Raw milk: turning the clock back on science

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The raw milk debate has been raging throughout the U.S. in various states and counties for several years. Proponents says can cure about every ailment known to man, woman or child, but opponents of raw milk advise consumers about the food safety issues with raw, unpasteurized milk and potential deadly pathogens that can lurk within unpasteurized milk.

In an excellent commentary in the April 13 Milford Daily News, Milford, Mass. , Richard Lerner, DVM, MPH discusses raw milk in the context of a local dairy farmer who was ordered last week to stop selling raw milk after tests revealed high levels of bacteria. The MetroWest Daily News says the milk, from Eastleigh Farm had 15 times the allowable limit of coliform, according to a cease-and-desist order that was in effect last week.

In his commentary, Lerner notes that the rhetoric around raw milk is heated.  “The reason that those involved in public health get so bent out of shape about raw milk is twofold: 1) It turns the clock back on science, on proven methods for reducing foodborne illness, and 2) due to the vociferous, combative nature of its proponents, we are required to spend time on a food item that is (fortunately) consumed by a minuscule portion of the population,” he said in the article.

Lerner goes on to say that regarding food safety,  “Currently, there is no such thing as ‘food rights.’ You have no more right to buy raw milk at the grocery store than you have the right to eat in a restaurant that has been closed by the Department of Public Health,” and “Comparing one food to another in terms of risk is spurious. Foods are prepared and consumed differently, and comparing raw milk to beef, chicken, bean sprouts, or gummy bears is useless. The government has never told anyone that he or she can't drink raw milk. What the government has said is that it has the right to regulate commerce in raw milk, the same as it has the right to regulate commerce in tobacco, pork, and gummy bears.”

Bovine Veterinarian has written many articles on raw milk and the dangers of it (see one here). The FDA has stated that raw milk can contain the following dangerous pathogens:

  • Enterotoxigenic Staphylococcus aureus
  • Campylobacter jejuni
  • Salmonella species
  • E. coli (EHEC) (ETEC)
  • Listeria monocytogenes
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis
  • Mycobacterium bovis
  • Brucella species (abortus –cattle) (melitensis- goats)
  • Coxiella burnetii
  • Yersinia enterocolitica

If adults want to risk their health by consuming raw milk, it’ll be hard to stop them whether legislated or not, but foisting a potentially dangerous substance with unproven benefits on children, and exposing them to potentially life-threatening pathogens, is just irresponsible.  

There is an excellent website that discusses the facts about raw milk, Real Raw Milk Facts, and contains Q&As and scientific information on raw milk, as well as videos of families from across the country who have dealt with devastating illnesses as a result of raw milk  consumption. Arm yourself with the facts so that you can talk to your clients and consumers about the dangers of raw milk. 

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Lindsay Harris    
Vermont  |  April, 15, 2011 at 02:44 PM

This article is inaccurate to the point of being disturbing and sad. Why so emotional? The data just do not support that raw milk is dangerous beyond any other food. You are 10x more likely to get Listeriosis from deli meats than from raw milk (and that is adjusted for consumption rates). People have used raw milk for thousands of years. In many cultures around the world, even without refrigeration, raw milk and raw milk products have been made up the majority of the human diet. If it were so dangerous, it would not have been considered or developed as a food product at all. It was large-scale confinement farming that made raw milk dangerous. If you treat cows like ruminants (feed grass) and have a health ph balance in the gut, raw milk is very very safe and healthy. The CDC estimates that twelve million people regularly drink raw milk in the USA. No one has died from drinking raw milk in thirty years and the CDC reports fewer than fifty illnesses per year again, out of 12 million. When we apply modern science like vaccinations and sanitation to a small, grass-based farm, it is easy to keep raw milk extremely safe. When cows are confined, fed concentrates and live in dirty conditions, sure we have a problem. Too bad regulators allowed for dirty milk to be pasteurized instead of cleaning up farming practices way back in the early 1900's when raw milk actually did cause problems. This fear and bias lives today and is based on the emotion and not data.

Roy Autrey    
Texarkana, Texas  |  April, 18, 2011 at 04:50 PM

It is truly sad that some folks are so Anal Retentive that they can not acknowledge facts. The fact is that raw milk is healthier for humans to drink than milk that has been pasteurized. A very good example of this is my own wife who, upon drinking milk purchased from the store, gets very ill with stomach cramps and other symptoms. When she drinks raw milk, she has not problems digesting the milk and remains well. Don't limit yourself or other people by being so narrow minded and dollar concientios that you want to prevent those of us from having Real Milk aviailable readily.

Walt Guterbock    
Hermiston, OR  |  April, 18, 2011 at 07:07 PM

I agree that drinking raw milk is pretty dumb. I agree that the state has the right to prohibit its sale. But we allow people to buy alcoholic drinks, cigarettes, and consume raw fish legally. Why is milk so different? If some dummy wants to take the risk, why not let him or her? Generations of dairy farm families grew up on raw milk with not many bad effects.

illinois  |  April, 21, 2011 at 11:19 AM

Heaven forbid that the Government does not control every area of our lives, no matter how innocuous. At least he admits that public health officials are "bent out of shape" on this issue. My parents grew up on farms drinking and eating raw dairy products, my mom is 96 my dad is 92 both are sharp as tacks, maybe we all need raw dairy.

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