Many states prohibit sales of raw milk to the public, saying it is responsible for hundreds of cases of salmonella, E. coli, and listeria infections. But proponents of raw milk contend that the pasteurization process destroys nutrients and enzymes, meaning that raw milk is healthier.
No agency or group tracks raw milk sales nationwide, but in Washington state, the number of dairies selling raw milk to the public grew from 6 to 22 over the past two years. And in Massachusetts, the number of raw milk dairies has more than doubled to 24 over a five-year period, even as the total number of dairies in the state has declined. I find it incredibly ironic that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to treat raw milk as if it were the bubonic plague. Just from a commonsense standpoint alone, would growing numbers of people bypass state laws to get their hands on a food that made them sick?
Come on, let’s get real here.
Of course they wouldn’t. People are willing to go to great lengths to get raw milk because it makes them feel great and they know it is good for them.
Yet, the FDA has no problem if you want to slurp down cans of aspartame-sweetened soda, eat MSG-laden soup, or slather on some cosmetics that contain who knows what.
Ironic is clearly an understatement here.
Let’s Put Things Into Perspective
According to the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 1998 to May 2005 there were 45 outbreaks of food-borne illness that implicated unpasteurized milk, or cheese made from unpasteurized milk. These outbreaks accounted for 1,007 illnesses, 104 hospitalizations, and two deaths.
Also according to the CDC, there are an estimated 73,000 cases of E. coli infection, including 61 deaths, in the United States each year mostly from eating ground beef.
Let’s see: just over 1,000 illnesses in over seven years from raw milk. 73,000 cases of illness in one year from ground beef. And raw milk is outlawed? Seems to me that it is quite safe in comparison to something many Americans eat nearly every day.
Sure, you may argue that ground beef sickens more people because more people eat it … but it still highlights just how few people are actually getting sick from raw milk.
Then there’s listeria, a type of bacteria that can lead to listeriosis (which is particularly dangerous for pregnant women). According to the CDC, 2,500 Americans become sick from listeriosis each year.
The FDA warns against drinking raw milk partly because it could contain listeria. But how many cases of these 2,500 a year could have come from raw milk? If you take their earlier estimate of raw milk causing 1,007 illnesses in seven years, that works out to 144 cases a year. And that is assuming that EVERY person who got sick from raw milk that year got sick from listeria, which is highly unlikely.
So it is likely far fewer than 144 people a year who have gotten listeriosis from raw milk. Where are the remainder of the 2,500 illnesses a year coming from then? Hot dogs, lunch meats, refrigerated, pre-prepared meat spreads, and pre-made meat and seafood salads.
So perhaps all of those should be made illegal as well? Seems only fair.
Why Does the FDA Care so Much About Raw Milk?
The FDA certainly seems to have a chip on its shoulder when it comes to raw milk. Their raids on small farmers, and heavy-handed tactics like trying to coerce two workers at an organic raw dairy to wear a wire, are becoming all too commonplace.
What are they afraid of? That one day Americans will be drinking gallon upon gallon of natural milk? Oh, the horror.
Actually, it is likely far more political than it is nutritional. Just like the drug industry, the dairy industry has strong lobbying powers, and when I say “dairy industry” I’m not referring to the small farmer that provides your raw milk. I’m talking about the major players in commercial dairy, like the ones who created this fancy GotMilk.com Web site.
What would happen to the majority of the dairy industry if raw milk really caught on? They’d be forced to clean up their acts. Raise healthier cows. Give them access to pasture. As only healthy cows are the ones that you would buy raw milk from. And this would cost them money … lots of money.
Rest assured the dairy industry will not let their “gold standard” pasteurized milk go down without a fight. In the meantime, if you drink milk, do your health a favor and make sure it’s raw. Fortunately, if you live in California or in most places in Europe, raw milk is legal and this is not an issue.