Over the last few years I have tried to bring some level of rationality to the debate over the consumption of raw milk.  I first publisheda summary of the findings of a review of peer-reviewed literature on the topic of the “pros” of the consumption of raw milk on my blog. Several people from both sides of the raw milk debate have told me that the “pros” review is one of the most comprehensive compilations of peer-reviewed literature examining the potential benefits of raw milk beyond basic nutrition.  I then posted about the “cons.”

What about the “cons?”

As I said, the overwhelming “con” of drinking raw milk according to the literature relates to food safety hazards. Below are the realities of those “cons.”

I would ask the proponents of raw milk consumption – small dairy farmers trying to make a buck; retailers trying to make even more; the Weston A. Price Association; the Complete Patient; people who believe that drinking raw milk cures everything from asthma to autism and eczema to erectile dysfunction; to policy makers considering allowing the sales of raw milk – to PLEASE read the above-linked pros and cons as well as, “Comparing the Food Safety Record of Pasteurized and Raw Milk Products.”  Then, to read what happened to consumers who became ill during foodborne illness outbreaks traced to the consumption of raw milk, and watch the below videos.

Organic Pastures

Chris Martin, then age seven, developed an E. coli O157:H7 infection in September 2006 following the consumption of raw milk produced by Organic Pastures.  He was hospitalized beginning on September 8, suffering from severe gastrointestinal symptoms, including bloody diarrhea.  Shortly thereafter, he developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).  In an effort to properly treat his rapidly deteriorating condition, Chris was moved to multiple medical facilities, twice by life-flight.  His HUS was remarkably severe, marked by prolonged renal failure, pancreatitis, and severe cardiac involvement. He required 18 days of renal replacement therapy. On two occasions his cardiac problems became so severe that he was placed on a ventilator. At several junctures, the possibility that he might not survive was very real.  He was hospitalized through November 2, after incurring over $550,000 in medical bills.  Renal experts have opined that Chris is likely to develop severe renal complications in the future. These complications include end stage renal disease (ESRD) and kidney transplant.

Herb Depot/Autum Olives Farms

Larry Pedersen had just turned one year old when he developed an E. coli O157:H7 infection in May of 2008. When his diarrhea turned bloody, his parents took him for medical treatment. He was admitted to the hospital on May 8.  Shortly thereafter, Larry developed HUS and was transferred to a specialty care facility.  As is typical in patients with HUS, Larry was suffering from acute renal failure. He was started on dialysis, which was necessary at that point for his survival. He required 15 days of dialysis before his kidneys recovered enough to function on their own. Larry was discharged on May 29, to continue recovery and treatment on an outpatient basis. The medical bills associated with his care approached $90,000. As the result of damage to his kidneys suffered during his bout with HUS, Larry is at significant risk for severe renal complications in the future. These complications include ESRD and kidney transplant.

Nicole Riggs developed an E. coli O157:H7 infection in May 2008 from consumption of raw goat’s milk. She was nine years old at the time. Nicole suffered from symptoms typical of E. coli O157:H7 infections – bloody diarrhea, cramping, and nausea – that quickly intensified and led to her hospitalization on May 8, 2008. Once hospitalized, Nicole developed renal failure, anemia, and thrombocytopenia (low platelet count) indicating that she was developing HUS. She was transferred to a Children’s hospital and started on dialysis in order to save her life. She received dialysis for 18 days. Nicole’s renal function slowly returned to the point that she was deemed healthy enough for discharge on June 1. After discharge, she remained under the care of a nephrologist.  In addition, damage suffered during her HUS has required that her gall bladder be removed. Medical costs to this point exceed $180,000. As the result of damage to her kidneys suffered during her bout with HUS, Nicole is at significant risk for severe renal complications in the future.

Alexandre EcoDairy Farm

Mari Tardiff was one of those sickened in the 2008 outbreak of Campylobacter connected to raw milk sold by Alexandre EcoDairy Farm. As a result of her Campylobacter infection, Mari developed Guillain Barr√© syndrome, or GBS, a potentially fatal inflammatory disorder.  GBS is an infrequent, but well-known risk associated with Campylobacter infection.  By the time she was hospitalized in mid-June, Mari was essentially paralyzed. On June 15, she was intubated and placed on mechanical ventilation.  For weeks on end, Mari’s condition remained unchanged.  She was heavily sedated, unable to move, and entirely dependent on mechanical ventilation for survival.  In August, there were indications of slight improvement, and the very slow process of weaning Mari off mechanical ventilation began. At the outset, it was not clear that the process was successful.  Through incredible effort on Mari’s part, she was fully weaned off mechanical ventilation by August 20, and discharged to a rehabilitation facility.  She spent more than two months at the rehabilitation facility diligently attempting to re-acquire the ability to speak, breathe, and move her arms and legs on her own. She was discharged home on November 1, still in need of essentially 24-hour care.  Since that time, she has worked every day toward achieving her goal, as yet unreached, of walking again.  Medical expenses to date exceed $1,000,000.

Whole Foods and Simsbury Town Farm Dairy

Kalee Prue, a 27-year-old mother of one, became infected with E. coli O157:NM in June 2008, as the result of consumption of raw milk. Her symptoms began in early July, and intensified for several days. On two occasions, Kalee sought treatment in the emergency room. On July 12, it became apparent that she was developing HUS. She was then admitted to the hospital on July 13. Kalee’s renal failure was complete and prolonged, and she required plasmapharesis from July 13 through August 11. Severe anemia necessitated repeated transfusions with packed red blood cells as well. By the time she was released from the hospital on August 14, she had incurred over $230,000 in medical bills. Kalee has not recovered full renal function. She is at severe risk for long-term renal complications, including ESRD, dialysis, and transplant.