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On Raw Milk and Why We’re Seeing So Many Outbreaks

On Friday, the Oregon Public Health Division, Department of Agriculture and several local Oregon health departments announced that they were investigating an outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. coli) infections that at the time had left three Portland-area children hospitalized, two with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a complication of E. coli infection that can lead to kidney failure.  All of these children drank raw milk from the same small farm:  Foundation Farm in Clackamas County.  The farm has voluntarily ceased its milk distribution to customers in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties.  As many as 11 may be sickened.

According to news reports over the last week, Missouri state health officials have confirmed E. coli cases in Boone, Cooper, Howard, Camden and Jackson counties.  Health officials say a 2-year-old girl and a 17-month-old child developed HUS, and while not all 13 E. coli cases have been clearly attributed to raw milk consumption, investigators say raw dairy products are a “possible” factor in some of the cases.

I’ve been asked lots of questions about raw milk consumption, E. coli outbreaks, and other topics in the nearly 20 years I’ve been litigating E. coli cases.  Here are some of my favorite questions and answers about raw milk:

Q:  Pasteurization of milk was lauded as one of the biggest public health successes of the 20th Century.  Why are so many people turning away from pasteurized milk and seeking out sources of “raw”, or unpasteurized milk?

A:  People-especially those on the higher end of the socioeconomic range-have been turning toward raw milk for a variety of reasons.  Some believe pasteurization kills beneficial bacteria and enzymes in milk.  Others have heard that raw milk consumption can cure asthma, eczema, or attention deficit disorder (ADD).  A parent with adequate resources will go to almost any lengths to provide what they believe is the most wholesome source of nutrients for their child, and well-presented misinformation about the purported health benefits of drinking raw milk abounds on the Internet so it’s really difficult for a consumer – even a really smart one – who is desperate to find a remedy to his or her child’s medical condition to discern fact from fiction when it comes to raw milk.  

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I think, too, that there’s an inherent distrust of government, so when the government or big agriculture tells people not to feed their kids raw milk–a natural food–it’s easy for people to ignore that advice.  Especially when they can afford it.

Q:  Whole Foods and some other stores that sell many natural food products have stopped selling raw milk.  Why?

A:  Whole Foods and Seattle-area co-op PCC stopped selling raw milk products just about two years ago for a couple of reasons.  One reason was because unpasteurized milk is considered a high risk food, especially for children, pregnant women, an immunocompromised people-like people receiving cancer treatment, or those with HIV.  Another was because the liability insurance necessary to cover multi-million dollar HUS cases is not inexpensive.

Q:  You started raising your own chickens a couple of years ago, after a Salmonella outbreak traced to eggs.  Would you ever consider buying a cow or a goat and drinking its milk?

A:  Interesting question.  Raw milk is dangerous in part because of sanitation issues.  Cows, goats and sheep all defecate very close to where their milk is produced, allowing for what I believe is too high of a probability for fecal contamination during the milking process to ever drink milk produced by this hypothetical new addition to my family.  In theory, I could home pasteurize milk produced by this animal and safely consume it, but I would still be responsible for cleaning up after it, and that would mean handling feces potentially contaminated with E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter or other pathogens.  I’ll leave that work to someone else and continue buying pasteurized milk from the store.

Q:  What would you tell someone who was contemplating a purchase of raw milk?

A:  The first thing I would say is, “Please, I beg you, don’t feed it to your kids.”  Any adult contemplating a purchase of raw milk to consume individually should be educated about the risks associated with consuming unpasteurized dairy products.  Real Raw Milk Facts was inspired by discussions following presentations related to the increasing popularity of raw milk.  It was developed and reviewed by scientists and health educators in universities, government, industry, and professional organizations, and is supported in part by Marler Clark.  The Hot Topics section presents the facts about commonly asked questions related to raw milk consumption.

  

© Food Safety News
  • Christopher Lindsley

    I was brought up on a dairy farm, and we drank lots of raw milk. We even sold lots of raw milk to the neighbors, also we shipped the milk for further processing in the dairy industry. As for helping or curing asthma, I don’t think so. I had bad as a child and I still do and I’m now 51 years old. As far as saying it’s safe, well I guess that depends on how clean the conditions when the cows are being milked. I think thats pretty much the truth with most things when it comes to ones health.There was a time when things were done where there was more care involved, now we mass produce and were more factory based business, so things happen and get by. What I mean is, I remember a time where I was off the family farm and so I sought out a farmer where I was living to buy raw milk. That went on for a couple of years. Well one morning I arrived to the farm while he was doing the morning milking. We talked as he was going about his chores.Well one of the milkers came off the cow or maybe was kicked off, which certainly happens.Well this milker of course keeps on sucking, and it fell into real sloppy manure and sucked it in. Well again this can happen aspecially in a barn where still in this country cows are milked instead of a milking parlor. Well he went to the rescue, but did not make an attempt to brake the line and keep that filtered only milk and manure reaching the bulk tank. I noted that in my head. I did however get my milk that day. Even though when I pulled my 1 gallon of milk from that probably 700 gallons of milk, I could taste that manure in the milk.That was the day I stopped for good of drinling raw milk. Now do you wonder why there is out breaks of E coli 0157-H7.

  • Steven Judge

    Let’s get real here. Yes their are risks associated with drinking raw milk but even the CDC reports that more people are sickened each year by pasteurized milk than by raw milk. Leading cause of food borne illnesses is fresh produce. Why oh why is raw milk singled out for intense scrutiny. Is it for public health reasons or to protect the profit structure of the commercial dairy industry.
    If the FDA were really concerned about the impact of milk on the health of the public in the US they would immediately address two diseases found in the overwhelming majority of dairy cattle in the US. The two diseases are Bovine Leucosis (a virus) and Johnes (a bacteria). Both diseases are fatal wasting diseases that are spread by milk and blood. And Cornell has determined that both infect humans. The Israeli Journal of Science has linked Leucosis to certain forms of breast cancer and Jones has been linked to Crones Disease in people.
    The commercial dairy industry isn’t concerned about the diseases because the average life span of a commercial dairy cow is 4.5 years old and it takes longer than that for both to kill cows. And pasteurization is supposed to kill both Leucosis and Johnes. However I have told by people familiar with FDA regulations that the legal time and temperature ratio for common pasteurization methods DOESN”T kill them so they “recommend” (not require) that milk be pasteurized at higher temperatures.
    That’s good for pasteuized milk but what about raw milk??
    The question is why don’t the states that allow the sale of raw milk require that the the cows that produce it be tested for Johnes and Leucosis.  It is a simple and inexpensive test.  Vermont requires that the cows be tested for TB and Brucellosis and those two diseases haven’t been seen in dairy cows in Vermont for years and years. It only makes sense to require farmers who want to sell raw milk to test their cattle for Johnes and Leucosis.  If they test positive then their milk must be pasteurized before it can be sold to the end user.
    So why aren’t those cows required to be tested? I can only speculate that the dairy industry is doing all it can to deny the problem. Kind of reminds me of the old tobacco industry

  • Jen

    No, lets REALLY get real here. Pasteurized products sicken more people than raw milk products simply because MILLIONS more people consume pastuerized products than do raw products. If you look at the number of people that get ill from raw/pasteurized vs. the number of people that consume it, the rate of illness from raw is 150 times greater than the rate of illness from pasteurized product.

  • Cathy

    I have only been ingesting raw dairy for the last couple of months, and it has made a huge difference in my health, mostly with improved energy, improved breathing with LESS inhaler use, and remineralization of a couple of teeth. I would also like to say as someone who has chosen to successfully treat their cancer using only alternatives means for the last 6 years, it’s helping boost my immune system too. I feel fabulous and get great medical diagnostic and blood test reports :)

  • Jim

    Is this article “well-presented misinformation”?
    Filtering out comments which are not based on opinion but based on science testifies to the fact that it is indeed misinformation.
    Whatever you do, don’t look at the GABRIELA study or smaller controlled studies such as Dr. Katayama’s study. Also, do not propagate anything which may contradict your conclusions.

  • franjkm

    People have gotten salmonella from eating tomatoes yet there seems to be no warning of eating them. And many low-income folks drink raw milk just so you know.

  • Ruth

    To me Steven Judge & Christopher Lindsley hit the nail on the head. I have an intolerance to commercial dairy products. They make me physically ill. However, because the FDA has essentially stuck its head in the sand, the federal govt. doesn’t want to regulate raw dairy by requiring tests to be done. And because they cannot police everyone so a few idiot farmers ruin it for everyone else. My goodness if you are dealing with raw you should be doubly careful. I know that I can drink and eat raw dairy. But I cannot risk it. I don’t have the best immune system. So I am left with rice milk, almond milk, etc. Cannot use soy either. And other sources for calcium.