TORONTO - Experts gathered in Toronto Saturday argue that raw milk can not only be safe, it provides myriad health benefits that are otherwise lost in the pasteurization process.

The group takes a line contrary to the mainstream scientific view that unpasteurized milk -- which is illegal to sell in Canada -- can be hazardous.

Dr. Ted Beals, a pathologist from the University of Michigan, says studies show children who drank raw milk were protected from asthma and were less afflicted by cold-type symptoms.

He says a variety of nutritious vitamins and enzymes are also destroyed when milk is heated in the pasteurization process meant to kill deadly pathogens.

But Health Canada says any possible benefits are far outweighed by the serious risk for illness.

The debate over raw milk has surged in recent months as an Ontario dairy farmer faces trial for allegedly producing, storing and selling raw milk.