Broader Raw Milk Sales a Sour Idea, Physicians Say


For Immediate Release 
May 17, 2011


Contact: Pam Udall
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Brent Annear
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Is raw milk bad milk? Drinking raw, unpasteurized milk can make you sick, or even kill you, physicians say.

But Texans with permits could sell raw milk or raw milk products directly to consumers at their home or food markets or farmers markets, in a bill up for debate in the Texas House of Representatives’ Public Health Committee today. Doctors don’t like the idea.

Physicians oppose expanding the availability of unpasteurized milk and milk products,” says Kimberly Avila Edwards, MD, FAAP. “Pasteurization is one of the most important life-saving public health achievements.” The Texas Medical Association, Texas Pediatric Society, and Texas Academy of Family Physicians all oppose House Bill 75 by Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van), which would broaden the sales of raw milk. Physicians do not want to eliminate a person’s right to consume raw milk, but they oppose expanding raw milk sales. 

Physicians urge their patients, especially infants and children, to drink milk. However, in its unpasteurized (raw) form, milk contains bacteria. Before milk was routinely pasteurized in the United States, thousands of people got sick, and many died from the bacteria found in raw milk. Scientific study has shown raw milk can contain a pathogenic cocktail including Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Campylobacter, Listeria, or Mycobacterium bovis. Pasteurization removes these bad bugs acquired in the not-so-sterile environment in which some cows live.  

By the 1920s milk was routinely pasteurized in the United States, and by the 1950s, pasteurization — cooking out these bugs — was widespread. Reports say in1938 if you suffered from a foodborne or waterborne disease, unpasteurized milk was to blame one-quarter of the time. By 2001, less than 1 percent of disease outbreaks were linked to milk. After pasteurization, only milk’s nutrients remain. Doctors say science and monitoring by public health officials proves pasteurized milk is safe for you, while raw milk is not. 

Raw milk is the culprit in a new illness outbreak in North Texas. In the last five months, four people became so sick with gastrointestinal problems that they required medical care. Three children (including a newborn) and one adult with underlying medical conditions all got sick after consuming raw milk. A North Texas dairy farm was likely the raw milk source for at least three of the people. The newborn was breast-fed and got sick because her mother drank the contaminated raw milk. One patient had to be hospitalized for 15 days and spent nine additional days in a nursing facility fighting this infection. Later, tests proved raw milk from one farm contained a rare Salmonella species. 

Authorities suspended the farm’s permit to sell raw milk and milk products. More people could have been infected, since such gastrointestinal illnesses are often under-reported because many people with diarrhea do not undergo testing to determine the cause of their symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 36 such gastrointestinal illnesses are typically reported to health departments.

But despite the threat of illness, some people want to consume raw milk and foods made from it. As a result, some still get sick. In fact, during 1998-2005, 45 outbreaks of foodborne illness were reported to CDC in which unpasteurized milk or cheese suspected to have been made from unpasteurized milk was implicated. Two people died, and more than 100 had to be hospitalized. 

The numbers are clear: More illness occurs in states that allow raw milk sales. According to the CDC, from 1993-2006 twice as many people got sick from consuming raw milk in states that permit its sale than in states that do not. 

“There is no scientific evidence that tells us that the known risks of raw milk outweigh a potential benefit,” says Dr. Avila Edwards. “Pasteurization simply rids us of the potential risks, and we are left with a nutritionally complete food that is one of the most important components of our diet.”

TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 45,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 120 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.

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