In the raw

It's the drink of choice for West-Coast health fiends, and now it's coming over here.

It’s organic in the truest sense of the word, but the latest food fad from America is not without controversy. Raw milk – unpasteurised and straight from the cow – is billed by many as the ultimate tonic, higher in nutrients and disease-fighting compounds than regular milk, and linked to relieving all manner of ailments, from hay fever to irritable bowel syndrome. It is drunk by more than 100,000 health-conscious Californians, and New Yorkers apparently can’t get enough of it. Now farm shops in England and Wales, where it is sold in green-topped bottles, are reporting a sharp increase in demand.

What makes raw milk so good, claim proponents, is not just its rich, creamy flavour, but its unadulterated, wholesome nutritional profile. They argue that pasteurisation – a process by which milk is subjected to short bursts of heat, followed by rapid cooling, to kill harmful bacteria such as listeria, salmonella and E.coli – also destroys vitamins, beneficial bacteria and digestive enzymes. According to the Campaign for Real Milk, a US-based organisation, raw milk contains 10% more B vitamins and 25% more vitamin C. That’s not all, they say. Homogenisation, which is widespread in regular milk production to ensure even distribution of fat globules and avoid separation, can make pasteurised milk difficult to digest.

But critics argue that, far from being beneficial, raw milk is potentially dangerous. In Britain, the government’s Food Standards Agency says that tests on raw milk have shown it contains “illness-causing pathogens” in the form of bacteria that could leave people prone to infection. The Food and Drug Administration in America recently issued a warning to consumers that getting caught up in the raw-milk trend could damage their health. Sales of the milk, which must carry a label warning of its risks, are restricted to farm shops or milk rounds in England and Wales; in other words, it cannot be sold in supermarkets. In Scotland, raw milk has been banned for more than 20 years. “Milk is pasteurised for a reason – to keep it safe from harmful bacteria,” says Bridget Aisbitt, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation.

Despite such warnings, the demand for its natural properties is soaring. Raw milk is sold at the fashionable Chelsea Farmers’ Market in London, and John Barron, of Beaconhill Farm, in Herefordshire, says he now sells about 50 litres a week. “There has never been a single case of food poisoning reported to me,” he says. Celia Haynes, who bottles raw milk at Meadow Cottage farm in Hampshire, says her customers are increasingly couples with young families and adds that “many doctors are referring children with asthma and eczema, because they are not getting adequate exposure to bacteria in mass-produced milk”.

Source - Times

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