Nutrition-wise blog

Raw milk debate heats up

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. April 23, 2010

The question of whether to ease restrictions on the sale of raw milk, also known as unpasteurized milk, has stirred up considerable debate.

In 1987 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began requiring that milk be pasteurized to kill bacteria. Raw milk contains numerous pathogens, such as salmonella and E. coli 0157:H7, that cause significant food-borne illness and can lead to hospitalization, kidney failure and even death.

Raw milk proponents say the requirement is unfair and point out that farmers are allowed to sell raw meat and raw vegetables — the two biggest sources of food-borne illness. They argue that raw milk shouldn't be treated differently.

Fans of raw milk assert that it tastes sweeter and fresher. They also claim that it fights allergies, digestive problems, eczema, autism, arthritis and learning disabilities, and boosts immunity — properties that they say are removed by pasteurization. The FDA and other public health officials, however, point out that these claims aren't supported by research.

Proponents of pasteurization remind us that prior to pasteurization, raw milk accounted for up to 25 percent of outbreaks of food- and water-borne illness. Now dairy products account for only about 1 percent of outbreaks — 70 percent of those are attributed to raw milk or raw milk cheeses.

Where do you stand on this question? Do you see it as an issue of big government versus the rights of individual producers and consumers? Are you concerned that in this case freedom of choice comes with risk of serious illness?

- Jennifer

April 23, 2010