In almost every debate about unpasteurized milk, an advocate of its safety recalls growing up on the farm when everybody drank raw milk and nobody got sick.
The Purdue University Extension Service has an answer to that debate point. In its new “Raw Milk FAQs,” Purdue Extension points out that “raw milk tends to be consumed more quickly on the farm and therefore provides less incubation time for bacteria.”
But commercial sales of raw milk—currently banned by law in Indiana—put a lot more time between the udder and the lips of consumers. More time is needed for processing, packaging, transportation and shelving raw milk to get it from the farm to urban consumers. And therein lies the increased risk.
“It is possible that repeated exposure to low levels of some bacteria may build immunological resistance,” says Purdue Extension. “but a sudden occurrence of new pathogenic bacteria may still result in disease, especially during times of reduced immunological health.”
Purdue University, which will pick up Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels as its new President in January, published “Raw Milk FAQs” in November, ahead of the Dec. 1 deadline for the Indiana Board of Animal Health’s report to the Hoosier General Assembly and incoming Gov. Mike Pence.
The General Assembly last year gave IBAH the job of studying raw milk to determine whether there’s a way to reduce its risk should more consumers be allowed to drink it. Indiana is currently one of 20 states banning commercial sale of raw milk for human consumption.
The IBAH ran an electronic public hearing over the summer months and found that many Hoosiers favor more access to raw milk. Currently only farm families can consume milk on the farm from their own cows.
Pence, the incoming governor, plans to open an Office of Federalism, and some think he is more likely to sign a bill to legalize commercial raw milk sales than the outgoing Daniels was. During six terms representing eastern Indiana in the U.S. House of Representatives, Pence was allied with several ”Tenth Amendment” causes involving the rights of states under the U.S. Constitution.
Last summer Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM) to eliminate the federal requirement for mandatory pasteurization of all milk and milk products. It has not come to a vote in either the Senate or the House.
Most milk producers in the U.S. use a quick, high-temperature pasteurization process to kill most bacterial pathogens. Purdue Extension says milk is an excellent growth media for rapidly multiplying pathogens.
As for whether the pasteurization process damages the milk, as raw milk advocates claim it does, Purdue Extension says the process does not degrade the health benefits of milk. “If milk is contaminated by beneficial bacteria, it may also be contaminated by harmful bacteria” says PUE.
Raw Milk FAQs also addressed claims about claims of raw milk’s health benefits often made by advocates. It says most are anecdotal and not backed by controlled studies. However, it did acknowledge the credibility of the European GABRIELA study, which found that farm children raised on raw milk had fewer cases of asthma and hay fever.
That study concluded the protective effect of unpasteurized milk is likely associated with the whey protein fraction of raw milk. GABRIELA did not control for other factors that might affect development of allergies.
On the side of those looking to prove that raw milk is risky, however, are statistics on U.S. outbreaks. Raw milk was involved in 60 percent of the dairy associated outbreaks from 1993 to 2006, resulting in 1,571 illnesses, 202 hospitalizations and two deaths.
Purdue Extension says that if unpasteurized milk sales are loosened in Indiana, they should be restricted to on-farm transactions because of raw milk’s extremely short shelf life.
The Indiana State Department of Health continues to favor the existing ban on the commercial sale of raw milk for human consumption.© Food Safety News