In recent years, the UK has seen a growing interest in food provenance and an increased awareness as to the over-processed nature of much of what we eat and drink. A desire to reduce food miles and to eat in a more wholesome, often organic, way has also helped boost the popularity of many home-reared or home-produced products.
One particular item that has sparked plenty of interest, and much debate, is raw milk. In today’s blog post, we take a look at both sides of the argument, to see just why raw milk is such a hot topic nowadays.
Just what is in your regular milk bottles?
To understand why raw milk is seeing such a resurgence in interest, we need to look first at the milk that most of us consume on a regular basis. This is pasteurised, which means that it has been heated to a certain temperature for a set period of time, and then rapidly cooled. This process kills off any harmful bacteria that could be present in the milk, making it safe for everyone to drink without fear of falling ill.
Milk can either be heated to a temperature of around 63°C for 30 minutes, or it can be heated to 72° for 15 seconds, before being cooled very quickly, with the same results in terms of protection against bacteria.
One of the reasons that raw milk has come back into the spotlight is that people are increasingly aware of the widespread use of both antibiotics and GM feed in the UK’s livestock industry. It has been reported that routine use of antibiotics in the dairy industry has resulted in resistance building up, such that they are no longer effective against the conditions they were designed to treat.
Additionally, there is a fear that those antibiotics can pass through the system of dairy cows and into their milk, thereby making their way into the human foodchain, with very little known about the long-term health implications of this. Similar concerns exist about GM crops being used as cattle feed.
So what about raw milk?
In the UK, milk has been routinely pasteurised for almost 100 years. Before that, it was generally sold ‘fresh from the cow’, without any kind of treatment. Obviously, both food hygiene and knowledge about the dangers of bacteria have increased dramatically, and for a long time, the sale of raw milk was banned. Now, however, raw milk can be purchased in England and Wales (but not Scotland) from licensed outlets.
Often sold in traditional glass milk bottles straight from the farm, raw milk appeals to many, evoking a certain nostalgia for times gone by when life was a lot simpler, and we all grew up with a healthy immune system through being exposed to ‘a few germs here and there’.
Raw milk sales are strictly controlled and it is recommended that people with any kind of compromised immune system should avoid drinking it. Pregnant women and young children are also advised not to drink raw milk. In order to sell raw milk, a producer must be licensed and inspected by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). When buying raw milk, consumers should ensure that it is always stored in the fridge and used as soon as possible.
It is not possible to keep raw milk for a few days, like regular pasteurised milk, even in the fridge. Those bacteria we mentioned earlier can rapidly increase in raw milk, especially if the milk is kept in warm conditions. Just popping it in the car boot and driving home on a hot day could start the process of bacteria growth, so care should be taken at all times.
Whilst all this sounds a little negative, there are plenty of people who are ready to stand up and champion the benefits of raw milk. It’s claimed that raw milk contains higher levels of beneficial nutrients and that it can actually boost your immune system. Many people report other health benefits including better skin and a reduction in allergic responses. And of course, there are lots of people who think that raw milk simply tastes nicer than pasteurised milk, saying that we have all forgotten what milk really tastes like.
Where can I get some raw milk?
You won’t find any raw milk bottles lining the supermarket shelves, as the big grocery stores are very wary of raw milk. In addition, the need to consume raw milk promptly doesn’t fit with supermarket logistics. Instead, you’ll need to find an outlet that is licensed to sell its own raw milk, either on-farm or at farmers’ markets or similar outlets. This means that for those living in urban areas, switching to raw milk permanently may not be an option, and it may only be possible to grab a raw milk bottle every once in a while.
Have you tried raw milk? Get in touch via social media to share your story - and why not add a photo of you with a milk bottle or two, if you have one?