Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Perils of Drinking Raw Milk

On Saturday, a couple of weeks ago(June 21, I believe), our local paper, The Roanoke Times, ran an article in the health section. You can find this same article at: This piece highlights the trend of drinking raw milk, and the concern regarding food-borne illnesses. "Raw milk should not be consumed by anyone for any reason. It is an inherently dangerous product," said John Sheehan, the head of the FDA dairy office. The article mentions that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention listed 1000 cases of illness allegedly connected to drinking raw milk that took place between 1998 and 2005. There were 2 deaths supposedly connected to drinking raw milk during that time period.

It was a pretty scary article. I think that if I had not done a lot of research on raw milk over the last couple of years, I might have gone right out to buy me a pasteurizing machine. How in the world have we managed to escape death living such a risk-laden life? But-since I had done a lot of research in this area, and know that there are quite a few others out there who have also done their homework-I assumed that over the next few days the paper would be overrun with letters to the editor and op-ed pieces highlighting the inconsistencies and errors of aforementioned journalistic effort.

I was wrong.

I thought about writing a letter myself, but wasn't sure I wanted the "free" advertising our farm would get regarding raw milk and our dairy animal share program. Surely someone out there would want to shed some light on the biased report.

I guess not.

Well, you ought to do the research yourself if you want to engage in such inherently dangerous behavior as drinking an icy cold glass of raw milk straight from the cow/goat. It is out there. But for those of you who might just like a few little tidbits, here goes:

In several of the cases of E coli outbreaks supposedly related to consumption of raw milk, the milk was tested to have no strain of E coli. At all. They even tested the manure of the cows. No E coli. That information was not included in the June article on dangers of raw milk.

In 1985, between 150,000-200,000 people were affected by salmonella typhirium. It was traced to a Chicago dairy plant. Pasteurized milk.

In April, 2000, pasteurized milk from a Pennsylvania dairy plant was responsible for 38 culture-confirmed cases of salmonella typhirium.

Deli meats have been proven to be 10.8 times more dangerous (due to documented cases of food borne illness) than raw milk.

Non-reheated hot dogs are 9.2 times more dangerous than raw milk.

That would mean that these deli meats and hot dogs offer 515 times a greater risk to your health that drinking a glass of raw milk or eating some raw milk chevre on a cracker.

Why in the world is the FDA not cracking down on hot dogs and deli meat makers? Is there legislation out there banning the sale of deli meat? Hot dogs? Nope. Selling raw milk is prohibited in 22 states, Virginia being one of them. Maryland made an emergency ban on cow-share agreements last fall because of this kind of propaganda. Raw milk certified dairies in Pennsylvania have been shut down because of false positive bacteria testing. Consumers who wish to drink raw milk have very little options in many states because farmers fear liability.

The FDA confirmed the between the years of 1996 and 2005 there were 8000 E coli infections related to fresh produce, 6,500 related to eggs, 3,000 related to processed foods, and 1,500 related to sprouts. I still have yet to see a ban on any of these foods. Raw milk is connected to 0.4% of all 199,263 documented cases of food borne illness.

Here is another thought. Pesticides have sickened many people over the last few years. So have herbicides. We still have the choice to be responsible consumers and decide if we want to take the risk and use them anyway. How much legislation is necessary for us to live safely, and without illness?

I believe we should have the option to buy milk if we so desire. It is the responsibility of the consumer to know the farmer, check out farming practices, take a look at the barn and decide if he or she wants to buy that milk. On farm direct sales of eggs, processed chicken and produce are legal in the state of Virginia. Similar protocol should be established for small farmers offering raw dairy products. There are many states with great legislation in place protecting small farmer and consumer alike. The fact is, many people consume raw milk all across the country and world, and manage to survive. One study showed that farmers and their families who consumed raw milk had less problems with allergies and asthma than the farmers who drank only pasteurized milk. We can buy cigarettes. We can buy sevin dust.

If our paper, or CNN, or anyone else is going to put out information regarding the perils of drinking raw milk, I want that information to be balanced and accurate. Yeah, I know. What an idea, what a concept. Maybe I should write an article about the perils of reading certain reports in the newspaper without doing your own research...But I have to get to bed soon. Have to get up and milk in the morning. Better get the kids to come down and have their final glass of poison, oops, I mean milk. Goodnight!


One Day At A Time said...

wow, that's horrible that noone wrote in about the biased article, are you SURE you don't want to do it "incognito"?? i LOVE your milk, btw, and it makes me feel great to drink it! :)

Mary said...

Great article Ginger. I think that you should send it to the newspaper. I guess there is some risk, but it is small, and you might find that a lot of people out there share your view. Peter wrote a similar article about traffic fatalities, pointing out that often more attention is given to smaller problems because even though traffic related deaths number more than 44,000 a year, a strong automobile lobby means that less is done about this bigger problem. When the article came out in the Wash. Post, people came out of the woodwork in support of his thinking. The article generated so much attention that it was picked up by the AP and sent over the wires for many papers to use! More soon.

Neil said...

The part about this ban that is so stupid is that before industrialization and refrigeration, people drank raw milk for millenia. They also had stronger stomachs. The whole of Europe was built on drinking raw dairy, and is part of the reason for the relative large size of it's people. Why is this lost on the FDA? They act as if there was no history of drinking raw milk before the 20th century.