The following article appeared in the Telegraph, dated 18th January 2008. It highlights a growing realisation amongst consumers of the benefits and superiority of raw untreated
produced by the dairy industry. It is one of scores of news articles that have appeared over the last year or so on this issue.
Lucinda Labes joins the growing queue of urbanites who are mad about untreated milk
I realised something was up when the queues in my local farmers' market - in London's Queen's Park - started bulking up beside the milk van. There the milk drinkers stood, whatever the weather, sending emails on their BlackBerrys or humming songs to their toddlers as they awaited their turn. Then they'd emerge, ostentatiously clutching cartons of butter-yellow milk, with pots of golden cream nestled on their Bugaboos.
Was I imagining it, or did they want me to see the prominent warning labels?
"This milk has not been heat treated and may therefore contain organisms harmful to health." An elixir of health or a carrier of disease?
The jury is out in Britain, where more and more people are drinking raw milk.
At farmers' markets across the country, demand is on the up. Despite government warnings that unpasteurised milk is one of the surest ways to pick up salmonella, campylobacter and E.coli, the 150 or so small dairy farmers who supply the markets are enjoying a big growth in sales.
In the past year, for example, Dave Paul, a third-generation farmer with a Guernsey herd at Olive Farm in Somerset, has seen his sales of raw milk and cream climb 30 per cent at London's farmers' markets.
And other dairies, which formerly brought only cheese to urban markets, are now compelled by popular demand to bring milk, too.
Who are these dare-devil milk drinkers? And why are they so keen?
"It just tastes good," says Lucia, who buys her milk at Notting Hill Farmers' Market in west London every Saturday.
A couple of lads in tracksuits and trainers are stashing 12 litres into a backpack. They come regularly from north London for their milk. "It's better for you," they say. "It's never made us ill."
People from across London come to Notting Hill to stock up.
They are affluent, hip cognoscenti who would sooner eat cat litter than non-organic food, and who want to know a chicken by name before they will eat its eggs.
But aren't they dicing with disease? The Government would have us think so.
"The risk of food poisoning from unpasteurised milk is very real," says a spokeswoman from the Food Standards Agency (FSA). "We particularly wouldn't recommend it for vulnerable people - the sick, infants and the elderly."
One of the main reasons raw milk was banned in the first place was because 65,000 people caught TB from it. Although the likelihood of this happening today is negligible, bovine TB is increasing.
At present, dairy farmers in Britain are only allowed to sell unpasteurised milk directly to the consumer, either from a milk float, the farm gate or a farmers' market.
You won't find it in Sainsbury's.
Elsewhere, the legislation is more draconian. In Scotland, raw milk has been banned since 1983 after a scary outbreak of milk-related illnesses. In America, you virtually have to own a cow to get your hands on the stuff.
Yet before the 1950s, raw milk was the norm on every breakfast table in the country. The Queen is still said to be a fan of raw milk from her Windsor Castle herd.
Proponents see unpasteurised milk as a panacea. They point out that pasteurisation - whereby milk is heated to 72C for 15 seconds and then rapidly cooled - destroys all enzymes, the very things that make it digestible to humans.
Raw milk is also higher in vitamins, is full of healthy bacteria such as acidophilus and seems to have a protective effect against asthma and allergies in children.
So why the laws?
As farmer Chris Hall of St Levan, West Cornwall, says: "In Britain you are allowed to drink yourself silly and smoke carcinogenic fags, but you can't drink raw milk. It doesn't make sense."
Thomas Cowan, a doctor from San Francisco, sees it as a big-versus-small business issue. "In order to produce raw milk, you need healthy cows, which precludes big business. You can't raise a healthy cow on anything but pasture. The giant dairies keep cows on concrete and feed them grains, soya and sometimes even meat; they turn them into factory animals. And then the cows get sick. You couldn't drink raw milk from those herds."
In Britain, the small dairies are much cleaner now than they were when pasteurisation came in. In addition, farmers who want to sell raw milk must pay for frequent tests.
"The fashion not so long ago was for cheap food," says Tim Jones of Lincolnshire Poacher, whose raw milk and cream sell like hot cakes. "Now people want quality. They want to feel connected to the land."
For me, the real test is in the taste. It is with trepidation that I try my first glass of cold raw milk. It's delicious: as silky as ice cream and as sweet as the smell of clover-strewn meadows. I'm not sure I'd feed it to my toddler, but I'll be in that queue again next weekend.