soil. And, if your body is healthy with the right balance of bacteria, generally speaking, the good will overcome the bad bacteria, in a healthy environment, that being key!!
    As far as barns having bacteria, that is true, but you said yourself that the milk travels in an enclosed pipeline, which would eliminate point of contamination at point of milking.
    But, anyway, Thanks for the tutoring on dairy, not sure who it was meant for, as I have been around dairy farms for over 35 years, some of my best friends are dairymen :>) And, Yes, on a commercial level we do need inspectors, mainly due to all the “bad players” in the food industry, fyi, before I farmed, I was in the food business, as I am still to this day, but now direct marketing right off the farm is what we do.Your preaching to the choir, sir.

  • John Dutcher

    And William, I am 64 y.o. and have been consuming raw milk since I was a child :>)

  • William March

    Impham I am so happy that you went to school so did I .Thank you for advising that they have vending machines in a Europe , we also have vending machines in the USA with all kinds of goodies in them . I have also heard that most milk in Europe is sold off the shelf and is not refrigerated ,do you think it might have been pasturised ?.I am not trying to scare anybody ,all I commented on were the facts like it or not .

    • Mr march hello….I have a recipie for you mr march ….i will try and be polite and i really wanna meet you in jersey somewhere to talk in person..in a nice manner..here it goes..
      you take 1 gallon of whole raw milk from a grass fed organic cow let it sit in the hot sun for 2 weeks in your driveway.it will start to clabber and separate no you don’t throw i back into the garden to help the plants just yet….. you drain it, keep the curd cheese …chill it then spread on crackers.
      A Italian beekeeper in new jersey my friend gave me this recipe.Shocked mr march ?…i was as well… but it was really good.i didn’t get sick and die although i have cancer and heart disease since .it was good for my diseases i know this and this beekeeper is a good smart man who doesn’t allways eat organic …who will microwave his food sometimes .but he never eats sugar..eats from his own garden .,cooks many foods ,anyway i just wanted to tell you about this recipe .leaving raw milk at room temperature for many hours is safe .When you get sick with something mr.march and you are facing death you go out yourself and ‘test” things you do not wait for any doctor to guide you ALL the way.

  • John Dutcher

    You will not get raw milk in a vending machine in the U.S., did you not read what Imphamn said ?? The vending machines are refridgerated just like our soda pop vending machines. They don’t live in the dark ages over there LOL!!!

  • William March

    JOHN D.Why be so petty I know we don’t have raw milk in vending machines in the USA ,if raw milk was legal here we could get it at the local corner store ,EUROPE does not have the same food distribution system we have in this country ,it’s not necessary for us to use vending machines except for convenience .Does having vending machines make a country great ?.I don’t remember the last time I used a vending machine it has be at least 5 years .By the way in EUROPE the vending machines have a ,message on them that indicates the raw milk should be boiled before using .I am aware the vending machines are refrigerated the milk is raw .As far as the dark ages go it seems a lot of people would rather live in the dark ages of THE USA since they are climbing walls to get here .Thank you

  • John Dutcher

    I suggest you re-read what you wrote to William, no tongue-in-cheek there,at all LOL!!
    Thank You William March

  • John Dutcher

    EUROPE does not have the same food distribution system we have in this country

    What the devil do you think they do there, deliver food by horse and wagon, my goodness, sir!!

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