Raw milk falls into the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan quote category: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts."
At the Upper Midwest Dairy Industry Association meeting earlier this month here in Minnesota, it was reported that Campylobacter jejuni outbreaks have doubled over the last three or four years compared to outbreaks the decade previous to that. The reason: The increased consumption of raw milk, says Francisco Diez-Gonzalez, a professor of food science at the University of Minnesota. The national Centers for Disease Control have the data to back that up, he says.
Along with Campylobacter, raw milk is also among the main sources of contamination by Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes and even E. coli 0157:H7, says Diez.
Prior to pasteurization, outbreaks of food-borne illness were caused by dairy products nearly a fourth of the time, says the Mayo Clinic (also based here in Minnesota). Since pasteurization has been required, dairy products account for just 1% of food borne illness. But here’s the kicker: Of the recent dairy outbreaks, raw milk accounts for 70% of the illness.
Despite this indisputable evidence that raw milk increases health risks, proponents of raw milk continue to push for more liberalized sales. Food Safety News reports that 40 separate bills were introduced in 23 states during the current legislative sessions to change raw milk rules. Thankfully, few, if any, actually passed.
The debate is even playing out at dairy co-op annual meetings. At the Associated Milk Producer, Inc. annual meeting last month, AMPI’s resolutions committee tried to delete a raw milk resolution. The resolution is stoutly opposed to raw milk sales, but it includes a line that implies current laws should only be changed "when appropriate."
One delegate stood up and passionately argued to keep the resolution on the books. Current Minnesota law allows farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers for their own use. Doing away with the law, argued the delegate, would interfere with his "freedom to operate." No one challenged this dubious logic, and the motion to delete failed on both voice and ballot votes.
There’s a tremendous economic incentive to sell raw milk directly to consumers, who are willing to pay $5 or more per gallon. That can easily translate to $50/cwt. But "freedom to operate," under any rational definition of the phrase, does not allow farmers to sell products that can sicken and even kill their customers or tarnish the hard-won reputation of dairy products as safe, wholesome, nutritious food.
When it comes to our babies, our kids and our elderly, "buyer beware" is not a label we should be attaching to any food, let alone any dairy product. Remember, 70% of recent dairy illness outbreaks come from raw milk, though they account for only a tiny fraction of total dairy sales.
Dairy products are already under siege from vegans and anti-animal activists. Dairy farmers shouldn’t help them by advocating—and selling—raw milk.