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From the State Vet's Office

Raw Milk and Things That Go Bump in the Night

By Dr. Tony Frazier

We live in a crazy world. And without me going into detail, if you can watch the news on any given day and not come away shaking your head and asking, “What is the world coming to?”, I would be surprised. Maybe I’ll do a podcast? I have long thought that the further we get from the agricultural society that settled our country, the door is opened to all kinds of myths and misconceptions. I am speaking primarily about what the nonagriculture population are being fed through legitimate media outlets. I am often approached by someone who wants to produce their own food like their grandparents did because they believe it will be healthier and more wholesome. I have even spoken with some people who almost seem afraid to eat food that wasn’t grown or produced like it was 50 years or more ago. There are a lot of things that I suppose we might or should be afraid of; but our food is not one of those things.

Most of us walk into a room and flip the light switch on without wondering if the light will come on. We sit down in a chair without wondering if it can hold our weight. And most of us eat three meals a day with snacks between without wondering if it is going to make us sick immediately or adversely affect our health somewhere down the road. I will address a limited number of things that I have heard people worry about that are based on something besides the facts that are based on science.

There is a move today that drinking raw milk is more healthy than pasteurized milk. If you do a computer search about raw and pasteurized milk, you could vow to never buy pasteurized milk again. One article that was published in a legitimate media source stated that the proteins are dramatically changed when the milk is exposed to the heating that is part of the pasteurizing process. The truth is that heat does coagulate proteins. But does that make those proteins less healthy than raw proteins? Milk contains two kinds of proteins, casein and whey. And these proteins are not rendered less nutritious or unhealthy by heating them. You can go to any store that sells health and nutrition supplements and purchase a big container of casein or whey powder. The idea that heating protein is less healthy than raw protein would suggest that we should be eating raw beef and pork and eggs, because we generally cook those proteins at a much higher temperature than is reached when milk is pasteurized.

On the other side of that coin is that many medical groups, including the Centers for Disease Control, warn about the increases of foodborne illness outbreaks that are associated with drinking raw milk. In many third world countries, a major reason for hospitalizations is drinking raw milk. In a study of foodborne outbreaks from 2012 to 2017, infections caused by the bacteria Campylobacter doubled and were mostly due to drinking raw milk. I know that there are likely those who just read this about raw milk and their blood pressure went up 20 points because they truly believe there is a significant health benefit to drinking raw milk. If you choose to buy a cow and drink raw milk, that is up to you; but, if you get sick, just remember what I said.

Another hot issue is that backyard poultry is on the rise, so much that most small animal veterinary continuing education includes courses on how to care for backyard poultry. I am not saying that is a bad thing. I had some chickens at home, and we ate the eggs. That is because I enjoyed having the chickens and eating what I can produce at home. It was not that the eggs coming from commercially-produced birds that come from the grocery store were in any way less healthy. I have heard people say they have backyard birds because they do not want to expose their family to the antibiotics and hormones that are in commercial poultry. I have one response to that: rubbish. According to the Food and Drug Administration, it is illegal to use added hormones in poultry. Also, if there is evidence of antibiotic residue in poultry meat, it cannot enter the food chain. And, as some would suggest, the regulatory community is not turning a blind eye to these substances getting into poultry anyway. The ability to grow birds that can grow quickly to weights that are optimal for consumer consumption is the result of genetics, feed efficiency and optimal husbandry. If you want to join me and have some backyard chickens at home, go for it. But don’t do it because you believe commercially produced poultry is unhealthy or unwholesome.

Many people are afraid to eat beef because beef contains hormones. A veterinarian friend of mine was once in one of those organic food stores and saw a sign over the meat counter that stated, “Our Beef Does Not Contain Hormones.” My friend told one of the workers at the store that all meat contains hormones. There is no such thing as any kind of hormone-free meat because of those hormones that the body naturally produces. The store worker went and got the manager. When my friend went over the science of “hormone free” with the manager, instead of thanking him for giving her scientific facts, she asked him to leave the store. My friends over at the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association have a good presentation that shows that a cup of pinto beans has a lot more natural hormones than commercially-processed beef. So, if you want to pay a lot more for hormone-free or organic beef, that is up to you. But, don’t do it because you believe commercially-produced beef is unhealthy. There is no science to back it up. I know you can find all kinds of things on the internet stating otherwise, and it must be true if it’s on the internet. Right?

Maybe we don’t do a great job at getting the facts out about the safety and wholesomeness of food produced by United States animal agriculture. Maybe it is because less than two percent of our population is involved in animal agriculture. Maybe that is why a popular fast food chain is enjoying riding the wave of a vegetable burger they have produced and marketed. I have not tried one … don’t plan to. If you want to eat one, that is fine. A friend of mine said the one he tried didn’t really make him think he was eating beef. If you want to eat a vegetable burger, that’s fine with me. But, don’t do it because you are afraid of commercially-produced beef. Yes, there are things that go bump in the night. But I am here to tell you – and I am deeply involved in animal agriculture – commercially-produced food is not something to be afraid of.

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