COLUMN: Want to improve our nation's milk? Improve our cows
From all across the state, 18-wheeler trucks pulling cold steel trailers pour in. Miles of tubes pump the raw material into the bowels of the factory to be processed.
The yellowish liquid is heated to blistering temperatures and spun through centrifuges at breakneck speed before heading to packaging. By this time, the liquid is white as snow and ready to be shipped off in a bevy of plastic containers to houses all over the country.
Pasteurized, homogenized, fortified milk from the factory is poured over cereal, made into ice cream and drank right out of the jug in millions of households.
The liquid in the bottle has been so altered from its original form it cannot be called milk. Milk instead is only available in raw, unpasteurized form, direct from the manufacturer. Raw, unpasteurized milk ought to be the standard milk product available to consumers.
Cows produce milk; factories do not.
Before the industrial revolution, around the turn of the century, the only milk that was available was raw, unpasteurized milk. Millions of people drank it. No one ever questioned what milk was.
In 1864 all this changed after Louis Pasteur invented a way to heat liquids in order to kill potentially harmful bacteria and keep the liquids fresher.
What Pasteur did not know was that his invention would radically change the way milk would be processed. His discovery coincided with the industrial revolution. Milk had moved from the farm to the factory.
The main benefit at the time was to the health of the consumer. Dairy plants were feeding the cow’s low quality feed, and producing such low quality milk that it had to be pasteurized to be safe.
This event altered the definition of milk from raw to pasteurized. Shortly after, states began creating laws banning the sale of raw milk to consumers.
Modern milk is a product of the methods of the industrial revolution. Cows are fed a diet that is based in corn. They congregate on huge feedlots in unsanitary conditions. The same decrepit conditions that spurred pasteurization still exist today. Pasteurization is only necessary because the bacteria counts in the milk product are so high.
Health labels touting the added vitamins in milk proclaim to fight bone disease and supply necessary vitamins. These beneficial vitamins are being added back to make up for those lost in the pasteurization process. The modern glass of pasteurized product is as similar to milk as Sunny Delight juice drink is to a glass of pure orange juice.
The consumer would look at a carton of milk differently if the label read, “Vitamin D-enhanced, milk-flavored drink.”
Milk comes from cows. In order to improve the milk, we must improve the cow. The first step in this process is simple: When a cow is taken off its corn based diet and onto a grass diet, it sheds the majority of bacteria that exist in its body.
When a cow is taken out of the feedlot and onto grass, fecal matter does not have a chance to get into the milk.
Even in worst-case scenarios, raw local milk has only the potential to harm a small number of people who consume milk from a specific farm. In a large production facility, the potential for harm is much greater.
According to the Federal Drug Administration’s website, only 800 people have become ill from consuming raw milk since 1998. To put this number in perspective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 6 Americans — or 76 million people — get food poisoning each year. You are far more likely to be struck by lightning, than get food poisoning from raw milk.
When consumers begin to purchase milk from small, local farms, the supply of milk will increase with the demand. Milk production on the farm will grow as business shifts to raw milk. Just as milk moved into the factory with customer demand, it now will move out along the same lines.
In Oklahoma, it is only illegal for a farmer to transport raw milk, but the farmer can sell it directly from the farm. Milk is not a material that can be shaped and prodded into any form. Milk is a building block of life. Preservation of nature’s design can only be achieved when we remove the process that corrodes milk into a shadow of the original product.
A clear demonstration of milk’s inherent values will be made by allowing it to speak for itself. A turn off the highway, around the bend to the local farm or farmers market is all that is required.
Mark Brockway is a political science junior.