December 13 2013

Raw Milk: Unnecessary Alarmism on Both Sides

Julie Gunlock

I'm a defender of raw milk and people's right to produce, purchase and consume it.

I actually choose not to drink raw milk nor do I allow my children to drink it. Instead, I provide my children with more affordable, conventionally produced, pasteurized milk. And while I tend to roll my eyes at the claims that raw milk is dangerous, I have serious problems with claims that raw milk can cure serious diseases or that children raised without raw milk are somehow at a developmental disadvantage. I also worry when I see raw milk advocates claim it won’t produce allergic reactions in those who are lactose intolerant or suggest raw milk (which is somewhat hard to find and much more expensive) is more nutritious that pasteurized milk. But perhaps the most disappointing thing I’ve seen lately from the raw milk crowd are the denials that there's any danger associated with drinking it.

As usual, you have two sides--the anti-raw milk alarmists who claim danger! danger!--that raw milk is GOING TO KILL YOU! And the raw milk advocates who claim raw milk is a wonder drug and that conventional, pasteurized milk is dangerous and IS GOING TO KILL YOU?

How about we put the drama aside and look at the facts.  

Raw milk activists will deny this with their dying breath but there is real evidence that raw milk carries with it some added risk--and parents should be made aware of these risks before they let their kids drink it. According to the FDA's informational page on raw milk (one can almost hear the gasps from the raw milk conspiracy crowd that I would ever cite the FDA--a member of the anti-raw milk illuminati):

...between 1993 and 2006 more than 1500 people in the United States became sick from drinking raw milk or eating cheese made from raw milk. In addition, CDC reported that unpasteurized milk is 150 times more likely to cause foodborne illness and results in 13 times more hospitalizations than illnesses involving pasteurized dairy products.

Raw milk is milk from cows, sheep, or goats that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. This raw, unpasteurized milk can carry dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, which are responsible for causing numerous foodborne illnesses.

These harmful bacteria can seriously affect the health of anyone who drinks raw milk, or eats foods made from raw milk. However, the bacteria in raw milk can be especially dangerous to people with weakened immune systems, older adults, pregnant women, and children. In fact, the CDC analysis found that foodborne illness from raw milk especially affected children and teenagers.

Of course, raw milk is no different than other riskier (yet, not banned) foods like raw fish used in sushi, raw oysters, sprouts, raw or pasteurized soft cheeses, unpasteurized juices, raw beef and undercooked chicken. Even deli meats have a higher risk of bacterial contamination. This is information that people might like to know. Does it mean I think we should ban raw milk (along with sushi and those other foods listed)? No. Despite these risks, I think people should still be able to buy it, drink it, and bathe in it...whatever. Do I think raw milk should come with a bunch of mandatory labels (GMO style) about these risks? Heck no. I believe consumers have adequate resources to do their own research on this product.

But what I would like (and what's critical if we're going to avoid regulations like mandatory labeling), is for people to stop with the exaggerations on both sides. Raw milk is a product that carries risks. People should know about those risks and then make the decision that best suits their families' needs. But let’s leave the scientifically dubious claims of its magical qualities aside. People deserve the truth and facts, not drama, exaggerations and myth making.

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