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CDC takes offensive in fight against raw milk

February 29, 2012

By Richard S. Gubbe
Contributing Writer

Now for the main event: Raw Milk, “The Other White Milk,” vs. Pasteurized Milk, “The Killer of Health.”

In the pasteurization corner, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the raw milk corner, civil rights proponents. This boxing match will determine the right to supply and consume raw milk.

After 10 decades, there is no clear winner in this match — a split decision, at best. The CDC’s recent release of data suspiciously follows a rash of court battles with farmers, along with new bills in states like Wisconsin, where the public is rallying to change laws. In The Dairy State, the match rages between the dairy lobby and the embattled group of raw milk producers. Both parties appear to be digging in for trench warfare.

The two opposing sides, Safety vs. the Right To Consume, have been squaring off since pasteurization began in the early 1900s. In the past six months, debates have been staged on television, in symposiums on college campuses including Harvard, on the Internet, in town hall settings and in courtrooms across America.

The pros and cons haven’t changed. The statistics, however, can be manipulated to show convincing data on both sides.

The debate

The legalities of personal freedoms have been tussled back and forth since the thoughts of a nation began. There is no law against eating what we want; only rules and regulations about safety that came about after the Constitution was created.

To pasteurize or not pasteurize?” that is the question.

Pasteurized milk is safe. Raw milk is healthy. Although each state has different laws in place, the federal government, touting both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC as enforcers, are cracking down on interstate sales in states that include Maryland, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin, Nevada and California. The independent farmers are now looking to fight the good fight for the right to produce raw milk while sometimes facing prosecution for supplying it to their families, for retail sale, interstate sales and to co-ops. There have been farm raids, court hearings, rallies, inspections, interstate transportation charges, lawsuits and licensing issues.

The CDC weighed in last week with ammunitiuon of its own in the form of a compilation of 13 years of studies — all CDC produced. The agency reported last week that the rate of outbreaks caused by unpasteurized or raw milk and products made from raw milk was 150 times greater than outbreaks linked to pasteurized milk. The review by the CDC also claimed that the states where the sale of raw milk was legal had more than twice the rate of outbreaks as states where it was illegal.

The study, published in the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, reviewed dairy product outbreaks from 1993 to 2006 in all 50 states. The authors compared the amount of milk produced in the United States during the study period (about 2.7 trillion pounds) to the amount the CDC estimates was likely consumed raw (1 percent or 27 billion pounds) to determine the 150 times higher rate for outbreaks caused by raw milk products. Raw milk products include cheese and yogurt.

The study reportedly included 121 dairy-related disease outbreaks, which caused 4,413 illnesses, 239 hospitalizations and three deaths. In 60 percent of the outbreaks (73 outbreaks), state health officials determined raw milk products were the cause. Nearly all of the hospitalizations (200 of 239) were in those sickened in the raw milk outbreaks. The CDC said these dairy-related outbreaks occurred in 30 states, and 75 percent (55 outbreaks) of the raw milk outbreaks occurred in the 21 states where it was legal to sell raw milk products at the time. The study also reported that seven states changed their laws during the study period.

Even at Harvard

Across the ring from the mighty CDC is actvisit David Gumpert, who was one of four presenters recently at the Harvard School of Law Food Law Society debate. Gumpert authored The Raw Milk Revolution and other books and papers about raw milk and the right to consume it.

Gumpert brought out his own statistics from the CDC to prove his point that most raw milk is safe to drink. Gumpert says that 132 of more than 23,000 food-borne illness reported to the CDC are from raw milk and raw cheese. That’s a .005 rate that Gumpert says can be improved upon further with more safety-conscious farmers.

Gumpert, who blogs The Complete Patient, will be taking part in the Food Freedom Workshop in Baraboo, Wis., March 2 for embattled farmer Vernon Hershberger. Gumpert will take part in a panel that also includes activists Michael Schmidt and John Moody.

Raw milk proponents like Gumpert say the government is waging an aggressive propaganda war, using safety and protection as weapons to eliminate a healthy product, some say a life-saving product.

The president of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), Sally Fallon Morell, brought out some of the benefits to the Harvard Law School symposium that have been studied by the nonprofit group dedicated to “disseminating accurate, science-based information on diet and health.”

Studies at the Price Foundation show humans grow bigger and more dense bones when consuming raw milk. They say there is more efficient use and better absorption of vitamins and minerals, that children on raw milk don’t get anemic and that there is an improvement in children’s behavior. They also claim there is better overall growth and fewer cases of tuberculosis.

Price research showed raw milk is designed to create an immune system that uses beneficial bacteria in our intestines and that those beneficial bacteria are killed during pasteurization. Other benefits cited by raw milk users include protection against allergies, ear infections and skin rashes, and the prevention or elimination of asthma.

Fewer and fewer people can consume milk each year because of the increase of those who are lactose intolerant. Raw milk proponents say 82 percent of those who are lactose intolerant can drink raw milk.

The Price Foundation said the results of the CDC study were skewed because of the way federal report authors “cherry picked” data. Morrell said the study listed an average of 315 illnesses a year “from all dairy products for which the pasteurization status was known.”

Of those, there was an average of 112 illnesses each year attributed to all raw dairy products and 203 associated with pasteurized dairy products,” she said of the study period ending in 2006.

The CDC’s data shows that there were significant outbreaks of food-borne illness linked to pasteurized dairy products the very next year, in 2007: 135 people became ill from pasteurized cheese contaminated with E.coli, and three people died from pasteurized milk contaminated with listeria,” the Price Foundation report said.

And shortly before the time frame for the study, there were 16,000 confirmed cases of salmonella traced to pasteurized milk from a single dairy, the foundation reported.

The foundation suggested that the time frame specifically was picked by government reporters to portray raw milk in a negative light.

CDC safety

The CDC says: “Milk can be a very efficient home for bacteria and other germs. When milk is pasteurized, some bacteria remain in it, but the disease-causing ones are killed. Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to a high enough temperature for a long enough time to kill disease-causing germs. Harmful germs usually don’t change the look, taste or smell of milk, so only when milk has been pasteurized,” the CDC says, can consumers “be confident that these germs are not present. To ensure that milk is safe, processors rapidly cool it after pasteurization, practice sanitary handling, and store milk in clean, closed containers at 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below.”

The CDC also warns that consumers can’t tell if raw milk is safe to drink by looking, smelling or tasting. Even under ideal conditions of cleanliness, collecting milk introduces some bacteria. Unless the milk is pasteurized, the CDC says, bacteria can multiply and cause illness.

The process, invented by biologist Louis Pasteur in 1864, can prevent people from contracting many kinds of the food-borne illnesses like salmonella or E. coli.

This study shows an association between state laws and the number of outbreaks and illnesses from raw milk products,” said Robert Tauxe, M.D., M.P.H., deputy director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases (DFWED). “Restricting the sale of raw milk products is likely to reduce the number of outbreaks and can help keep people healthier. The states that allow sale of raw milk will probably continue to see outbreaks in the future.”

The study also found that the raw milk product outbreaks led to much more severe illnesses, and disproportionately affected people younger than 20. In the raw milk outbreaks with known age breakdowns, 60 percent of patients were younger than age 20, compared to 23 percent in outbreaks from pasteurized products. Children, the CDC says, are more likely than adults to get seriously ill from the bacteria in raw milk.

While some people think that raw milk has more health benefits than pasteurized milk, this study shows that raw milk has great risks, especially for children, who experience more severe illnesses if they get sick,” said study co-author Barbara Mahon, M.D., M.P.H., deputy chief of CDC’s DFWED Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch. “Parents who have lived through the experience of watching their child fight for their life after drinking raw milk now say that it’s just not worth the risk.”

Among other CDC findings:

• Thirteen percent of patients in raw milk outbreaks were hospitalized compared to 1 percent in pasteurized milk outbreaks. This may be because raw milk outbreaks were all caused by bacteria, such as E. coli O157, which tend to produce more severe illnesses, according to the study.

• Pasteurized milk and cheese outbreaks were often caused by relatively mild infections like norovirus and Staphylococcus aureus.

Raw milk or die

About 30 states allow some form of raw milk production or sales. Wisconsin advocates for raw milk, though they had a bill passed to legalize sales three years ago. A raw milk bill passed 25-8 in the Senate and 60-35 in the Assembly. Not so fast, a veto by the governor overturned that decision and a new bill (S.B. 108) is in the Assembly once again.

The Wisconsin Raw Milk Association makes the following claim: “Actually, people had been drinking raw milk, straight from their own cows, sheep and goats, for millennia without getting sick. Milk has long been one of the most nutritionally complete foods in the human diet, and has been an important part of nearly every culture’s cuisine. If it had always made people sick, we would have stopped drinking it long ago. Raw milk is, quite simply, milk that comes straight from the cow without being pasteurized. But, they pasteurize milk for a reason, right? So, how could drinking unpasteurized milk be safe?

The citizens group says Wisconsin farm fresh milk is intentionally produced for direct human consumption.

• Wisconsin Farm Fresh Milk comes from healthy animals on grass-based Wisconsin farms where all forage and feed is free of GMOs, herbicides and pesticides. Animals are raised in a clean and natural environment, without the use of artificial hormones or antibiotics.

• Wisconsin Farm Fresh Milk is not subject to any heating, processing, micro-filtration, irradiation, UV light treatments, standardizations, supplementation or high-pressure procedures.

• Wisconsin Farm Fresh Milk contains 100 percent of the enzymes, proteins, fats and biologic elements found in the milk’s raw, unprocessed state.

The dirty theory

Taking the more rebellious side is Mike Adams, a natural health author. In 2010, Adams co-founded NaturalNews.TV, a natural health video sharing site.

Adams voiced his displeasure with the CDC news splash in a recent column for Natural News.

This is all part of their anti-American agenda to crush food freedom and criminalize fundamental farming practices upon which this very nation was founded,” Adams said of the CDC study. “But what the CDC won’t dare reveal to the public is the far more horrifying truth: Pasteurized dairy is produced in the dirtiest milk factories imaginable, where blood, pus, E-coli and other truly dangerous pathogens are routinely bottled into milk containers and fed to consumers. …

That’s the whole point of pasteurization, you see: To kill everything that might be alive in their ultra-dirty milk. The real purpose of pasteurization is not to simply ‘make milk safe’ as is claimed by the CDC, but rather to allow the dairy industry to operate dirty.

Thanks to pasteurization, conventional (non-organic, non-raw) dairy operators have no need to thoroughly wash their milking machines, no need to sterilize any milk containers, no need to wash their hands, and no need to maintain a clean milking environment whatsoever. It’s just total filth with festering diseased animals dying on the floor and being physically abused by the corporate dairy operators. That’s the whole point of the CDC going after raw dairy: To destroy the raw dairy industry and force everyone to drink dirty, contaminated pasteurized milk that’s extracted from tortured cows.”

Adams also serves as the executive director of the Consumer Wellness Center, a non-profit consumer protection group.

Far cry from over

Although it would hardly appease the CDC and the FDA, many feel the safety problem of raw milk production can be solved by testing cows and keeping conditions sanitary. Don’t look for a compromise; this is a duel to the finish. A bet against Big Government could be considered foolish.

As for any business reason for pasteurization, some groups say conventional farmers who pasteurize get less money than raw milk farmers who earn more for selling their milk.

As many as 16 conventional farms go out of business every day in the United States. The smaller, organic farmer is an endangered species.

Outside the United States, raw milk is better received. Raw milk vending machines in Europe are increasing in popularity.

Whether this is a fight for food safety or the personal right to choose, no panel of judges could find a clear winner anywhere, not even Harvard. Activists have awakened and have manned the front.

The fight could last another 100 years.

From the Feb. 29-March 6, 2012, issue

3 Comments

  1. Jackie

    February 29, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    This article tries to be unbiased, although more space was given to the side that supports raw milk.

    Unfortunately this is an issue that has many layers and it is hard to peel them all back to get to the bottom line. Supporters of raw milk will say anything to keep their hidden animal rights activism agenda in front of the public.

    Raw milk can be very dangerous; it doesn’t cure or help any ailments, to think so is foolish.

    Mr. Adams information is the wildest I’ve ever seen. He has some alternative agenda or ax to grind; it is hard to figure out. But I can tell you this; don’t believe much that he has to say on the topic, it is just not based on any science or facts.

    The sale of raw milk should be outlawed. Nobody is stopping you from drinking raw milk if you want to. Go buy a cow, goat, sheep, yak, camel or what ever and milk her yourself. Just don’t try to push the stuff on the general population.

  2. Mae Johnson

    July 22, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    Raw milk is an inherently dangerous product; anyone who thinks otherwise does not understand basic biology. The government HAS scientific data, backed up by years of research, Gayle. Raw milk “folks” do not have credible scientific data, which is why their claims have no merit. There is no great risk consuming mass produced food; but there is a huge risk in drinking raw milk. Just try telling the six children who have kidney failure caused by drinking raw milk that raw milk is safe. And “freedom of choice”? How about my freedom of choice to not pay for the medical bills and public health investigations from raw milk outbreaks?

  3. John

    December 25, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Selling any good on the open market is never “pushing it on the general public” as Jackie thinks. In a free market there is producer and consumer. Nobody puts a gun to the head of the consumer and says “you will buy this raw milk or else”. If people want to buy raw milk from farmers, they have the right to do so, and the farmers have a right to produce it. The big corporate farmers like the ones that pasteurize milk receive much in government subsidies and they have a strong lobby in congress. The only reason the CDC shuts down raw mi farmers is because of the big farming lobby in congress. The CDC and FDA don’t give a rat’s &$! about your health.

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