Here is a quote from the recent article, "Amish farms to hippie co-ops fight FDA’s inquiry over raw milk"
“We know there is a real risk with raw milk,” David Theno, chief executive officer of Del Mar, California-based Gray Dog Partners Inc., a food-safety consultant. “Is it okay to feed your kid vodka? It’s less risky than giving them raw milk.”
Seriously? Could you cite the study that shows that vodka is safer for children than raw milk? That comment sounds like the last gasp of a desperate man. But if that doesn't make you feel like an irresponsible parent, how about this quote from the former Undersecretary for Food Safety, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Dr. Richard Raymond, published in Food Safety News --
But to buy this product and feed it to your children? Might as well lock them in your car on a 100 degree day while you stop by the casino to try and win the jackpot.
So, anyone who gives raw milk to their children is not only dumber than dirt, but is just plain cruel and hateful.
If Raymond had written his opinion piece for one of my college speech classes when I was teaching, he would not have received a good grade. He throws around lots of scary-sounding comments like, "nearly all milk-related outbreaks are from raw milk and cheese made from raw milk," but doesn't give us a source. He doesn't even offer any numbers comparing raw milk to pasteurized milk foodborne illness. His whole piece reads as if it were written by an advertising exec, rather than someone with any knowledge of food borne illness. These particular comment sounds quite damning:
Basically, if we eliminate raw milk, Raymond is claiming that we have just eradicated almost all dairy-related cases of food-borne illness, and . . .Now milk is responsible for less than 1 percent of foodborne outbreaks. But it could and should be less than 0.1 percent because nearly all milk-related outbreaks are from raw milk and cheese made from raw milk.
As I stated, the number of outbreaks linked to raw milk has been climbing recently. Between 1998 and 2008, the CDC identified 85 outbreaks from drinking raw milk. In 2010 alone, the number was over a dozen outbreaks.
How can you argue with that? Since Raymond did not offer up any sources, I was forced to search on my own. Since he seems to like the Center for Disease Control, that's where I began my search. Nowhere could I find verification of his numbers.
When looking at Trends in Foodborne Illness, I clicked on a link for "national goals" for reducing food-borne illness, which took me to the website for HealthyPeople.gov. And there, using statistics from the CDC, I learned that
786 reported outbreak-associated infections, on average, per year due to Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157, or Campylobacter, Listeria, or Salmonella species were associated with dairy products in 2005–07By saying that food-borne outbreaks in dairy products could be reduced from 1% to .1%, Raymond is saying that raw dairy accounts for 90 percent of food-borne outbreaks associated with dairy products, which does not even match the statistics from food safety lawyer Bill Marler, which claims that raw dairy accounts for 56% of food-borne illness outbreaks from dairy products. I find it interesting that the anti-raw-milk crusaders are always talking about "outbreaks" rather than number of people who become ill. One of the benefits to a local food system is that you rarely find yourself with an outbreak that makes more than a few people sick. On the other hand, when national corporations cause an outbreak, it is not unusual to have a hundred or more illnesses reported from multiple states.
In fact, according to Marler, there were 75 outbreaks associated with raw milk and cheese from 1973 to 2005 but only 47 associated with pasteurized milk and cheese during that same time. Sounds bad until you look at the total number of people affected. While 1,689 were sickened by raw dairy products, 19,950 were sickened by pasteurized dairy products, meaning that it is a far cry from the "safe" food that Raymond claims.
Raymond's one percent number does not pan out either. According to the same site, there were 200 annual infections associated with beef, 311 with fruits and nuts, 205 with leafy vegetables, and 258 with poultry. I don't even have to do the math to know that dairy represents a much bigger chunk of food-borne illness than one percent. Dairy makes more people sick than any other single food. Looking at the overall picture, dairy products are responsible for 45 percent of the food-borne infections. If Raymond was including allergic reactions to foods (which are counted as food-borne illness by the CDC), that might make the commercial dairy industry look far more perfect than it really is, but that would be comparing apples to oranges, which is why I only looked at food-borne infections.
Interestingly enough, there is no data broken out for raw milk. But why should there be? There is no data broken out for raw meat or nuts or leafy vegetables either. Everyone knows that if raw food is contaminated, it can make you sick, right? In April, eleven people were infected with E. coli O157:H7 bacteria from guacamole at a deli in Texas. In July, 15 people were infected with E. coli after consuming contaminated strawberries from Oregon. The list goes on and on. And if you have cooked or pasteurized food, it can become contaminated afterwards and still make you sick. Last week, an Indiana dairy recalled their cheese made with pasteurized milk because it was contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. In February 2010, five people were infected with Listeria monocytogenes after consuming cheese made with pasteurized milk. In January 2010, eight people were infected with Listeria after consuming hog head cheese, a type of luncheon meat, produced by a Louisiana company that had also recalled its meat for Listeria contamination in 2007. In 2008, 268 people in a New York restaurant became ill with campylobacter after eating raw and/or steamed clams. This is just a tiny sample of all the various foods that make people sick on a regular basis.
I could go on and on. It makes no sense that some people get so excited about raw milk when the fact is that any food can make you sick, and no one is trying to outlaw sales of raw meat, fish, vegetables, or nuts, although I did hear a little rumble about outlawing raw nuts a couple years ago.
What really fries my bacon about Raymond's argument is that he says he wants the choice to buy pasteurized meat, but says he is denied that choice. Really, Dr. Raymond, when did the government outlaw pasteurized meat? Hmm, I can't find any source that says it's been outlawed. I guess industry just doesn't want to spend the money on trying to keep you safe from undercooking or cross-contaminating their product. So, Dr. Raymond wants the choice to buy a product that industry doesn't want to give him, and he wants to make it illegal for parents to give their children raw milk to drink -- because in his mind, they're as bad as a parent who locks their child in a car on a 100-degree day to go into a casino and gamble!
On the other hand, many states make it illegal to sell raw milk, and it is also a federal crime to transport milk across state lines to sell it. It makes no sense that the government merely tries to educate consumers about the possibility of salmonella in raw eggs or E. coli in raw meat, yet they are doing their best to make raw milk illegal and even bringing in SWAT teams to confiscate raw milk from farms and buying clubs. When is the last time you heard of an armed raid on your favorite sushi bar? Are children not allowed to eat there? Is anyone talking about prosecuting parents for child abuse if they let their children have raw seafood?
Ever heard of vibrio vulnificus? It is an infection caused by eating contaminated raw shellfish, especially oysters, which causes vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, but can be fatal. While most forms of food-borne infection have stayed relatively stable or decreased in the past decade, vibrio has gone up by 115%, which the CDC attritributes to, "the lack of implementation of available control measures." And how does one minimize the risk of getting vibrio vulnificus? The CDC recommends thoroughly cooking all shellfish before eating --
Although oysters can be harvested legally only from waters free from fecal contamination, even legally harvested oysters can be contaminated with V. vulnificus because the bacterium is naturally present in marine environments. V. vulnificus does not alter the appearance, taste, or odor of oysters.
So, why can people buy raw shellfish (or an over-easy egg or steak tartare) in a restaurant but not raw milk? I flunked Mind Reading 101, so I don't know what the people at the FDA or CDC are thinking, but I do know that there are big lobbies on Capitol Hill for the commercial dairy industry, which knows its milk needs to be pasteurized because their cows are not living in grassy green pastures. And there are lobbies for every other sector of Big Ag. Big corporations also donate lots of money to legislators. And plenty of people at the FDA came from industry jobs and will likely go back to industry jobs. But there are no lobbyists for small farmers with a few cows. And those farmers don't donate big bucks to any politician. And if anyone with a dozen cows or goats ever applied for a job at the FDA or USDA, they'd be laughed right out of the room as being unqualified.
I have never told anyone that they "should" consume raw dairy products, and I don't think that pasteurization should be abandoned entirely -- but I believe it is everyone's choice to eat or drink whatever they want. And it appears that the government thinks everyone should be allowed to eat whatever they want -- as long as that food is produced by a big corporation or someone that's lobbying in Washington. They seem to feel as if they've done their job to protect us by simply informing us that undercooked eggs or raw meat can make us sick. But when it comes to raw milk, they want to make it illegal from multiple angles.
What really frustrates me as a taxpayer is that millions of dollars have been spent to try to shut down farms that sell raw milk, even when there was not one single case of illness attributed to that farm. Yet big factory farms can cause large outbreaks of food-borne illness, get fined over and over again for breaking a variety of laws, and still stay in business. Where would you rather get your food -- from a small farmer that is trying and succeeding in producing healthy products, or from a big corporation that keeps breaking the rules, paying fines, and going about business as usual?
This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade.