Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

The Raw Milk Battle in Iowa Continues


For the fourth straight year, a bill that legalizes on-farm sales of unpasteurized milk or milk products directly to individuals has been introduced in the Iowa House. The bill, HSB131, would also allow the dairy farmer to deliver the unpasteurized milk to the consumer, as well as sell it at farmers markets. 

Current Iowa law does not allow raw milk to be sold in any way (farm, retail, cow shares or as pet food). Many of the states that allow on-farm sales require milk to be Grade “A,” and the dairy farm must be licensed and inspected. The containers must be labeled as “raw” milk, the package must contain a warning about the hazards of drinking raw milk, and the milk must be routinely tested for pathogenic bacteria.

HSB131 would exempt Iowa dairy farms that sell raw milk from being licensed, regulated or inspected; containers of raw milk would not have to be labeled, nor would a warning label be required. Not only would the milk not have to be graded, but testing the milk for pathogens would also not be a requirement. 

States that allow farm sales and have regulations in place like those mentioned above still have outbreaks involving raw milk. From 1998-2010, there were 56 raw milk outbreaks associated with states that allow on-farm sales. These outbreaks resulted in 520 illnesses with 89 people requiring hospitalization.

Many parents who give their children raw milk are convinced by the scientifically unsupported data that raw milk is the “miracle cure” for all types of health issues and that it is healthier and safer than pasteurized milk. Many of these children are lucky and do not become ill or may have only a day or two of diarrhea. Other children have not been as lucky. They had bloody diarrhea and developed hemolytic uremic syndrome which led to acute kidney failure. They were on dialysis for weeks and some even required mechanical ventilation to survive. The long term prognosis is that all of these kids with acute kidney failure are at a much higher risk of needing a kidney transplant in their future. I encourage you to check out the following link to find short video testimonies describing some of these cases.

Medical costs in these cases vary based on the severity of the illness but have been as high as $1 million. This does not include the future costs these victims face if a kidney transplant is needed or the lifetime supply of immunosuppressant drugs that are required for transplant patients. 

The owners of these raw dairy farms need to be made aware of what an outbreak could cost them. If people/children get sick from drinking the farm’s milk, somebody will sue them. While there is no way of knowing the settlements in past raw milk cases due to confidentiality clauses, we can look at settlements of other foodborne outbreaks because many of the organisms responsible for raw milk outbreaks are also found in other types of food (E. coli, Campylobacter, Listeria, etc.). Individual cases have been settled for: $15.6 million (E. coli), $3.2 million (Campylobacter) and $3.5 million (Listeria).

Many raw milk supporters and some legislators do not consider raw milk to be a food safety issue, but instead one of personal freedom. These supporters and a few legislators have stated that they “do not care about the facts or the science involved with raw milk. It is their right to drink whatever they want and it’s not the government’s job to protect a person from themselves.” However, this is where informed consent comes into play. Informed consent can only take place if a person is given all the facts including both risks and benefits. Since the organizations that promote raw milk market its unproven benefits and do not mention its risks, informed consent cannot possibly take place. Public Health is fighting to protect people from this scientifically unsupported data and not “protect people from themselves.” Public Health is also fighting to protect children from this misleading marketing campaign. Children are typically the ones who become seriously ill from drinking raw milk given to them by a parent who believed the unsubstantiated claims about its benefits. In these cases, the child did not have the freedom to choose and the parents did not have the information to make an informed decision.

An example of where food safety took a back seat to personal freedom was during the 2012 Iowa House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on raw milk. After hearing from opponents and proponents of raw milk, two of the three subcommittee members proudly announced they were voting for the bill in the name of freedom. This vote completely ignored the raw milk outbreak that was occurring in Pennsylvania at the time of the hearing.  By the time this outbreak was over, 80 people had been reported ill in four states with 9 people requiring hospitalization. Thankfully, the committee chair did not have the votes to pass the bill so it was never brought up in the full committee.

This year, as the subcommittee prepares to hold a hearing on this bill, a story comes out about a 2-year old girl from Oregon. Last April, she was 1 of 15 children who became ill from drinking raw milk (containing E. coli) that was obtained from a farm that provides herd shares near Portland. This young girl and three other children developed HUS (hemolytic uremic syndrome) and acute kidney failure. She suffered a stroke and died, but was resuscitated. Almost a year later and she is not able to stand or walk on her own, she can’t speak, and she is fed through a feeding tube. Part of her colon has been removed, she has pancreatic problems and now her kidneys have shut down. As of last week, she is back on dialysis and has been placed on the list for a kidney transplant. Will this story be enough to help legislators who currently support raw milk to understand they are putting Iowa’s children at risk if they vote for this bill?

In the past three years, we have been fortunate that the bills introduced only made it out of a house committee one time. The bill was not debated on the House floor that year because it was considered too controversial; however, this has not stopped the supporters from continuing to propose it year after year as they continue to ignore the science and the past 100 years of history that support pasteurization as the only way to ensure that milk is safe from pathogenic bacteria.

© Food Safety News
  • Russell La Claire

    Adults who drink unpasteurized milk do so at their own peril. However, any who feed that stuff to children should be prosecuted. 

    • ChurnYourOwn

      Russell, I’m sorry that you feel I should be prosecuted.

      Based on your logic, then how would you feel about prosecuting doctors who over-administer antibiotics to children? After all, they’re not only permanently altering the child’s immune system by killing off entire species of gut bacteria, but they are contributing to the creation of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which puts the rest of us at risk.

      And how about parents who give their children psychotropic drugs, like Ritalin?  Do you really mean to imply that raw milk from healthy, pasture-raised cows is more dangerous to children than these drugs? 

  • Completely wrong. Raw dairy products have been responsible for thousands of serious illnesses. Last year alone there were five outbreaks directly linked to raw milk. I’m always amazed at how people think that because a publication tries to make money they are biased. I am a scientist, and I know that raw milk is inherently dangerous.

    And no, raw dairy products have not been “consumed safely for THOUSANDS of years.” Study your history before you make such ignorant comments. Before pasteurization, raw milk was responsible for 50% of foodborne illness outbreaks, including tuberculosis, Listeria, E. coli, typhoid fever, and Salmonella.  Deny it all you want – science, epidemiology, and the facts completely disagree with you. And before you start whining about freedom, think about this: ONE severe illness from raw milk costs $6 million in medical care. Which we all pay for.  Why don’t you ask the mothers of the children who have lost kidney function, suffered strokes, and had colectomies just because they drank raw milk if they think that product is so wonderful and safe?

    I also don’t understand why raw milk lowers are so completely ignorant of logical reasoning. Comparing raw milk to other products that have caused foodborne illness is a false equivalency. ANY food can be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. But raw milk comes from the cow contaminated, because a cow’s udders are located right next to her anus.

    • ChurnYourOwn

      Emily, I’d love it if you would help educate me then. The versions of raw milk history that I’ve read goes something like this: http://www.raw-milk-facts.com/milk_history.html. But maybe I’ve been reading all the wrong books (like The Untold Story of Milk – have you read it?). I would very much like to know which history books you’d recommend so that I can improve my understanding.

  • “HSB131 would exempt Iowa dairy farms that sell raw milk from being licensed, regulated or inspected; containers of raw milk would not have to be labeled, nor would a warning label be required. Not only would the milk not have to be graded, but testing the milk for pathogens would also not be a requirement.”

    Please tell me I must be reading this incorrectly. To me, this passage says that this bill would remove food safety requirements from raw milk. I must be mistaken. No one would introduce such an obscenely stupid bill. 

  • ChurnYourOwn

    Michael – sure, my analysis is here: http://churnyourown.com/2011/09/28/listeria/. You’ll see I worked with Marler Clarke’s own data, available at OutbreakDatabase.com. And yes, I took into consideration the numbers of consumers of both raw and pasteurized dairy. I look forward to your and others feedback.

    • I asked if you’ve taken into account the amount of product consumed (number of servings).

      You actually don’t appear to have taken into consideration the number of servings consumed. One mistake you’ve  made is to assume that the amount of raw dairy products consumed reflects the number of raw dairy consumers. This is a bold assumption and would not account for someone who consumes a serving of raw milk cheese for every ten servings of pasteurized milk cheese.
      This inaccuracy is further multiplied because you base your number of consumers on guessing and inflated statistics. You’ve arbitrarily added 30% to what little statistics we have on the number raw milk consumers. Beyond that, you appear to have taken a wild guess at the number of raw milk cheese consumers. Then you make another wild assumption (the one I detail in my first paragraph) to arrive at your conclusion.

      To sum up, you do not take into account the number of servings (aka the significantly different amounts) consumed and even your guesses for number of consumers are not grounded in defensible statistics. 

      You are mistaken. Your exercise cannot enable you to come to your conclusion with any sort of confidence.

      • ChurnYourOwn

        Michael, I appreciate the feedback. I agree that it would be better to take into consideration the number of servings consumed.  I wish there was better data publicly available so that I didn’t have to make some of the assumptions that I made, but I really don’t think they’re as far off as you make them out to be.

        A much bigger problem, however, is the data. It’s something Mark McAfee, head of America’s largest raw milk dairy, discusses in my interview with him (posted on my blog above). That is the flawed way in which outbreaks are “associated” with raw milk consumption without proof of a direct linkage. He gives several examples of this in the interview.  He also makes the comment that, “Pathogens in vegetables killed 34 people last year. Contrast that with raw milk, which hasn’t caused a single death since the CDC started collecting data in 1972.”

        Clearly there is disagreement on the data (e.g. Emily above seems to be working from a different data set), which makes any analysis difficult. I did my analysis as best I could, given the data I could find, and I did it without any financial motivation for an outcome either way.  My only motivation is to keep myself and my family healthy and well nourished. I don’t care if you agree with me, but please don’t deny me this freedom.

        We’ve come a long way since the days of outbreaks from distillery dairies. We now know how to produce milk that is safe to consume raw, just like we now know how to produce spinach and canteloupes that can be consumed raw, despite having learned the hard way. Sure, some people may choose to take cost-cutting shortcuts, like keeping cows in factory farms and feeding them an unnatural diet so that their immune systems are compromised. And in those case, I would never consume their milk raw. But please don’t confuse that product with the milk from healthy, well-maintained pasture-raised cows.

  • disqus_qLvMukqL0k

     It’s about knowing your farmer for your produce along with your dairy.  You should do that with anything that you put in your body.  How many people fill their kids up with prescription drugs for behavioral issues and when their child hurts themselves, someone else or kills themselves, wonder why it happened when those drugs were “approved” for the public.  The warnings on those drugs state the side effects but the parents and doctors still choose to give them to children!    Think of all of the foods that are chemicals and not really foods that we are “allowed” to give our children that can cause those very same behavioral problems that they are drugging their children for.   As with anything you give your children you are the one that has to do the research not relying on someone else to do it for you because they usually have agendas of their own that are not necessarily best for you or your child.

    I am very educated about the foods that I give my children.    I feel that the research that is out there all depends on “who” has the money to fund it.  You can have vaccines that are “approved” here and yet other countries ban them because of the side effects that are causing problems and they don’t want more children there affected.  My daughter had been diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease.  It was a very difficult time to see your own child going through very rough times knowing that she could even die!  I chose raw milk and raw colosturm as part of what I did for my daughter.  All of the specialists wanted to drug her up with all kinds of terrible prescription drugs, the side effects lists were awful!  I prayed long and hard about what to do for my daughter and decided that raw milk was very important in helping her.  She never did have to have any of those prescription drugs!  The doctors are amazed and yet still cannot understand how she could be doing so well.  We have even been to Mayo Clinic  to specialists there.  My daughter not being on meds is considered amazing!

    I agree it is about taking personal reponsibility of which our society has a hard time with at times.

  • Kathy Haan

    I am for raw milk, however as a mother of three I can tell you that processed/deli meats is a no-no for pregnant and/or nursing moms. Every doctor has told me that, and it’s in a lot of literature handouts…not that I’d feed my kids that processed crap anyway:)