We’re Saying No and Yes to Raw Milk

This is a follow up to the post, To Raw Milk or Not to Raw Milk.

It was a pretty clear decision for us about whether or not we would sell raw milk: No. However, we say yes to if you want to consume raw milk in general. That may seem like we are talking out of both sides of our mouths, but after my first post, I’ve learned that it’s a topic that many others feel conflicted about as well.

Thanks to the folks who joined in the conversation on my Facebook page. Lots of great information was shared while others raised questions about raw milk and wondered what it was all about. I thought I would explain the issue to the best of my knowledge here, share why we have chosen to stay out of the raw milk market and also share some great comments friends made about my previous post.

Milking Liesel at the fair.

Milking Liesel at the fair.

Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized or treated with UHT (Ultra High Temperatures) to eradicate potential harmful bacteria while preserving most of the goodness of milk. Raw milk advocates will tell you that this process also kills off beneficial bacteria, enzymes and other pathogens that help boost immune systems, ward off allergies and even cure asthma. The trouble is the harmful bacteria pasteurization kills off can be REALLY harmful and even in the cleanest of set-ups all it takes is one outbreak to cause serious damage.

Lots of people who grew up living on farms drank raw milk and still do today. I myself got to drink some from time to time even though we didn’t live on a farm… and no, I didn’t get sick. Most swear by it – they grew up on it and were healthier for it. These folks however, tend to understand the risks associated with Raw Milk itself but also with selling the stuff. A dairy farmer friend summed it up well on my last post, “All it takes is one person to say the milk made them sick and you lose everything you’ve worked so hard for.”

Put another way, a friend from business school commented, “The EV (expected value) of selling raw milk is highly negative due to the potential liability…even if they signed a waiver.”

Another friend who is a dairy farmer-turned vet student shared, “I grew up on raw milk but it came from my farm. My body was able to produce antibodies to the bacteria that was found in it because it was introduced to it from a very early age and they were endogenous to my farm and my environment. I may have gotten very sick had I gone to another farm and drank their raw milk. But I may have been fine. Food borne illnesses are very hit or miss. My biggest fear is that the consumers do not have enough education on how to properly handle raw milk and will make themselves sick by improper handling and it will come back to hurt the farmer and the dairy industry as a whole. It is a personal choice and one that if we can build in safeguards to the farmer that would require proof that they were negligent before lawsuits could be filed than I have no problem. But I have to tell you as a veterinary student and studying many bacterial and viral diseases that can pass thru to humans thru raw milk–I would not drink even my own anymore.”

And he’s right – those harmful bacteria and viral diseases are nasty stuff. To share an example, recently in the news – The Family Cow in Pennsylvania, a raw milk seller, recently had its third outbreak since January 2012. This time it was Campylobacter. Campylobacter is a found in cow manure and infection symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, fever and abdominal pains that can last anywhere from two to ten days after consumption. Listeria, e-coli and salmonella are a few of the other more “popular” foodborne bacteria related to raw milk among others.

Not only would we risk a potential lawsuit, something we don’t have enough resources to suffer particularly as we are really still starting out, but there isn’t enough insurance out there to indemnify the guilt I would feel were someone to get sick from raw milk we sold them.

Please don’t get me wrong, millions of people drink and sell raw milk every day and nothing bad happens. And quite frankly, as another commenter implied, I’m happy they are drinking milk in some way! I certainly do not want to play into any Fear Industry marketing (I feel there’s enough of it out there). So, to be sure, there are not many outbreaks reported. In 2013 through May, according to the Centers for Disease Control, there have been four outbreaks of campylobacter and salmonella related to raw milk and cheese consumption including 69 illnesses and 15 hospitalizations in the U.S., (this does not include the recent Family Cow outbreak).

On the other hand, there have been zero outbreaks in pasteurized milk. If you’re interested in learning more specifics about the risks of drinking raw milk, I found a great resource for raw milk risk facts on this website: realrawmilkfacts.com. To be fair, here’s a pro-raw milk website: realmilk.com, however, I don’t agree with its characterization as an “extremely” low-risk food. It classifies this statement using the term “when handled properly” which I think is an understatement. A recent recall for potential botulism-causing bacteria contamination in milk powder sold to Chinese companies by Fonterra, the world’s largest milk processor based in New Zealand, shows that mistakes or just plain bad luck can happen to anyone. (By the way, this recall occurred before any illnesses have been reported as of this time.)

On a personal note, I’ll continue to feed my kids pasteurized milk. It truly is a nutrition powerhouse with lots of good calories, essential nutrients, protein and other nutritional benefits that are still being realized. And as far as exposure to pathogens and other bacteria goes, I think they’ll eat enough farm dirt in their childhood to build up an arsenal of immunity if they haven’t already.

Any other thoughts or questions about this subject?

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12 Comments

Filed under Dairy Industry, Family, Farm life, Milk

12 responses to “We’re Saying No and Yes to Raw Milk

  1. Chris

    The Family Cow has not had a recent outbreak. Don’t misconstrue the situation to make it seem like something it’s not.

  2. Chris

    Oh, and it’s also a lie that there have been zero outbreaks in pasteurized milk. You really don’t hide your bias well.

  3. Hi Chris – Thanks for taking the time leave a comment. I will admit I was a little biased at first having read about some of the foodborne illness outbreaks in the past. But, I tried to open my mind – some of my really good friends that I admire and respect sell raw milk, have been selling it for a long time and have never had an issue. Besides, the going raw milk price is somewhere around 3.5 times conventional. Tough to ignore that!

    Here are specific links for the stats I quoted.

    Here’s a direct link to a news release about the Family Cow outbreak from July 29th: http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/08/third-campylobacter-outbreak-from-family-cow-dairy-sickens-2/#.UhUWGz_hcuE
    And here’s a link to the CDC info reported indicated no outbreak from pasteurized dairy products through May of 2013: http://www.realrawmilkfacts.com/raw-milk-news/story/updated-raw-milk-outbreak-tables/

    • Christy

      I have to agree with Chris. In the article you cited it states two people got sick. I don’t think that two people would count as an outbreak. Further, campy can also be gotten from chicken and other sources. There’s no direct link that these people got sick from raw milk. Third party testing also cleared this dairy stating that there was no bacteria found. Instead of reading just biased articles, do further research.
      For the record, my family drives over an hour one way so that we may get raw milk.

    • Christy

      Your link that you listed stating “Here’s a link to the CDC info reported indicated no outbreak from pasteurized dairy products through May of 2013” proves your statement completely false. The information found through the link you posted clearly states:
      “Outbreaks from Foodborne Pathogens in Milk and Cheeses Sold as Pasteurized, United States, 1998-present

      • 29 total outbreaks
      o 9 fluid milk
      o 19 cheese: 16 non-Mexican style; 3 Mexican style queso fresco
      o 1 powdered milk

      • 2,824 total illnesses, 8 deaths
      o 2,200 fluid milk-related illnesses (3 deaths)
      o 588 cheese-related illnesses: 565 non-Mexican style (4 deaths), 23 Mexican style queso fresco (1 death)
      o 36 powdered milk-related illnesses”

      If you compare the above with the raw milk statements on that site, yes, there were more “outbreaks” from raw milk products, but far more illnesses and even deaths from pasteurized milk. If you actually download the tables linked on that site, you will see that at least one of the pasteurized outbreaks was from milk served in a school cafeteria, with 116 ill and 4 hospitalized.

      Raw milk vs. pasteurized milk should be a choice. If a family chooses raw milk, it is up to them to make sure that it comes from a dairy that practices sanitary conditions. However, families who choose pasteurized milk can not inspect the dairies their milk comes from. What is important, however, is that misinformation isn’t given.

      For more links to some pasteurized milk outbreaks:
      http://www.marlerblog.com/legal-cases/4-people-dead-after-drinking-listeria-laden-pasteurized-milk-from-massachusetts/#.UheOFCbD_IU

      http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/10/5/pdfs/03-0484.pdf/

      http://outbreakdatabase.com/details/california-state-prisons-spoiled-milk-2006/

      • Christy – Thanks again for taking the time to get this information out. A friend of mine who sells raw milk pointed out to me that I probably could have used a few more words in my sentence. What I meant to say was “On the other hand, during the same time, there have been zero outbreaks in pasteurized milk.” I by no means meant to imply that there was never any outbreak in pasteurized milk. That’s why I shared the recent news about contamination in pasteurized product from one of the largest producers of milk in the world.

        Again, I appreciate your perspective, but this, in the end, is my family’s decision and what we will do.

  4. Thanks for your input. As a small farmer myself I can understand why farmers might not want to take on the liability issues to sell raw milk. I wish our health departments would provide more education on raw milk, instead of just making blanket statements not to drink it. I found David Gumpert’s book pretty informative if you want to dig deeper into the cases surrounding raw milk. http://www.amazon.com/Life-Liberty-Pursuit-Food-Rights/dp/1603584048

  5. KristyAspire

    Wow another article written with no references to facts. There have been plenty of outbreaks in pasteurized products.

  6. the food safety news website and the real raw milk facts website are both run by the same anti raw milk attorney and they are highly biased and are not reliable sources if you are looking for the truth. The primary goal of those websites is to drum up business from people who want to sue raw milk farmers, and so they distort the facts and use hype to scare people.

    When I went to find the facts, I read the data directly from the CDC website. It is in a spreadsheet format, and there are multiple outbreaks over the years from pasteurized dairy. Even though the CDC says that raw milk is dangerous, they are highly influenced by the commercial dairy industry and apparently do not read the data published on their own website. Not only are there a lot of outbreaks from pasteurized milk products, there are more deaths from pasteurized milk products than raw dairy (raw dairy had none). And the CDC data counts things made from raw milk, such as cheese, that have been removed from the farm and handled and processed in another location as ‘raw milk’ which distorts the findings in their studies, while pasteurized milk products are counted separately, and there are A LOT of outbreaks from processed dairy products compared to the raw milk category, even with counting raw cheeses and such.

  7. Greg

    I produce my own raw milk and I found your post disappointing to say the least. Biased and uninformed. First off, have you even heard of Pottenger’s Cats? Pasteurized is NOT wholesome and health; anything but: http://nutritionreallyworks.net/Pottengers-cats.html

    And just in case you want to learn a little more about the benefits and actual hazards of raw milk, here’s what I consider the gold standard for a raw milk post: http://chriskresser.com/raw-milk-reality-is-raw-milk-dangerous

    So good luck with your pasteurized milk. I wish you and your family luck. You’re going to need it.

  8. Thanks again all for taking the time to comment. Aren’t we lucky that we even have these types of choices to consider. My post was really about our perspective and our own personal decision with respect to selling raw milk, and incidentally what we choose to feed our kids.

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