As the Indiana legislature mulls legalizing raw milk sales, Purdue University is setting the record straight and debunks popular myths surrounding the unpasteurized product. The report, “Raw Milk FAQs,” answers 18 common questions about both pasteurized and unpasteurized milk, including why pasteurization is used, whether it alters milk, and the risks associated with unpasteurized milk.

"Diseases that can be transmitted through raw milk include listeriosis, campylobacter and streptococcus, to name a few," says Mike Schutz, extension dairy specialist, in a university article. "These illnesses can be very serious or fatal. Pasteurization can reduce the pathogen load in milk to make it safer for human consumption. In fact, pasteurization probably is the one practice that has done the most to reduce the spread of tuberculosis from animals to humans."

The report also points that disease outbreaks are 150 times more likely for raw milk than pasteurized milk. From 1993 to 2006, there were 73 disease outbreaks linked to raw dairy products, which resulted in 1,571 cases, 202 hospitalizations and two deaths. In 2012 alone, there have been six outbreaks associated with contaminated raw milk, sickening 152 adults and children. Read the Purdue report here.

Even those living on farms are not immune from contracting diseases from contaminated raw milk. In April, an E. coli outbreak in Oregon affected 21 people, including four children from the farm at the center of the outbreak. The mother of another child sickened in the Oregon outbreak spoke with Oregon Public Broadcasting, stressing that “there’s just an inherit risk in feeding your children raw milk that you can’t  ignore." Click here to read more.  

Raw milk sales are legal in 30 states, while others, such as Indiana, currently limit raw milk availability to cow-share programs. Some states have recently opened dialogue to consider legalizing or clarifying laws involving raw milk. In Wyoming, a proposed rule would allow producers who are the sole owners of livestock to serve raw milk in their home to family members, non-paying guests and farm employees. A bill was also introduced in Kentucky in February that would allow consumers to buy into a dairy herd to receive raw milk products legally.

One of the biggest proponents to legalizing raw milk sales is U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who introduced an amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill earlier this year that would allow the direct sale of raw milk and raw dairy products across state lines. Two organizations representing the country’s dairy farmers and dairy food companies responded to Paul’s proposal in a letter available here.