Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Raw Milk Safety - Perception vs. Reality

The perception, according to an eFoodAlert reader:
People drink raw milk because it is a high-quality food--not just because it is unpasteurized. It is a better breed of cow, one knows the farmer, it is not homogenized, separated & recombined, no additives, no tanker trucks, not mingled with the milk of hundreds of cows at different farms.

The reality, according to today's warning released by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH):
The Illinois Department of Public Health is warning Illinoisans about the potential of illness associated with raw milk. The Michigan Department of Community Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are investigating an outbreak of campylobacteriosis associated with drinking raw milk distributed through a cow share program from a dairy in Middlebury, Indiana. A Family Farms Cooperative in Michigan received milk from the Indiana dairy and has delivered the suspect milk to locations in Des Plaines, Downers Grove, Elgin and Chicago, Illinois.

Since early March, the Michigan Department of Community Health has identified 18 outbreak-related illnesses in south and southeast Michigan, of which 11 are laboratory confirmed as Campylobacter (a bacteria which causes campylobacteriosis). The Illinois Department of Public Health and local health departments will be following up on any other reports of illness linked to raw milk consumption.

Anyone experiencing gastrointestinal illness they believe to be associated with drinking raw milk should seek testing for themselves from a medical professional and should also contact their local health department to report the illness.

Campylobacteriosis is a bacterial infection that causes diarrhea, which may be watery or sticky and can contain blood. Other symptoms may include fever, abdominal pain, nausea, headache and muscle pain. The illness usually occurs 2-5 days after ingestion of the contaminated food or water and lasts generally 7-10 days. Antibiotics may be used to treat campylobacteriosis.

Raw milk can cause serious infections. Raw milk and raw milk products (such as cheeses and yogurts made with raw milk) can be contaminated with bacteria that can cause serious illness, hospitalization, or death. Pasteurization is the best method of eliminating disease-causing organisms in milk and the only method routinely used in the United States.

Readers – especially those among you who participate in cow share programs – please take note:
  • The milk implicated in this outbreak was NOT local – the farm was in Indiana; the milk was shipped across state lines to Michigan; and the milk was then shipped across state lines from Michigan to Illinois.
  • The farmer whose cows produced the milk is NOT "known" – Family Farms Cooperative contracted with Forest Grove Dairy for the milk supply.
  • The milk in this outbreak was not fresh from the cow - it traveled from Indiana to Michigan and then, in some cases, to Illinois.

Cow share programs are paper-pushing devices used to circumvent state laws prohibiting the retail sale of raw milk for human consumption and federal law against interstate shipment of raw milk for human consumption. Raw milk is NOT always locally produced, fresh, or safe.

According to IDPH, the Campylobacter outbreak associated with raw milk supplied by Forest Grove Dairy has infected as many as 18 consumers so far; 11 of those cases have been lab-confirmed. The outbreak may grow further – no cases have yet been recorded in either Illinois or Indiana. FDA has joined state agencies in pursuing the outbreak investigation.

This is not the first time that Forest Grove Dairy has run afoul of FDA. The agency issued a Warning Letter in 2007, advising the company that it was in violation of a provision of the Public Health Service Act that prohibits interstate shipment of raw milk for human consumption.

Caveat Bibator - Let The Drinker Beware.

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  1. This BusinessWeek article clarifies the Michigan situation. First, this is a cow boarding program whereby the shareholders own the cows and the milk. Hebron was delivering the milk to the owners. It is legal for anyone to possess, consume, and cross state lines with the milk. The federal law against interstate shipment only applies to milk that is in commerce, which means it has to be sold or given away. This milk was always owned by the shareholders, and it was never sold or given away.

    Second, the illness was never traced back to raw milk. It could have come from any raw, undercooked, or cross-contaminated meat vegetable, or food ingredient. Whenever health officials get wind of anyone drinking raw milk, that automatically becomes the prime suspect and the center of investigation. And even when they can't make the positive trace, the investigation is concluded with a public announcement "linking" the outbreak with raw milk, and the story is carried by the media. This is the case with Hebron.

    Finally, share-ownership arrangements should not be characterized as circumventing the law. Animal boarding is completely legal. If you are a city dweller, it is not practical and against zoning laws to keep your own horse or cow in your condo or townhome. You board your cow with a farmer in the country, and you get your rightfully owned milk secreted by your own cow.

    Hope this helps.

  2. As the author of the article cited in the previous comment, I'd like to affirm the points made by that commenter. Phyllis Entis' suggestions that the cowshare milk wasn't fresh because it traveled through several states is typical of the hyperbole and misstatements of the public health establishment. She ought to look at a map, and see how close northeast IL, northwest IN, and southern MI are to each other.
    David Gumpert
    author: The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America's Emerging Struggle Over Food Rights

  3. Excellent comments above. I would also like to add that statement of reasons given under the "perception" heading above are highly misleading and provide NONE of the real benefits (much less the research that supports it) for the consumption of raw milk. This article would lead others to believe that raw milk consumers are only interested in the "cutesy" ideals described. Rather, both the pasteurization and homogenization processes have been proven to destroy most of beneficial proteins, bacteria, and other properties of the milk making it nearly undigestible. These processes are why the vast majority of people that exhibit "lactose intolerance" can drink raw milk with no problems. It has been shown to boost immune response, reduce illness, and provide myriad other health benefits. This information is readily available and the above characterization is slanted at best ... dishonest at worst.

  4. "It has been shown to boost immune response, reduce illness, and provide myriad other health benefits."

    This statement is "slanted at best...dishonest at worst" as you would say. Very simply, science does not support that statement.

  5. Milk is milk.

    Damned fools. Damned ignorant argumentative fools. Transport a grubby bucket of common milk across 3 states to satisfy their insane urge to give themselves a red-hot case of the trots. Then try to convince us that it's a smart idea, a stroke of genius.

    Deserve to get sick. Don't deserve to make others sick under any terms, however.

  6. "Deserve to get sick" is right.

    Feed this to your kids and it is child abuse. People should be ashamed to be paying so much for a product that is unsafe and not proven to be any more beneficial than regular milk. Raw milk advocates either cannot read or are unwilling to face the facts. Stop trying to convince everyone that your product is somehow a miracle product. The public is not as dumb as you would believe. Go away.

  7. For those who claim pasteurization destroys compounds that confer health benefits in raw milk, do you have proof of the benefits of raw milk consumption (directly, not just living on a farm) beyond anecdotes (research in a peer-review scientific journal, for example)?

  8. Read this book for the facts you ask for: "The Untold Story of Milk: Green Pastures, Contented Cows and Raw Dairy Products", by Ron Schmid.

  9. Excellent discussion. I oppose government restrictions to define what I consume, how I live my life, and what I feed my children. I am becoming more "republican" every day. At age 31, I have just discovered the delicious flavor of raw milk and yogurt, and frankly, feel that I have been cheated by the system that has put obstacles up and pushed propaganda to prevent us from consuming it this way. Do read the above suggested book: The Untold Story of Milk. Read it, even if for the little American history lesson. Salut!


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