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At one time, Katie Bush was wary of drinking raw milk. A registered nurse who insisted on "everything being sterile and clean," the Cedar Hills mother never considered serving the unpasteurized product to her children.
But like a growing number of people in Utah - and the nation - Bush is defying modern food traditions and serving milk straight from the cow.
Raw whole milk, or "real milk" as advocates call it, has not been pasteurized, a heating process that kills bacteria responsible for several infectious diseases and lengthens shelf life. Nor has it been homogenized, a sort of straining process, that breaks up the cream and prevents it from floating to the top of the milk.
Some raw milk drinkers have made the switch saying they want to avoid the growth hormones associated with commercial cows and
milk. Others who are lactose-intolerant say they are able to better digest raw milk because it still contains the natural enzymes and beneficial bacteria usually killed during pasteurization. Others simply prefer the richer taste, as raw whole milk contains about 4 percent butterfat.
There are other differences, too. Most pasteurized milk at the grocery stores comes from grain-fed Holstein cows, a breed known for its large milk production. Conversely, raw milk originates from "old-fashioned" breeds such as Jersey, Sweet Browns and Guernseys that have been fed grass.
Studies from Utah State University and other research institutions have shown that milk from grass-fed cows has four to five times the amount of cancer-fighting fatty acids than milk from grain-fed cows. It also has double the amount of vitamin D.
Some farmers insist that something inside the digestive system of grass-fed cows make them less susceptible to the "bad" bacteria and pathogens that are often associated with grain-fed cows.
The difference has attracted a growing number of customers, said Lars Woolsey, owner of the Woolsey Dairy in Payson.
"In three years, you can't imagine how we've grown," said Woolsey, who has between 300 and 400 customers, most of them who live many miles from his Utah County farm. "We have customers from Ogden to Marysvale [in Piute County]."
The Foote Family Farm in Redmond, Utah, has seen similar growth, growing from just two cows to 60 in about three years, said manager Brandon Foote.
Health risks: Utah is one of about 28 states that allow the sale of raw milk for human consumption. Only three states, California, Connecticut and New Mexico, allow raw milk to be sold in stores. In Utah, consumers can only buy raw milk at a certified dairy where it is produced and bottled.
Earlier this year, a bill was introduced - and failed - in the Legislature that would have allowed certified dairies to sell raw milk in approved stores. Similar raw milk discussions are taking place across the country.
Leading the fight is the Weston A. Price Foundation in Washington, which argues that Americans would be healthier if they drank raw milk. The organization's Web site, http://www.realmilk.com, has become the clearinghouse for information about raw milk, including a state-by-state list of suppliers.
Raw milk advocates argue that because of better health regulations and improved food technology - including stainless steel tanks, milking machines and refrigeration - raw milk is not as dangerous as it was more than 150 years ago when the French scientist, Louis Pasteur, devised a way to rid milk of its harmful bacteria.
In Utah, commercial dairy farmers are fighting to keep raw milk out of mainstream markets, fearing that an outbreak of salmonellosis or Escherichia coli (E. coli) from raw milk could damage all milk sales.
The lack of consensus in the industry has forced the Utah Dairymen's Association to spend the next several months working on a compromise that will appease both sides as well as meet the needs of consumers interested in obtaining raw milk.
According to the Utah Department of Health, the most common diseases associated with raw milk are salmonellosis, E. coli and campylobacteriosis. These bacterial infections can cause diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramps and vomiting.
"Pasteurization is the only way to completely eliminate those risks, especially for those with compromised immune systems," explained Marilee Poulsen, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health. The department urges young children, older adults, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems to avoid raw milk.
Poulsen said every month state health officials investigate at least one illness that is linked to raw milk. Typically, the cases do not involve a certified dairy. Usually the source is from an individual milking cow on a farm.
Raw milk from certified dairies must undergo the same federal Grade A testing as commercial pasteurized milk. However, the tests are taken more often and, in the some cases, the health requirements are more stringent, said Kyle Stephens, deputy commissioner for the Department of Agriculture.
A long way to go: The remote location of many of Utah's raw milk farms are a big frustration. Currently, Utah has three dairies that have met state requirements to sell raw cow's milk: the Woolsey Dairy, the Foote Family Farm and the Finney Farm Home Dairy in Hildale. A fourth dairy, the Drake Family Farm in West Jordan, has been approved to sell raw goat's milk.
"Why should it be more difficult for me to get my milk than it is for my neighbor?" asked Kate Bush. "Especially, she says, when the raw milk dairies in some cases have to meet stricter standards than commercial dairies."
But even though it is more difficult, Bush says its worth the extra time and money to get the raw milk. Raw milk sells for about $4 a gallon. If kept cold, raw milk has a shelf life of one to two weeks, slightly less than pasteurized milk.
Bush switched to raw milk when her oldest child developed a sensitivity to the pasteurized variety. The family tried soy milk, then rice milk and then just skipped milk all together.
"I was searching on the Internet for different ideas and I came across several sites that talked about raw milk," she said, noting she was disgusted by the thought initially, but then became intrigued by the anecdotal evidence.
When the family started drinking raw milk, first from a generous neighbor with a cow and later from a certified dairy, her son blossomed.
"His weight gain was more normal. He had fewer colds. And he just had a bright look in his eye," she said. Her two younger children, both girls, have never had anything but raw milk.
The big bonus, says Bush, is that raw milk tastes good.
"It's sweeter and creamier."
Contact Kathy Stephenson at email@example.com or 801-257-8612. Send comments about this story tolivingeditor @sltrib.com.
Where you can buy raw milk
Four Utah dairies are certified by the state agricultural department to sell raw cow's and goat's milk to customers. Under the current law, consumers must go directly to the dairy to purchase raw milk. The farms are:
Drake Family Farm, 1856 W. Drake Lane, West Jordan; 801-255-6455. Sells goat's milk, goat's milk cheese, cage-free eggs and goat's milk soap.
Finney Farm Home Dairy, Hildale; 435-874-2827. Raw milk comes from grass-fed Brown Swiss cows.
Foote Family Farm, Redmond; 435-979-3697. A certified organic, raw-milk dairy. All of the Jersey and Brown Swiss cows eat a diet of grass and natural grains.
Woolsey Dairy, 2232 W. State Route 198, Payson. 801-465-3976. Produces raw milk from all-natural Jersey cows and goats. Also sells cheese and eggs.