Raw milk isn't pasteurized. Pasteurized milk ... well ... is. And that's all we can state definitively on the issue.
But yes, there is a reason for this story. Las Vegas resident Brett Ottolenghi, owner of Artisanal Foods specialty-food purveyor, is trying to make raw milk available in Las Vegas.
First, to clear up part of the confusion: Raw milk is a legal commodity in California, Arizona, Utah and 25 other states, but it can't legally be brought into Nevada from those states because that would be a violation of federal law.
But it's not actually illegal in Nevada.
"If you own a cow, you can drink your own milk" produced by it, said Mark French, executive director of the Nevada Dairy Commission. It's not technically illegal to sell raw milk in Nevada, either, but the cows have to be certified by a county dairy commission, and none exist.
"Nobody's ever done this in Nevada," French said of Ottolenghi's campaign. "This is a first."
Ottolenghi's reasoning: Pasteurized milk is bad for the heart, because oxidized fat -- fat heated by a process such as pasteurization -- has been linked to heart disease discovered in autopsies.
Sally Fallon, an author who Ottolenghi credits with convincing him of the importance of raw milk, said that theory dates to a researcher in England during the '60s who noticed a greater incidence of heart disease in areas where milk was pasteurized.
But Libby Lovig, a registered dietitian and vice president of the Dairy Council of Nevada, bluntly refutes the theory.
"Not founded," Lovig said. "Never has been. Hearsay claims that have never been proven."
"I have never heard anything like that before," acknowledged Navid Kazemi, a cardiologist with Nevada Cardiology Associates.
Kazemi said the issue is not something that has been raised by his patients, and that he hasn't seen anything in the literature on the subject.
"I think it's an interesting hypothesis," he said, "but it's not easy to see the link in a real trial." Fallon conceded that no such trials have been done in the United States.
But she maintains that raw milk is superior for several other reasons. It is, she said, "much healthier and much more digestible" than pasteurized milk. Plus, she said, "the proteins are so warped by pasteurization that your body thinks they're foreign and has to mount an immune response." And she said a recent European study of almost 15,000 children indicated that the No. 1 factor for protecting against asthma is raw milk in childhood.
Nonsense, Lovig said. As you might suspect from her earlier comment, Lovig is a clear opponent to the increased consumption of raw milk. Because the dairy council is a joint effort with Utah (formally titled the Dairy Council of Utah/Nevada), it represents a state where raw milk is commercially available and a state where it's not, but there's no division in its policy.
"The Dairy Council stands in both Utah and Nevada are we don't support raw milk or the use of raw milk in any way, shape or form," Lovig said. "Pasteurization of milk doesn't change the nutritional content in any way, shape or form," except that pasteurized milk contains Vitamin D and raw milk does not.
And, Lovig said, pasteurization "makes it a much safer product."
Anna Vickery, an environmental health specialist with the Nevada Dairy Commission, sees increasing the commercial availability of raw milk as "a step backward." Vickery cites the recent recalls of peanut butter and tomatoes "because of the same issues we could have with raw milk," notably contamination of the product.
Whether in a pasture or confined, she said, a cow is likely to eat off the ground where it and other cows defecate and urinate.
"It goes into their system, they poop it out, it goes through to the milk and it does not make them sick, but we will contract E. coli if it comes into the milk, and by pasteurizing it, we eliminate that danger," she said.
"What are we trying to do as public health officials? It's a public health issue we're talking about."
Nonsense, Fallon said, arguing that opponents "are using 40-year-old science."
"Raw milk is designed to strengthen the immune system," she said. "What I'm concerned about is disease caused by pasteurized milk, because those protective components are not there," and if milk is contaminated post-pasteurization, there's more potential for pathogen growth, she said.
A Las Vegas resident we'll call Alexis is such a believer that she breaks federal law to bring in raw milk from Arizona and Utah on a regular basis. She said she has 150 people on her mailing list, and that many of them supply several families, so she thinks she serves about 200 families, with the milk going for $7 to $9 per gallon depending on cow of origin.
Sometimes, she said, the law-breaking aspect gives her pause, but "it seems like we have a lot of support here in the community."
She said her research into the benefits of raw milk have convinced her that "it's much better for bones, for osteoporosis, for every degenerative disease you can imagine."
And she's reassured that she can see the cows and processing facility and ensure that they're clean and sanitary. Actually, both proponents and opponents say there is a higher standard for raw-milk producers.
"The certification process is very cumbersome, and it's that way for a reason," Lovig said.
"Everywhere raw milk is legal, requirements are much higher," Ottolenghi said. "Why don't we keep the cows and farms clean and eliminate bacteria" before it can contaminate?
He has started a petition -- which can be accessed via his Web site, www.artisanalfoods.com/rawmilk -- in an effort to establish a certification process in Clark County.
He knows a statewide process would be even more cumbersome. But there currently are no working dairy farms in Clark County, so Ottolenghi said he and a partner are thinking of establishing a small one themselves.
"The biggest point of this," he said, "is I think we should be allowed to choose what we eat. We should be allowed to choose whatever we feel is healthy."
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0474.