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Study: No Reliable Scientific Evidence of Health Benefits From Raw Milk

Raw milk may have a placebo effect if you’re paying $15 per gallon for it, but any other health claims are pure myth. At least that’s one of the conclusions one might come to after reading the July/August edition of Nutrition Today, which includes a peer-reviewed study into the health benefits, if any, of raw milk.

406x250Raw-Milk1John A. Lucey, Ph.D., food science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, looked at the public debate over the possible health benefits of drinking raw milk.

He reviewed more than 50 scientific articles and the websites of groups advocating raw milk consumption before coming to the conclusion that there is no evidence to suggest that raw milk provides any health or nutritional benefits, including everything from eliminating lactose intolerance to better digestion.

Lucey, who is also director of the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, calls claims about the health benefits of raw milk consumption are “unsubstantiated myths.”

“A number of different claims have been made about the possible health benefits that could hypothetically be derived from the consumption of raw milk,” writes Lacey in “Raw Milk Consumption:Risks and Benefits,” published in the open source Nutrition Today. “Recent scientific reviews by various international groups have concluded that there was no reliable scientific evidence to support any of these suggested heath benefits.”

Lacey also reports that, “During pasteurization, there is no significant change in the the nutrition quality of milk.” He also writes that pasteurization does not result in any differences in the protein or mineral quality of the milk and that vitamin losses are “very minor.”

Raw milk, according to the report, is a frequent source of foodborne illness outbreaks.

“U.S. statistics for dairy-associated outbreaks of human disease during the period 1993-2006 have been reviewed,” Lacey writes. “There were 121 dairy product outbreaks where the pasteurization status was known; among these, 73 (60 percent) involved raw milk products and resulted in 1,571 reported cases, 202 hospitalizations, and two deaths. A total of 55 (75 percent) outbreaks occurred in the 21 states that permitted the sale of raw milk.”

“States that restricted the sale of raw milk had fewer outbreaks and illnesses,” he continues. “In an updated report covering the 6-year period from 2007-2012, the average number of outbreaks associated with nonpasteurized milk was 4-fold higher during the 6-year period (average 13.5 outbreaks/year) than that reported in the previous review of outbreaks during 1993-2006.”

A possible sign of the increased popularity of raw milk is the increase in outbreaks even in states where it is illegal to sell non-pasteurized milk, such as Wisconsin, which saw six outbreaks with 261 illnesses and 27 hospitalizations during the later period.

Milk pasteurization as a public safety measure began in Chicago in 1924, but it was resisted for the next eight years. During that time, the public came to accept “purified milk” (pasteurized milk) was safer that “pure milk,” or raw milk, as tuberculosis was brought under control.

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© Food Safety News
  • Gary

    Not really a surprise…the surprise is idiot parents who give raw milk to their children. That’s an absolute head slapper. I can understand if adults want to take that risk, but pass that onto your children? Complete idiocy.

  • Food Microbiologist

    Yuh gotta believe

  • We’ve known this all along, but it helps to have it summarized in one place by someone with the chops to be believable.

    It won’t make a diff to the raw milk folks, but it might be enough to kill legislation loosening restrictions on raw milk.

  • And it’s especially nice that the results are published in an open source format, accessible by everyone.

  • We calls em like we sees em

    Can’t imagine anyone believing raw milk is magic. Or that pasteurization is some sort of nefarious plot to destroy the world. But maybe I don’t have enough tin foil on my hat. Go figure.

  • davidgumpert

    This study is intellectually and historically deficient in key respects. It says that giving raw milk to children to test its nutritional benefits would be ethically wrong, yet fails to mention several studies out of Europe within last decade, in which raw milk was fed to more than 20,000 children (without any illnesses), showing protection from asthma and allergies. It also says that up to one-third of unpasteurized milk has been shown to contain pathogens, without explaining that the milk tested was “pre-pasteurized,” from conventional dairies, not intended to be sold or served raw. There are no formal studies of American fresh raw milk intended to be sold unpasteurized. The author clearly had a conclusion in mind before undertaking the study, and didn’t want to be bothered with the facts. Nor did FSN want to probe too deeply, to possibly contradict its advance conclusions.

    • Michael Bulger

      I assume David is referring to the PARSIFAL study out of Europe. Two points that he conveniently leaves out of his interpretations:

      1. The children were not fed raw milk by researchers. Rather, researchers relied on parents to report what types of milk their children consumed.

      2. The PARSIFAL study concluded that “farm fresh” milk (not necessarily raw) was associated with reduced instances of asthma and allergies. Some of the farm fresh milk was boiled, and not raw. The researchers explicitly state that their data do not allow for a comparison of raw vs. pasteurized milks.

      • davidgumpert

        The big-picture point in the European studies is that researchers studied thousands of children consuming raw milk. One of the studies I referred to was the Parsifal study, involving more than 15,000 children.


        A second study was the Gabriela study, involving more than 8,000 children.

        In the Gabriela study, researchers examined more than 8,000 children regularly drinking raw milk. The point isn’t whether the children were fed raw milk by researchers or their parents, the point is the children were regularly drinking raw milk, and in none of the studies, was there a single case of illness. Moreover, the children drinking raw milk had lower incidence of asthma and allergies than those drinking pasteurized milk.

        The bigger point, though, is that milk-industry apologists like the study’s author and Bulger can’t counter the convincing evidence from those studies, so they simply ignore them, or else criticize them on dubious technicalities. As I said, intellectually and historically deficient.

        • Michael Bulger

          “Milk-industry apologist”?

    • Pleading for Sanity’s Sake

      Definitely some intellectual and historical deficiency evident here…but it isn’t in Dr. Lacey’s study.

      Point by point:

      A) Feeding raw milk to kids when safe pasteurized milk is available IS ethically wrong. Kids can’t protect themselves from intellectually deficient parents. The European study endangered 20,000 children. That is unacceptable. We all recognize this now since the golden rice feeding study was forced recently to be retracted for unethically feeding people. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander Mr. Gumpert. Intellectual and historical deficiency is no longer an excuse for facetiously crying out for large scale human feeding studies.

      B) Milk produced for the pasteurized market is not unduly compromised. In fact, it is produced conscientiously – because the producer cares and that is assured by detailed testing of every shipment off the farm for bacteria, somatic cells, freedom from watering down, antibiotics and temperature. Milk intended to be sold unpasteurized is still just milk, it is not mystically imbued with magical powers, regardless of how desperately some intellectually deficient sorcerer wishes it to be so. Much of the milk intended to be sold unpasteurized flows out of uninspected substandard makeshift facilities and is not monitored or tested in any meaningful way. Nothing is known about what any of it really might be. Just some reality-challenged yuppie entrepreneur’s word on it.

      C) Indeed, there are no formal studies of American fresh raw milk intended to be sold unpasteurized – if you are complaining researchers have not been examining the “magic milk” you suggest is being produced by a handful of special people with lively imaginations and a gift for flim-flamming the public. Why is that, Mr. Gumpert? Why does the magic seem to vaporize from this remarkable milk whenever it approaches a credible lab bench? Where does the magic evaporate to, Mr. Gumpert?

      D) Talk about preconceived conclusions! Raw milkies, intellectually deficient as they prefer to present themselves, must be given limitless credit for being the most passionately steadfast protectors of preconceived notions among the entire vast sea of activist food cranks prancing around out here. Nothing, absolutely nothing shakes your dogged faith in the unbelievable. I am not suggesting that is a good thing, especially as it adversely impacts innocent children, but this remarkable tenacity in your cult’s ideology is politely acknowledged here since that’s about all you’ve ever had going for you. And all you ever will. It will be interesting to see how much mileage can finally be wrung out of it.

      Have a care Mr. Gumpert – PLEASE AT LEAST PROTECT THE CHILDREN

    • You didn’t read the report. It specifically mentioned the GABRIELA study. The point they made has been made by others: you can’t eliminate the environmental factors with this study, and the decreased incidents of allergies could easily be attributable to more exposure to pathogens at a younger age and an increased build-up of immunity.

      This report looked at studies that others have used to extol the benefits of raw milk. It has not found any of these benefits from the studies. The author of the report has the scientific chops to make the claims in the report.

      The science shows us the supposed ‘benefits’ to raw milk don’t exist. The science has always showed us this.

      As for the pathogens, we have the evidence of our eyes with outbreak after outbreak associated with raw milk. These are real. People are getting sick.

      Close your eyes and ears and pretend otherwise, but the incidents of illness are _real_. Don’t let your writing ambitions cloud the truth.

      • davidgumpert

        Shelley Powers, you are correct, the GABRIELA study is footnoted–I missed that. But author (and you) didn’t read that study. It says early on: “Reported raw milk consumption was inversely associated to asthma….and hay fever independent of other farm exposures.”

        You, along with CDC and FDA, are engaged in denial when you say “the supposed benefits to raw milk don’t exist.” European researchers and regulators are open to a different reality, and have demonstrated that benefits do exist.
        Why is it that no such research has been done in the U.S.? Because anyone who would dare even suggests serious scientific research on raw milk would automatically be blackballed from receiving research funds from FDA or most other federal or university funding sources. You all have your marching orders, and you obey them to the letter.

        • Me, the learned scientist who is the author of this report, the CDC, the FDA, as well as the medical community. Me, I don’t count that much. But I will take the scientist who wrote this report, the CDC, the FDA, as well as the medical (and food safety) community.

          You’re focusing in on a very limited, singular study with limited extrapolation to raw milk drinking as a whole: benefits of.

          And completely, astonishingly, ignoring all the children in all the hospitals, put there by drinking raw milk, when their parents are told that “oh, raw milk is safe!”

      • davidgumpert

        One other thing, Shelley, about my “writing ambitions.” Yes, I have them. And they have only served to inform me and expand my horizons. You can see them on display in my latest book: “The Raw Milk Answer Book: What You REALLY Need to Know About Our Most Controversial Food”. It’s gotten great reviews from medical experts and policy makers alike for its fair approach. It not only acknowledges illnesses from raw milk, but examines milk from a risk perspective as well. Take a look.

        • No thanks. I prefer the Grimm brothers when I’m looking for fairy tales.

        • Medical experts? Bet that’s a short list.

  • Oginikwe

    Just knowing that our milk doesn’t have rBGH in it is enough health benefit for us.

    • JM

      It does contain bovine hormones. All milk does. There isn’t a difference between rBGH and BGH. They are the same thing, just produced differently.

      You can make claims as to animal welfare perhaps being worse using rBGH in milk production. But saying non-rBGH milk is more healthful is not supported by any evidence.

  • Salam Ibrahim (Greensboro, NC)

    This is very
    interesting report. Similar review was reported in 2010 and describes the
    process of milk pasteurization and provides evidence that there is no
    nutritional advantage to consuming unpasteurized milk (Nutrition Today: 2010: