June is dairy month – one of agriculture's most celebrated public celebrations. It's right up there with Mom, baseball and apple pie. It's when politicians have no fear of being seen with milk "moostaches". It's when baseball players sport them while pitching "Milk. It's good for you!"
None the less, there's a dark side to milk's public exposure, one I've been wrestling with for years – and one certain to draw harsh criticism for my viewpoint. I applaud dairy farmers who can produce high-quality raw milk, and successfully market it direct to consumers – strictly following state milk quality protocols. After you read the rest of this blog, come back and read this disclaimer once again.
Trouble is, I've seen too many strong-minded entrepreneurs – a significant number of whom are Amish or Mennonite – who justify their own protocols and standards. Other descriptions of "strong-minded" came to mind first, but it was the most complimentary term.
Too often, they've tried to circumvent milk sanitation and marketing laws, claiming their "above-the-law" rights – despite being sources of consumer illnesses. That's a recipe for disaster – for their businesses and especially those falling ill to bacterial contamination.
I've visited immaculate raw milk dairies with processing "kitchen" standards that would make housewives blush with embarrassment. I've driven past others that made me shudder to think of anyone buying milk there.
The typical dairy response, "My family drinks it, so it's safe for anyone." doesn't hold water, let alone milk. Several years ago, a farmer friend and long-time dairyman nearly died from drinking his own cows' milk and his "gut" was acclimated to his raw milk. Risks for non-farm consumers are substantially higher.
What makes the raw milk issue a quagmire is that high-quality raw milk is filled with proteins, enzymes and bacteria that are good for the human gut. But as we've seen on too many farms, bad microorganisms – listeria monocytogenes, campylobacter, salmonella, cryptosporidium and E. coli – can pop up with sickening or lethal effects within days of being refrigerated and sold.
The strangest thing is that sometimes those organisms can't be confirmed back on the farm the milk came from – even after extensive investigation. That's why milk producers and consumers deserve a better product.
A promising technology
While I drink pasteurized milk, I'm not a strong advocate for it. Yes, I know. That statement is almost heresy. Allow me to explain.
Killing milk's beneficial bacteria and enzymes leaves me cold. That's exactly what happens with high-heat and double-pasteurized milk. This processing destroys much of milk's healthful, nutritive values.
For several years, I've been urging Cornell University to research ultraviolet light's potential for commercial milk processing. It's well-proven technology for wastewater treatment, and effective on all the above noted "bugs".
GEA Farm Technologies already employs UVPure equipment for cleaning milk fed to calves. If the concept can be adapted to commercial milk processing, it would revolutionize the dairy industry with an instant value-added product.
In brief, UV light breaks molecular bonds in the DNA of viruses and bacteria, rendering them unable to reproduce. But problems with turbidity and suspended solids may make milk processing a not-so-easy problem to solve. None the less, it's a technology – in my opinion – that warrants research and development. Imagine the demand for milk with teeming with live, natural gut-friendly enzymes and proteins.
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