Milk buyers seek raw deal for the additional vitamins
Unpasteurized product has more nutrients, they say
Alex Hicks Jr./alex [email protected]
By Lynne P. Shackleford
Published: Monday, April 6, 2009 at 3:15 a.m.
L.D. Peeler sells raw milk to Judy Patience, who drives from her home in Asheville. N.C., to get the unpasteurized product.
Tiffany Burns believes that raw milk provides her small children with essential vitamins, minerals and enzymes they wouldn't get elsewhere.
Burns' two children, ages 2 and 4, are finicky eaters and she worries they wouldn't get all of their nutrients if not for the nonpasteurized, unhomogenized milk she picks up twice monthly from Starr farmer L.D. Peeler, who delivers about 1,000 gallons of raw milk on five delivery stops, including one in Spartanburg and Gaffney, every other Wednesday.
Burns' children have never had pasteurized milk, and those who drink raw milk swear by it.
Burns started drinking raw milk about five years ago for the nutritional content. She was Peeler's first delivery customer.
Peeler, who owns Milky Way Farm, would stop behind the McDonald's on Highway 9 to deliver several gallons to Burns, who took time from her job at Mary Black Memorial Hospital to purchase the milk.
She and Peeler maintain that milk loses most of its nutrients during the pasteurization process, when its temperature is quickly raised to 161 degrees for 15 seconds.
Public health officials - including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Medical Association - warn that nonpasteurized milk and cheese can contain listeria, a potentially deadly kind of bacteria, and other dangerous pathogens. Officials also warn that even on clean farms, a cow's udders can come into contact with feces and become contaminated with salmonella and e. Coli.
Peeler, a third generation farmer with about 100 cows, agrees that "dirty dairies" are a national problem, but said his dairy is held to the same, and sometimes higher, standards as dairies that produce processed milk.
There are nine cow dairies in South Carolina licensed by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to sell raw milk. The practice is legal in this state because, a DHEC spokesman said, prohibiting the sale would create an underground market for the product. In North Carolina and Georgia, it's only permissible to sell raw milk for animal consumption, so many people travel to South Carolina to get it.
Peeler said a Wilmington, N.C., man drives six hours one-way to his Gaffney delivery stop to pick up several gallons of raw milk every six weeks or so. Another drives from Raleigh, N.C.
Judy Patience of Asheville, N.C., picked up 17 gallons from the Spartanburg delivery stop on Wednesday.
"This milk has all of the enzymes; it's easier to digest," Patience said. "I have bone loss, and this milk hasn't been heated, so I know I'm getting all of the nutrients."
Those who purchased milk from Peeler last Wednesday, at $5 a gallon for whole and "skinny" milk, said they trust the farmer and are willing to take the risks associated with drinking raw milk for its healing properties.
"It's all my kids have ever had," Burns said. "(Peeler's) kids have had nothing but that, and I know I'm getting a good product."
DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick said that pasteurized milk has all of the enzymes and nutrients in raw milk since it's not heated for a period long enough to kill them.
"Pasteurized milk is the best way to go when it comes to drinking milk, from a public health standpoint it's the safest route," Myrick said.
There have been no illnesses directly attributed to raw milk in South Carolina in recent memory, he said.
DHEC inspects farms and products from raw milk farmers, as well as pasteurized milk dairies. Myrick said raw milk farmers must adhere to lower bacteria regulations and white blood cell counts from the cows than dairies that produce pasteurized milk because of the nature of the product.
"The standards are constantly changing, and I understand that more stringent regulations are set to be imposed soon," said Peeler, who moved his farm from Gaffney to Starr in 1987. His great-grandfather began producing raw milk in the early 1900s.
"Some people are lactose-intolerant and they can drink this milk," Peeler said. "Some people say it makes your hair grow healthier, makes your fingernails stronger; I don't know about that. It's sweeter, it tastes better and I believe it's better for you."