Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized.


Humans consumed raw milk before factory farming methods coinciding with the industrial revolution, when large populations congregated into urban areas detached from the agricultural lifestyle to which they were accustomed. Up until that point, individuals and families owned their own goats, cows and other livestock and milked them on a daily basis.

Pasteurization was first used in the United States in the 1890s after the discovery of germ theory to control the hazards of highly contagious bacterial diseases including bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis that was thought to be easily transmitted to humans through the drinking of raw milk.[1] Initially after the scientific discovery of bacteria, no product testing was available to determine if a farmer's milk was safe or infected, so all milk was treated as potentially contagious. After the first test was developed, some farmers actively worked to prevent their infected animals from being killed and removed from food production, or would falsify the test results so that their animals would appear to be free of infection.[2]

When it was first used, pasteurization was thought to make raw milk from any source safer to consume. Although farm sanitation has greatly improved and effective testing has been developed for bovine tuberculosis and other diseases, pasteurization continues to be used as a stopgap measure in case infectious milk from a mismanaged farm should enter the food supply.

The Raw vs Pasteurized Debate

Main article: United States raw milk debate

The Raw vs Pasteurized Debate places the health benefits against the disease threat. Although agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and numerous other worldwide regulatory agencies say that pathogens from raw milk make it unsafe to consume,[3] certain organizations such as the Weston A. Price Foundation in its "Real Milk" campaign say that raw milk has health benefits that are destroyed in the pasteurization process and that it can be produced hygienically.

The disease threat at present is a statistical issue and is defined in public health terms. Although Mycobacteria bovis (non-pulmonary tuberculosis) is found in raw milk, it is relatively rare in modern industrial societies. The public health issue is that tuberculosis and typhoid will always be present in raw milk, even if in statistically small amounts. These potentially disastrous pathogens in raw milk (non-pulmonary tuberculosis, typhoid, and salmonella) can be safely controlled by pasteurization, animal husbandry, and milk storage methods[4]. The health of dairy animals can be managed by continual testing of dairy herds and careful storage of milk products. Some of the pathogens will never be eliminated from dairy herds since the pathogens are carried by common wildlife (goats, cats, dogs, pigs, buffalo, badgers, possums, deer, and bison)[5]. Thus, the public health side of the debate always returns to pasteurization.

In 2008 scientists noticed that raw milk contains more bacteria than previously thought and identified Chryseobacterium oranimense as well as C. haifense and C. bovis, but the amount found in raw milk has not been proven harmful.[6]

Legal status


Regulation of the commercial distribution of packaged raw milk varies across the world. Some countries have complete bans, but many have partial bans that do not restrict the purchase of raw milk bought directly from the farmer. Raw milk is sometimes distributed through a cow share program, wherein the consumer owns a share in the dairy animal or the herd, and can be considered to be consuming milk from their own animal. Raw Milk is sometimes marketed for animal or pet consumption, or for other uses such as soap making, in places where sales for human consumption are prohibited.

In Africa

Although milk consumption is fairly low compared to the rest of the world, in tribes where milk consumption is popular, such as the Maasai tribe, milk is typically consumed unpasteurized.

In Europe


Milk is typically consumed unpasteurized in rural areas of Europe, and raw milk can typically be found in small amounts at stores in large cities. Raw milk cheese is legally produced in most European countries.

Distribution of raw milk is illegal in Scotland. It is legal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but the only registered producers are in England[7]. About 200 producers sell raw, or "green top" milk direct to consumers, either at the farm, at a Farmers' market, or through a delivery service. The bottle must display the warning "this product has not been heat-treated and may contain organisms harmful to health", and the dairy must conform to higher hygiene standards than dairies producing only pasteurised milk.

In Asia

In rural areas of Asia where milk consumption is popular, milk is typically unpasteurized. In large cities of Asia, raw milk, especially from water buffalo, is typical. In most countries of Asia, laws prohibiting raw milk are nonexistent or rarely enforced.

In Australia

Raw milk for drinking purposes is illegal in all states and territories, as is all raw cheese. This has been circumvented somewhat by selling Raw milk as 'bath milk'. An exception to the cheese rule has been made recently for two Roquefort cheeses. There is some indication of share owning cows, allowing the "owners" to consume the raw milk, but also evidence that the government is trying to close this loophole.[8][9]

In Canada

The sale of raw milk directly to consumers is prohibited in Canada[10] under the Food and Drug Regulations since 1991.

Section B.08.002.2 (1)


However, like the United States, Canada permits the sale of raw milk cheeses that are aged for at least 61 days.

In the United States

28 US states do not prohibit sales of raw milk. Cow shares can be found, and raw milk purchased for animal consumption in many states where retail for human consumption is prohibited.

Most states impose restrictions on raw milk suppliers due to concerns about safety. As of 2009, the state of Connecticut has discussed creating possible restrictions upon the sale of raw milk to farms and farmer's markets. [11] The FDA reports that, in 2002, consuming partially heated raw milk and raw milk products caused 200 Americans to become ill in some manner. [12]

Many governmental officials hold to the need for pasteurization. B.P. (before pasteurization), many dairies, especially in cities, fed their cattle on—to put it bluntly—garbage, and their milk was rife with dangerous bacteria. Pasteurizing it was the only way to make it safely drinkable. After many years of pasteurization, just about everyone simply assumes that raw milk is dangerous stuff. [13]

Proponents of raw milk (in the U.S.) advance two basic health arguments. The first (flatly denied by regulators and most nutritional scientists) is that pasteurization destroys or damages many of milk's most valuable nutrients. The second is that while it may kill dangerous bacteria, pasteurization also kills off all the good bacteria in raw milk—some of the same ones that big dairy companies are now selling as "probiotics" in pricey new yogurt and drink concoctions.

Supporters argue that raw milk is just as safe as the dairy it comes from. If the cows are healthy and the dairy is spotless, they say, raw milk is safer by far than pasteurized milk, because the beneficial bacteria naturally found in raw milk make it harder for harmful bacteria to grow. Accurate testing is also available now to detect the presence of harmful bacteria, something that was lacking when pasteurization was first propagated in the early 1900s.


  1. An Impossible Undertaking: The Eradication of Bovine Tuberculosis in the United States, ALAN L. OLMSTEAD AND PAUL W. RHODE, The Journal of Economic History (2004), 64 : 734-772 Cambridge University Press, Copyright © 2004 The Economic History Association, doi:10.1017/S0022050704002955
  2. Not on My Farm!: Resistance to Bovine Tuberculosis Eradication in the United States, Alan L. Olmstead and Paul W. Rhode, January 2005, The Journal of Economic History (2007), 67 : 768-809 Cambridge University Press, Copyright © 2007 The Economic History Association, doi:10.1017/S0022050707000307
  3. Template:Cite web
  4. Elmer H. Marth, James L. Steele, Applied Dairy Microbiology
  5. Template:Cite web
  6. EurekAlert. New bacteria discovered in raw milk.
  7. The Association of Unpasteurised Milk Producers and Consumers, Hardwick Estate Office, Whitchurch-on-Thames, Reading RG8 7RB
  8. Template:Cite web
  9. Template:Cite web
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  13. Template:Cite web

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