Raw milk: passion or confusion?

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We are what we eat; however, something as simple as splashing milk over morning cereal requires navigation through an array of choices — fat and lactose content, probiotics, vitamins A and D, homogenization and pasteurization. Claims that pasteurization decreases the nutritional and health value of milk are promoted by a small, but passionate segment of our society.

From 2000-2008, 50 disease outbreaks in the U.S. were attributed to the consumption of raw milk. In Michigan, outbreaks of food-borne illnesses attributable to raw milk consumption occurred in 2010 and 2011.

Despite this evidence, what motivates consumers to risk exposure to pathogens in raw milk? A recent survey in Michigan revealed that the reasons for preferring unpasteurized milk products are complex,  including culinary taste and the desire to support local farmers. These are personal choices that are difficult to contradict. A majority of respondents also perceived that raw milk improves health. However, the nutritional value of pasteurized milk doesn’t differ from raw milk in nutrients such as protein and minerals, and because of supplementation during processing, has added vitamin D.

Although public sale of raw milk is not permitted in Michigan, consumers can become part owners of milking animals, through what are termed as “cow-share” programs. Shareholders can personally observe the milking, housing and care of the animals, assuring them of the source and quality of their milk. While their interest is admirable, most consumers are unable to appraise the quality of milk harvested on the farm.

Shedding of bacteria in milk, and clinical abnormalities that result from mastitis (a common infection of the udder) is inconsistent. Thus, there is no non-laboratory means to ensure that milk is free of pathogenic bacteria as it leaves an udder. Additionally, even in the best herds, contamination of raw milk occurs during and after milking. A United States Department of Agriculture study in 500 dairies found that 14% and 7% of on-farm milk samples yielded various strains of Salmonella and Listeria, respectively. Furthermore, herds that market milk for public sale in Michigan must submit to Grade A standards that include on-farm inspections and laboratory evaluation of quality. No such standards are imposed on producers of raw milk, thus purchase of raw milk is very much a buyer beware market.

In the end, it is hard to argue with personal tastes and emotions that motivate people to choose the foods they eat. In a society that permits cigarette smoking, consumption of alcohol and tacit approval of speeding in automobiles, it is difficult to prohibit people from assuming risks, if they are willing to accept the consequences. While raw milk consumption presents a form of culinary roulette for all consumers, the concept of informed consent is not applicable to children. Ironically, the very segment of our population that benefits most from the dietary rewards of milk and other dairy products, is most at risk for the harmful consequences of raw milk consumption.

 For further information, visit Real Milk Facts or Michigan Dairy News Bureau

Source: Ron Erskine, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences

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Millersburg, Ohio  |  January, 12, 2012 at 03:50 PM

We allow parents to smoke and text while they drive their obese children to the pizza buffet for supper but make it illegal to serve them raw milk for health reasons. I think we should develop regulations to minimize the risks of raw milk consumption and make it legal. Require labels similiar to the labels on other raw products with warnings similiar to those found on other foods that pose risks if consumed raw or under cooked. It is not just a food safety issue. Small scale pasturization is expensive. Making it illegal to sell raw milk helps the large processors limit consumers and producers choices and allows the processors to have more control of the market.

Colorado Springs  |  January, 13, 2012 at 12:48 AM

The FDA has a dreadful record on health issues. They are not qualified to make judgements about what is healthy and what is not healthy. I like Alan's suggestions. Forcing farmers to pasteurize forces small farmers out of the market. Their are many positive things that the FDA could do that would not be so heavy handed and everyone would win. Why is it that the FDA always chooses the heavy handed means of accomplish their stated ends. Is it because perhaps their stated ends are not their real ends? You think.

OH  |  January, 13, 2012 at 11:15 AM

bachcole, FDA is not qualified to make judgments? Are you serious? Go ask a parent after their child's body shut down after getting e.coli from raw milk if they wish they had listened to the no-nothings at FDA.

David Avila    
Oakdale, CA  |  January, 13, 2012 at 10:30 AM

I was raised on a dairy. We drank milk taken from our 10 gallon cans and later the tank. I recall fighting the flies and all the other eliments found with the bucket milkers. It is very healthy to be exposed to bacteria!

pa  |  January, 14, 2012 at 07:08 PM

David, It is healthy to be exposed to some bacteria if you have a good immune system. But not pathogenic strains. For 20+ years our family has been drinking raw milk from our tank. 12 years ago we had a pathogenic strain of salmonella affect our herd. My young daughter was sick from it - it could have been from drinking the raw milk as we did confirm the presense of salmonella newport in the milk or it could have been from exposure to the barn environment. Either way, we were fortunate that we had cow culture and sensitivity results back the day she became symptomatic. It took 5 days to get lab confirmation. In 5 days she would have been fighting for her life in the hospital. Because she was started immediately on an effective antibiotic, she was much improved in 24 hours. We stopped consuming raw milk for a month after all cows showed no signs of illness before consuming raw milk again. How it was introduced is unknown, but through careful management we were able to contain the salmonella to just the milk cows and have not had another clinical case in 12 years. If I had not fought (and I mean it got a little ugly) with our pediatrician to start antibiotic therapy based on the cow's lab results before having culture results from my daughter, the outcome would not have been as good and with round the clock caring for our sick cows I could not have managed my daughter in the hospital too. I can only wonder what might happen if I were selling raw milk. The lag time between when we had results and how many people may be exposed - how would you be able to respond to that situation? And liability if someone was hopsitalized? One 3 week period in 20+ years has convinced me that while I might assume the risk for my family - who better knows the health of my cows... allowing the mostly uninformed general public to be placed in that risky situation is undesirable for our entire industry.

John Maille    
Vermont  |  January, 13, 2012 at 11:08 AM

I grew up on a dairy farm and always had fresh raw milk to drink and never got sick. The food industry is trying to control people from drinking healthy milk from a farm with out any additives and preservatives. Some studies show pasteurized milk sold in stores hurt your health because of whats added to the milk and you loose the en-zines during processing which is good for our bodies. Also why does the FDA and the USDA allow GMO's in our food, and allows us to drink Alcohol? Come on its all about control not about safety.

Arkansas  |  January, 13, 2012 at 11:48 AM

I'm befuddled by these previous comments. What exactly is the FDA's dreadful record on health issues? Our nation's food supply is one of the safest in the world, largely due to the advances in processing procedures, including pasteurization. I'm glad that some have experienced the drinking of raw milk on their home farm, but it's healthy to be exposed to bacteria? Sure, some and in small quantities, but try telling that to people suffering from deadly Salmonella and Listeria infections that can result from drinking raw milk. The majority of contamination issues occur between the bulk tank and the consumers' home - improper (unclean, unrefrigerated) transport and storage can result in exponential growth of bacterial populations that pasteurization helps prevent. I don't know what milk has en-zines in it. . . maybe enzymes. . . but whatever your raw milk has in it that my store-bought milk doesn't have isn't increasing it's healthfulness. If anything, it's making it more dangerous. Making it illegal to sell raw milk helps large processors? Nope, it helps consumers stay healthy.

idaho  |  January, 13, 2012 at 01:01 PM

In response to Andrew's last comment... "Making it illegal to sell raw milk helps large processors? Nope, it helps consumers stay healthy." The same way that making it illegal to sell alcohol and cigarettes helps consumers stay healthy? Mmhmm, thought so. When our choices are taken away from us, we are no more than children. It should be up to us what we feed ourselves and our families.

Kevin Musser    
Ohio  |  January, 13, 2012 at 06:16 PM

Bravo to the last 3-4 comments. They are absolutely on target. The focus should really be on the lazy americans who would rather let the government do everything for them while they take no responsibility for themselves or their own health. I am fed up with big brother FDA throwing their weight around on every issue they can stick their noses in. I also believe the commercial food industry has chosen to invest some of their profits in protecting the products they make albeit misrepresntations of the true nutritional value of their product. It has a special title called "Marketing"

Mary Gercke    
IL  |  January, 13, 2012 at 07:10 PM

Raw milk drinkers are the most informed group of health conscious individuals I've ever met. They do not take their health lightly and would not put themselves at risk unless they thought the risk to be minimal and be completely outweighed by the benefits. I am in this catergory as well. The FDA doesn't consider enzyme content to be important, but check your facts about disease and enzyme depletion. Know your facts before you post. The FDA is making criminals out of individuals who have never made anyone ill, and have never had a complaint against them. giving $80,000/mo. in one case to local law enforcement in order to collect 'evidence' and what happens when they test the milk. It is clean and of superior quality. You wanna drink pasterized milk from cows knee deep in their feces all day? Have at it my friend. That's why they need to pasteurize it. Diseased milk from diseased cows in confinement. I'll take my grass fed raw and pure, disease free milk any day! Also, why the crackdown, big Dairy. 4 companies control the milk supply in this country and they don't wanna share. Corporations own this govt.

Queensland, Australia  |  January, 14, 2012 at 12:27 AM

No one has died in the US in the past 12 years from drinking raw milk. Last year alone, over 70 people died from eating cantaloupe. In Europe drinking raw milk and eating cheese made from raw milk is legal and very common and they don't have health problems, the issue is non existent.

New Zealand  |  January, 14, 2012 at 03:50 AM

The bottom line here is that of natural selection. Let those who want to take the risk take it but there is no medical treatment for them if the get ill. that way we get rid of the idiots and the rest of us take the safe proven option of drinking pasturized milk.

New Zealand  |  January, 14, 2012 at 03:51 AM

The bottom line here is that of natural selection. Let those who want to take the risk take it but there is no medical treatment for them if the get ill. that way we get rid of the idiots and the rest of us take the safe proven option of drinking pasturized milk.

ohio  |  January, 14, 2012 at 09:56 AM

If raw milk is such a serious health issue, why don't children raised on dairy farms die by the hunderds? I have been around dairy farms all my life,54 years, and have never heard of 1 child even getting sick from raw milk.

ohio  |  January, 14, 2012 at 09:56 AM

If raw milk is such a serious health issue, why don't children raised on dairy farms die by the hunderds? I have been around dairy farms all my life,54 years, and have never heard of 1 child even getting sick from raw milk.

OH  |  January, 16, 2012 at 10:04 AM

Ken, go read the response from gotmilk above your post. Just because you have your head in the sand does not mean that nobody got sick from drinking raw milk.

WI  |  January, 14, 2012 at 01:28 PM

"CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases." (http://www.cdc.gov/Features/dsFoodborneEstimates/) According to the Center for Disease Control, 183 people per year over the last 10 years have been sick from raw milk out of those 49 million! And NO deaths. So why is raw milk singled out while raw turkey, beef, cantaloupe, peppers, and many more foods that have killed many people every year continue to be sold without swat teams arriving at their farms and stores? Money and only money. The Dairy Industry is working overtime to keep their slave-status payments of raw milk to farmers, forcing all small dairies to hold second jobs just to support their families. They have been convinced that just breaking even is a successful small dairy and only large industrial dairies can do better than that by keeping their cows confined, feed junk, and lowering the life span of the cows to 5-6 years. Raw milk sales would push up the price paid by the huge diary industry to farmers because they would have another outlet to sell their product to consumers who would know them and pay for fresh clean healthy unadulterated milk. This is a monopoly system that forces the will of large corporations on the families of small farmers because there is NO one else to sell milk to legally.

Henry Parsons    
MA  |  January, 16, 2012 at 05:33 AM

The safety of raw milk is a direct measure of the care by which it is harvested. Milking practices that are less that perfect will not produce raw milk that meets human health standards. In Massachusetts, yes there are a few cows left out here that have not been squeezed out by our country's expansion mentality, raw milk sales are legal at the farm only. However, such milk must meet stringent coliform counts, that are not easily achievable where milk is not harvested with less than ideal protocol. that being said, "garbage in garbage out"...

Jackie Schmidts    
Lake Placid, NY  |  January, 20, 2012 at 11:02 AM

The sale of raw milk and dairy products sold to the direct public should be outlawed in every state. Consuming raw milk can be dangerous. Pasteurization is necessary to protect public health from dangerous pathogens that can be found in raw milk. Each time a negative new article appears or some other bad PR regarding raw milk if found, it hurts the entire dairy industry's reputation. It leads to decreased sales. Why would we want to allow the sale of a product that can make someone very sick, it makes no sense.

Wisconsin  |  January, 21, 2012 at 01:56 PM

FDA has a dreadful record re: food safety because it is manipulated and controlled by the industries it regulates. Look at the Food Safety Czar, Mike Taylor, former employee of and attorney for Monsanto. Watch the movie Food Inc. to better understand the revolvling door between industry and government. Pasteurization is a cooking process. Cooking destroys enzymes and alters chemical bonds. It is not a benign process. You will not see in depth research comparing raw milk and pasterized milk because the Public Health bureauacracy has decreed that raw milk is dangerous. Therefore you can't get studies to pass ethics committee requirements. You have to go back to reseach from the 20s and 30s which is poo pooed by the current research establishment. Secondly, these studies cost money and the dairy industry doesn't want this research to be done. Any researcher who would do such research would be blackballed. There have been a couple of European studies of late. One showed much lower asthma levels among children drinking raw milk. In Italy you can purchase raw milk in special vending machines, they have over 1300 at last count. Check it out on youtube. Lastly, it has been pointed out earlier here, but just so you know the website Realmilkfacts.com is run by an ambulance chaser attorney. And don't forget no one has died from drinking raw milk in over 30 years, but 3 people died from drinking pasteurized milk in 2007 alone. (CDC lists 2 people died from raw milk, but in fact they died from a raw milk cheese made by them at home)

Wisconsin  |  January, 21, 2012 at 02:09 PM

Jackie, please provide us with the stats or research documenting your statement that raw milk problems would damage the dairy industry. Raw milk sicknesses are very locallized and very small. People can be pretty stupid, but when there is an outbreak it is made explicit whether it is raw or pasteurized milk. You can't blame the steady decline in pasteurized fluid milk sales on raw milk problems. In fact if raw milk sales were counted by industry overall milk sales would show strong gains. According to CDC 3% of the US population drinks raw milk, that is 9 million people!!! Pasteurized (cooked) milk tastes so bad few people want it anymore. Look up UHT milk. That stuff is heated under pressure and is so dead you could put it on the shelf for 6 months unrefrigerated. YUM!!!

Washington State  |  January, 26, 2012 at 05:31 PM

I've been drinking raw milk for six years and my health has never been better. I've had one cold in those six years, and that happened just last month. Read the book "The Untold Story of Milk" by Ron Schmid and you'll get an accurate accounting of pasteurization history. There are many false assumptions about the facts being made against raw milk.


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