Blessed Milk; but why is it the outcaste villain of the modern diet?

gercektip healthymuslimah islam islamicmedicine nurasunna prophetic tradition propheticmedicine quran rediscoverwellness sunnah tibbannabawi unanitibb Sep 22, 2022

And verily! In cattle, there is a lesson for you. We give you to drink of that which is in their bellies, from between excretions and blood, pure milk; palatable to the drinkers” (Surah An-Nahl, 66).

Tariq ibn Shihab reported: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Verily, Allah Almighty did not place an ailment but that he also placed its cure. You should drink the milk of cows, for they are given health by all kinds of plants.” Source: Musnad Aḥmad 18352 Grade: Sahih (authentic) according to Al-Albani

Imam Suyuti in his al-Jāmi’ as-Saghīr narrates that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “The milk of the bovine (cow) contains healing, its fat is a medicine, and its meat a cause for sickness.” Tabarani also narrates this Hadīth as authentic, and so did Bayhaqi in his Sunan and Hakim in his Mustadrak

Undoubtedly, milk is placed on a pedestal in the Prophetic sunnah, Islamic medicine, and traditional nutrition. At the time of the Prophet Muhammed (ﷺ), milk was consumed “raw” or as I prefer to call it “natural”. So how can something so beloved, so familiar and so deeply woven into history become the outcaste villain of the modern diet?

It was in the 1850s that milk first became the scapegoat. An epidemic broke out that took the lives of over 8000 infants in New York City alone. It became known as the Swill Milk Scandal which poisoned infants with Whiskey runoff.

New York City Inspector David Reese agreed in 1857: ‘Distilleries in or near large cities... an intolerable nuisance and curse... wherever they exist, their slops will furnish the cheapest food for cows, the milk from which is more pernicious and fatal to infant health and life than alcohol itself to adults... So long as distilleries are tolerated in cities, cow stables will be their appendages, and the milk, fraught with sickness and death, will still perpetuate mortality...' [9]. 

During this industrial revolution, when more and more people were moving out to the city and leaving the country behind, dairy farmers needed to move their operations to the city too but instead of grazing in the sun on fresh pasture, cows were now in overcrowded feeding lots, sick and fed on the cheapest diet that could maximize production and sales.

Swill, which are the runoffs of whiskey distilleries, is not the natural diet of cattle, nor is it palatable. In fact, in order to get cows to consume it, that’s all they were offered and after days of starvation from refusing the slop, they would cave in and consume the swill. The milk they produced was toxic and bluish in color, and to mask the abhorrent milk it was altered with chalk, flour, and eggs to create a more palatable “milk”. The cows' health suffered tremendously with ulcerated sores all over their bodies that would cause their tails to fall off. The cows would barely live 4-5 months with those conditions. But swill milk produced 5 - 25 times the amount of milk that a natural, grass-fed cow could produce.

The issue with cattle to this day is still the feed. Mad cow disease (BSE) that broke out in 2000 was a direct result of meat and bone meal that was given to the cows to increase the protein in their diets.

A cow’s natural diet consists mostly of grass, but since there isn’t enough grass to go around on the factory farm, today’s factory cow is fed a diet of mostly grain, and other things that they would not normally eat. The bulk of the feed consists of corn and soy, which receive 80 percent of all herbicides used in the US. When we think of pesticides we usually think of produce, but animal products can contain up to 14 times more pesticides than plants!

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said:

The Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) forbade the milk of an animal that feeds on filth or impurity, but if the animal is detained until it becomes pure, then it is halal according to Muslim consensus because before that the effect of the impurity could be seen in its milk, eggs, and sweat, so it gave off a rotten and evil stench. Once that is removed, it becomes taahir (pure). If the ruling is established for a reason, it ceases to apply once that reason is no longer present. 

Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa, 21/618 

Three major issues contributed to the swill feed scandal.

  1. Mothers living in the city needed to work to maintain the expenses of living in the city and would resort to weaning their babies off breast milk and replacing it with Swill Milk that was sold under the guise of “pure country milk”. Babies who are too young to digest cow’s milk were now being given toxic cow’s milk.
  2. City living, far from the farm, meant longer transportation of raw milk (without refrigeration because it wasn’t available yet at that time). This contributed to raw milk spoiling and harboring harmful bacteria during transportation.
  3. Swill feed was cheap and produced more milk, lowering the costs of milk and making it more accessible to lower-income class families.

This was the same time that pasteurization was establishing a foothold in the medical world.

In 1893 Coit founded the Medical Milk Commission which gave a certificate to milk sealed in separate quart containers that fulfilled 3 criteria: ‘uniform nutritive value; reliable keeping qualities, and freedom from pathogens' [33]. Certified milk was not sterile, but it did contain under 10,000 bacteria/ml. In the worldwide raw-versus-pasteurized milk debate, Coit held the opinion that boiling destroys important properties and encourages the careless handling of milk. Over the long term, however, certified milk could not compete with the trend toward pasteurization. Atkins described how from 1922, British legislation ensured bacteriological quality grading of milk and its protection from contamination in transit [35]. 

A debate on pasteurization (‘killing the milk') continued even after an editorial of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal stated in 1923: ‘Boiled fresh milk is the only entirely safe milk that can be fed to infants' [42]. The terms pasteurization and sterilization were used somewhat interchangeably until being defined in 1927. Milk pasteurization became mandatory by law in the UK in 1985 [43] and in Australia in 1994. For the European Union, council directive 92/46 regulated the sale of raw and heated milk in 1992. Selling raw milk is illegal in 25 states of the USA [44]. 

The rest as they say is history. Raw milk wasn’t the problem. It was never a problem for thousands of years. City living, urbanization, industrialization, and greed were the problem - they were responsible for the deaths - the milk was just the medium.

Natural, grass-fed dairy farmers exist yet many government laws in most "first-world" countries prevent consumers from purchasing directly from dairy farmers. 

Do your due diligence. Find a local, grass-fed, pasture-raised dairy farmer. Get to know how they run their operation and care for their animals. Then reap the benefits of this blessed Prophetic food.

© Nurasunna Rediscover Wellness Inc. Written by Aiman Attar 

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