Milking Cow

What's in your milk?

Milk is often recognized as natures’ perfect food offering a range of nutritional benefits. Consumer’s young and old have enjoyed this white liquid product for centuries in a variety of forms. In more recent years this healthy product has been the subject of increasing debate. Two noted subjects are “contaminants” that are a product of technology and a growing interest in raw milk. The facts of the debates are often blurred by large corporate interests pushing products under the guise of beneficial technology for cows, dairy farmers and consumers.

A basic fact that is not in dispute is that the dairy industry continues to suffer under the oppressive burden of mastitis, a bacterial infection of the udder. Mastitis is recognized worldwide as the most costly problem in the dairy industry with annual losses in the U.S. in excess of $2 billion. Mastitis reduces milk quality with a variety of bacteria and the associated white blood cells present to combat the invading disease. In spite of current legal limits, the typical glass of milk contains over 80 million white blood cells. The milk also likely contains a concoction of trace amounts of other contaminants such as iodine, chlorhexidine, bismuth and man-made hormones such as oxytocin and rbST.

The U.S. Government is attempting to address consumer safety issues a number of ways including the federally funded NE1009 program. Researchers in other countries are also focused on addressing concerns for food safety as it relates to mastitis. A recent European study was published titled “MRSA Transmission between Cows and Humans”. That study states “We isolated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) from cows with subclinical mastitis and from a person who worked with these animals. The bovine and human strains were indistinguishable by phenotyping and genotyping methods and were of a low frequency spa type. To our knowledge, this finding indicates the first documented case of direct transmission of MRSA between cows and humans.” This research points to the fact that staph aureus infections in dairy cows is an issue that requires addressing.

Jim Dickrell provided insight into the concerns for Staph aureus in milk in his article Indirect Risks in which he documented:

Mastitis experts say Staph. aureus infections are common in dairy herds and are among the most difficult to eradicate. While Staph. aureus bacteria are killed with pasteurization, a large percentage produces enterotoxins that are not inactivated with heat treatment.

In fact, the most recent large-scale outbreak occurred in 2000 in Japan, caused by the consumption of low-fat milk reconstituted from skim milk powder contaminated with Staph. aureus enterotoxin A, says Steve Oliver, a mastitis researcher with the University of Tennessee. Food poisoning caused by Staph. aureus enterotoxins is characterized by quick onset, cramps, severe vomiting and, in some cases, toxic shock.

A search of Staph aureus as it relates to milk reveals many documented studies acknowledging both the prevalence of the infection in dairy cows as well as the associated health hazards. One example study from the Journal of Dairy Science states: “Staphylococcus aureus is one of the most frequently isolated pathogens from both subclinical and chronic infections …. Some Staph. aureus isolates from bovine milk carry different staphylococcal enterotoxins (StE) or toxic shock syndrome toxin-1 … These toxins are responsible for food poisoning outbreaks and toxigenic syndrome in humans respectively” Many have used these and other facts to condemn the consumption of raw milk but fail to acknowledge that pasteurization is not certain to reduce the risk to zero. These facts leave little doubt about the extent of the problems associated with Staph aureus in milk and the importance of preventing the infection.

There exist numerous other products that contaminate milk in one manner or another. One product type gaining popularity is an externally applied collection of chemicals to reduce udder swelling and reduce SCC (white blood cell) levels. The product must migrate from the exterior of the udder into the milk to be effective. This effective migration may reduce SCC levels but also has to leave a contaminant to be extracted with the milk. The chemicals typically included are the following:

Propylene Glycol (PG, Polyethylene Glycol (PEG), and Ethylene Glycol (EG) are all petroleum derivatives that act as solvents, surfactants, and wetting agents. They can easily penetrate the skin, and can weaken protein and cellular structure. In fact, PG penetrates the skin so quickly that the EPA warns factory workers to avoid skin contact, to prevent brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities.

Isopropyl myristate is used as a thickening agent or as a moisturizer in common beauty products. It is a synthetic oil that actually lessens the "greasy" or oily feeling found in some lotions and creams, while aiding in absorption. While it is widely used in health items, isopropyl myristate is also used as a way to treat head lice and in a mouthwash that kills bacteria.

Parabens have been widely accepted and used because of past reports of their effectiveness as preservatives, low cost, and rapid excretion from the body (both human and animal testing). However, recently some scientists have raised concerns that further assessment of parabens may be needed. This is based on recent evidence from over a dozen scientific studies indicating that several types of parabens can bind to the estrogen receptor and can cause estrogen-like responses when tested in laboratory animals or in a variety of tissue culture assays. The FDA does not limit the amount of Paraben that can be in any product.

Triethanolamine (TEA) Often used in the base of a product and to adjust the pH. TEA causes allergic reactions including eye problems, dryness of hair and skin, and can be toxic if absorbed into the body over time.