**This post has been entered in Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist!**
It’s occurred to me recently as I’ve had conversations with different people that many are confused about what is the “right” answer in any given area. I can’t tell you specifically what the “right” answer is for you, because peoples’ needs and situations vary so widely. What it has made me realize, though, is that the information out there is so conflicting, and people just aren’t sure how to evaluate it!
That’s a problem.
People want to do what is best, and what is right for them. But when they keep seeing such conflicting information, they just want to give up. It’s too time consuming and confusing to keep looking for answers when there’s no consensus. That’s sad!
It’s also, unfortunately, true that many of the things I promote here are considered non-mainstream and there are all kinds of campaigns out there against them (raw milk, delayed/skipped vaccines, natural medicine, etc.). A lot of people who are just starting to look into these things may have serious reservations and feel very uncomfortable about making these choices, even if they really feel they should, because of the types of propaganda out there.
I’m going to help you out over the next several weeks. I’m starting a new series called “Don’t Believe the Propaganda,” which will look at a variety of different issues in the health and wellness arena. I’ll be showing you the science that’s out there, as well as the types of statements that are made by “official” sources — and what questions you need to ask about those statements before believing them. I’ll show you the tricks they use to cause doubt in your minds.
This series isn’t intended to convince you that any particular decision on any of these issues is right for you. That is up to you. It is only intended to help you see through some of the confusing language that is out there so you can better sort through it and identify the truth for yourself.
Raw Milk is Dangerous?
To hear the mainstream media tell it, raw milk is one of the most dangerous foods out there, and you shouldn’t have a right to access it, ever. Setting aside that food choice should be your right, not the government’s job to dictate, there’s a lot of misinformation and propaganda flying around out there.
According to the FDA, just 800 people have become sick from raw milk…since 1998. That’s about 67 people per year, and there were no deaths. Far more people die in car accidents (around 40,000 per year). More people die by being struck by lightning (about 77 per year)…. And those are deaths, whereas with raw milk we are only looking at illness. Over 11,000 people per year are sickened by pasteurized milk. Just to put it into perspective for you.
Even then, let’s ask: how many of these illnesses were definitively tied to raw milk, and how many were suspected? Were the people tested to confirm what bacteria was causing their symptoms? Was the milk itself tested?
There are over 3 million people in the U.S. who drink raw milk on a regular basis…about 1% of people (most estimates say 1 – 3% but because a lot of raw milk consumption is underground, true numbers aren’t really known). Yet we don’t see people getting sick at high rates, and they’re not dying. About 0.0002% of people who drink raw milk will become sick from it (assuming a rate of 1%). About 0.0004% of people who drink pasteurized milk will become sick from it…or, twice as many.
Let’s look at some quotes from the FDA’s official site, and ask some questions about them:
“This raw, unpasteurized milk can carry dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, which are responsible for causing numerous foodborne illnesses.”
- Raw milk can contain these bacteria…but how likely is it? How many raw dairies have been tested and their milk was found to contain these?
- Raw milk only contains these bacteria if it becomes contaminated, they are not naturally present. How does this contamination occur? Do raw dairies take steps to prevent this contamination? What are they? How successful are these measures? Has the FDA tested the milk from raw dairies on a regular basis to know?
- Do these bacteria occur in other foods? Have they caused outbreaks because of those foods becoming contaminated? If so, what is the percentage of people sickened/killed by those outbreaks vs. raw milk contamination?
As you see, it’s not so cut-and-dried!
“While most healthy people will recover from an illness caused by harmful bacteria in raw milk – or in foods made with raw milk – within a short period of time, some can develop symptoms that are chronic, severe, or even life-threatening.”
- Out of the 800 cases in the last 12 years, how many have died? (None)
- How many have developed chronic symptoms? And how many of these were proven to be linked to raw milk?
“First developed by Louis Pasteur in 1864, pasteurization kills harmful organisms responsible for such diseases as listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and brucellosis.”
- Was pasteurization invented to be used on milk? (No, it was invented for use in distilleries)
- Are we concerned about any of these illnesses being in milk today? If yes, why? Is there a way besides pasteurization to prevent these organisms from being in milk?
- How does the modern pasteurization process compare to the process invented in 1864?
- Is pasteurization fool proof? Can any organisms or diseases survive the process? If so, are they potentially harmful? How often would this occur? How often has it occurred (illness from pasteurized milk) in the last 10 years?
“Research shows no meaningful difference in the nutritional values of pasteurized and unpasteurized milk.”
- Where is the citation/study proving this is true?
- What does “meaningful” really mean in this case? (Likely, it means that the levels of macronutrients are roughly the same)
- Does pasteurization change the bioavailability of nutrients — the ability of the body to absorb them? (This is more important than the actual levels)
- Are there any components beyond ‘nutritional values’ stated on the label that are present in raw milk and not pasteurized? If yes, what are they? What role do they play in human health, if any?
- Are these ‘nutritional values’ being evaluated on milk that was from equal sources before any sort of treatment? i.e. grass-fed vs. grass-fed? Or was it evaluated on standard CAFO milk vs. grass-fed raw? How does the cow’s feed affected nutritional values, if any? And does pasteurization have any impact on the nutritional values of milk from cows fed the same diet?
“Pasteurization DOES save lives”
- If no one has died from raw milk in the last 10+ years…how do we assess that pasteurization actually had any impact on ‘saving lives?’
As you can see, these quotes from the FDA simply are not as straight forward as they seem. There are a lot of questions that one must ask before accepting these statements as truth.
Then there’s the issue of how some might respond to some of the questions above. It’s important to consider that and have an answer.
- “What if your family was the one who got sick or died?” — Death or serious illness from contaminated milk is, first of all, highly unlikely. Second, there are much, much greater risks that we take everyday (such as getting in a car), or even drinking pasteurized milk! Anything we do in life is a calculated risk, and this isn’t even a terribly great risk.
- “If we didn’t pasteurize milk, people would die.” — Prove it. People aren’t dying from raw milk now. The only way that they would is if milk was being produced by unhealthy animals in unclean conditions, and this milk was sold raw. Any dairy who did this would be quickly shut down and even sooner avoided by consumers. Besides, people are dying from pasteurized milk…so clearly that’s not a perfect solution!
- “You don’t have the right to feed that to your children and risk their health.” — Last time I checked, parents decide what to do with their children, barring abuse/neglect situations. That means they could decide to feed their child McDonald’s everyday if they wanted to. Seeing as that’s a much greater and more pervasive health risk than raw milk, worry about that instead.
There are a lot of other questions. But from all this information here, it’s pretty clear that at the least, raw milk isn’t the danger they’d have us believe it is. This means that regardless of whether or not it really has amazing health benefits (another topic entirely), we should have the freedom to choose to drink it if we want to.
What do you think? Do you choose to drink raw milk? Why or why not?