For some, milk is not just a morning glass of health benefits before one starts the day. Milk and especially cow milk has religious significance and is mentioned in ancient religious texts and remedies. Drinking raw milk has a certain appeal among the religious minded people in India. In addition to religious factor, some Indians and some people worldwide hold the view that raw milk has benefits versus the pasteurized milk.
However, a new study offers new light on the long-running ‘raw versus pasteurized milk’ debate where the former has been found to have more Antimicrobial Resistance Genes (ARG). The findings of the study titled ‘Reservoirs of Antimicrobial Resistance Genes in Retail Raw Milk’ by Department of Food Science and Technology at UC Davis infer that the bacteria with “significantly increased richness and abundance of ARGs” was specially found in raw milk stored in room temperature, while microorganisms remained stable when the milk was stored at 4 degrees Celsius.
This also assumes significance in light of recent alarm raised by scientists and public health experts over mass antibiotic resistance amongst the Indian population caused by long-term effects of consumption of processed food and meat. Another reason has been found to be unregulated self-medication with strong antibiotics for even smaller illnesses. Bacteria with antimicrobial-resistant genes if passed to a pathogen has the potential to become a ‘superbug’, immune to all pharmaceuticals.
The genesis of the issue, therefore, can be traced to the consumable food industry itself, which has been found to be using unhealthy processing and packaging practices uses additives and preservatives. For instance, the poultry industry has been asked to raise chickens through natural free-range feed and not processed corn and bird feed to increased breeding, which passes antibiotic resistance to people who consume it. In the case of the dairy industry, completely reverting to grass feed not processed animal feed has been called for by many activists over the years.
While the study limits itself to the United States, as the samples were taken from five American states, it may still have indications for the status of milk condition in India, where packaged milk and food industry serve a large proportion of the urban and rural middle class. Raw milk has otherwise always been argued to be more beneficial over non-boiled unpasteurized milk, particularly in terms of preserving the natural properties which include its enzymes (lactase, lipase and phosphatase which help in better absorption and digestion of lactose sugar and calcium); obesity and cancer fighting Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), a trans-fatty acid; the ‘good’ Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria that help to break down certain sugars and fats; milk proteins and immunoglobulins; protection from diseases through good bacteria that are destroyed because of poor mass production practices.
The correlation between the duration milk spends in room temperature and ARGs in bacteria has also, therefore, called into question the efficacy of a practice called ‘clabber’, which includes making raw milk sit outside in room temperature to ferment. This practice alone causes the production of ARG in bacteria, which people could be passing on to their gastrointestinal tract. Scientists, however, said it is necessary to study the source of the milk i.e. whether the cow, goat or sheep were grass-fed. Raw milk from these sources has been conclusively found to be providing all the above mentioned benefits in multiple other studies.