Whether the fear of toxins has reached critical mass or consumers simply desire fresher tastes, the call for organic milk has reached an all-time high.
Organic dairy foods sales rose 20 percent in 2003, according to the Organic Trade Association. In fact, dairy foods were the third-largest organic food seller, right behind fruits/ vegetables and beverages.
?The demand is fantastic,? says Caragh McLaughlin, senior brand manager for Horizon Organic, in Boulder, Colo. ?People are taking a closer look at how food impacts overall health and well-being.? And as consumers embrace organic milk, issues such as pasteurization and homogenization will be the next things on customers? minds.
Perhaps one of the biggest movements right now is toward raw milk. While most consumers hold on to the idea that pasteurized milk has savedâand continues to saveâlives, some nutritionists and other health food aficionados believe that not only is raw milk safe, but it also contains far more nutrients than the pasteurized variety.
Nevertheless, it?s hard to find. Federal law prohibits interstate raw milk sales, and it is legal in only 28 of the 50 states. At the New Leaf natural products store in Santa Cruz, Calif., for instance, you can find regionally bottled raw milk from Watsonville-based Claravale Farms.
Raw milk is not pasteurized and can easily spoil within a week. But if the cows are healthy and the dairy is clean, raw milk is the milk to drink, its proponents say.
?I wish we could do raw milk,? says Theresa Marquez, chief marketing executive at Organic Valley Family of Farms, based in La Farge, Wis. ?A lot of enzymes get destroyed [in pasteurization]. I raised both my kids on raw milk. They didn?t get sick and neither did I.?
Others in the organic arena agree with raw milk advocates like Marquez, yet opt for pasteurizing organic milk because often the delivery chain is not under producer control, except when done on a very small scale. Says Vivien Straus, vice president of marketing for Straus Family Creamery in Marshall, Calif.: ?The main reason we don?t [sell raw milk] is that we don?t do our own deliveries.? Ronny Osofsky, president of Ronnybrook Farm Dairy in Ancramdale, N.Y., agrees, explaining that if you sell raw milk and someone gets sick, whether it was from the milk or not, you?ll have a lawsuit on your hands.
Most milk is pasteurized using the high-temperature, short-time method, which involves heating the fluid to 161 degrees or higher for 15 seconds or more. In ultra-pasteurization, which extends the milk?s shelf life, milk is heated to 280 degrees for two seconds. While many organic dairies sell milk pasteurized both ways, some do not like the idea of ultra-pasteurized milk. ?It?s basically cooked,? says Straus, maintaining that the flavor becomes compromised. For others, the extra shelf life, often from 60 to 90 days, is a plus. ?We have milk done in both manners,? says Horizon?s McLaughlin. ?[Ultra-pasteurized] allows us a little more time to get to stores that are farther away from our plants.?
Raw milk advocates (visit www.real milk.com) believe that enzymes critical for digestion are removed during pasteurization. Not necessarily so, says Louise Hemstead, chief operating officer at Organic Valley. ?It is the phosphatase enzyme that gets lost,? she says. ?My premise is that it?s not that bad to lose that enzyme because it has a negligible impact in our digestive behavior.? That said, Hemstead drinks raw milk daily from her own cows. ?But,? she adds, ?I see people abusing milk, leaving it out on the counter. Americans expect to have their food last forever. [For that reason] I just can?t recommend drinking raw milk.?
The cream on the top?
Finally, what about homogenization? Milk fat left to its own devices will rise to the top of its container. This can be useful to consumers who like to stir the fattier liquid into their coffee. If they don?t, they can simply skim it off and lose that much fat from the milk. But mixing fat into the milk at the dairy came into style about the same time the milkman went out of style. Like pasteurization, however, this topic is the subject of some debate.
?The body doesn?t use the [homogenized] milk properly,? says Ronnybrook?s Osofsky. Indeed, some say that when milk is homogenized, the fat globules break down in such a way as to be absorbed immediately into the bloodstream, thus not digested properly. Hemstead disagrees. ?It all goes to the stomach first, where it gets digested.? But she adds that Organic Valley sells both homogenized and nonhomogenized products, giving customers the choice. And for many, that?s the most important feature of all.
Anita Malnig is a San Francisco-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 3/p. 74