The continued bias against raw milk by the FDA and CDC

The FDA and CDC provided no facts to back up claims of widespread illness from raw milk in a recent press release, “FDA and CDC Remind Consumers of the Dangers of Drinking Raw Milk.”

The joint FDA /CDC reminder claims that between 1998 and 2005, raw milk was implicated in 45 outbreaks, 1007 cases, 104 hospitalizations and 2 deaths. Yet the reference cited, the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for the week of March 2, 2006 (MMWR for 03-02-07), provides no such information; nor is any such information found in any other FDA or CDC document. Numerous requests to the FDA for clarification have not been answered.

Government Bias

“This is an excellent example of government bias against raw milk,” says Sally Fallon, President of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a non-profit nutrition education foundation that promotes the consumption of clean raw milk from healthy grass-fed cows. “FDA and CDC have provided not a single reference to support the claim of widespread illness from raw milk during the seven-year period.”

“Reports of individuals becoming ill after drinking raw milk do exist, although none were cited in the recent CDC and FDA Reminder. But even these reports do not usually provide proof that raw milk caused illness. When someone who drinks raw milk becomes ill, these agencies immediately report an ‘association’ with raw milk, ignoring other vectors of disease and subsequent tests showing the milk to be clean,” reports Fallon. “FDA and CDC definitely have a double standard when it comes to raw milk.”

Fallon cites the example of a May 1983 outbreak of illness from Campylobacter in Pennsylvania, reported to be “associated” with raw milk in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Yet the report admits that cultures of the raw milk from the farm did not yield Campylobacter; members of the farm family routinely drank raw milk and none reported illness.

A more recent example is the March 2, 2007, recall and warning against “Tainted Raw Milk Sold by a York County Dairy,” also in Pennsylvania. Stump Acres Dairy was “linked” to two cases in a Salmonella outbreak. Although none of the dairy’s remaining 250 customers showed signs of illness, Stump Acres Dairy was ordered to suspend sales. Cultures subsequently taken from the dairy and the milk tested negative for Salmonella and the dairy has reopened.

The September 2006 E.coli spinach outbreak provides another example. Over the past eight years, Organic Pastures Dairy of Fresno, California has sold over 40 million servings of raw milk without one case of illness; during the same period the California Department of Food and Agriculture has issued at least 19 recalls of pasteurized milk products in California. Frequent testing by Organic Pastures, the state of California, and the veterinary departments of local universities has failed to detect even a single human pathogen in the milk.

Yet in September 2006, after four children who had consumed raw milk and also raw spinach or sushi became ill, state officials ordered the dairy to shut down. All Organic Pastures products were recalled. Officials performed over 2,000 tests of the entire dairy operation, including swabs taken from the 300 cows, the farm, the manure and the equipment, without finding a single pathogen. The raw dairy products are now back on store shelves, yet many state health officials continue to report that Organic Pasture’s raw milk caused illness due to E. coli.

Another often-cited outbreak involved listeriosis in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 2000-2001, afflicting 12 individuals, 10 of whom were pregnant women. The CDC report blames fresh Mexican cheese made from raw milk for the 5 stillbirths, 3 premature births and 2 infected newborns. Yet, some samples tested were negative and one individual who became sick did not eat the cheese. However, most of the group ate hotdogs. This illness occurred during a period when over 900,000 pounds of hotdogs were recalled from 10 southeastern states due to Listeria contamination discovered by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.

Dangers from other Foods

“While all dairy (pasteurized and raw) constitutes less than 1 percent of all reported food borne illnesses, the FDA along with the CDC, continue to misuse, manipulate, and suppress data to frighten the public. Their recent ‘reminder’ against drinking raw milk is no exception,” reports Ruth Ann Foster, a North Carolina volunteer chapter leader for the Foundation. “In the majority of cases it is only a coincidence that the individual(s) happened to consume raw milk. For many foodborne outbreaks associated with raw milk, there are frequently a large number of sick individuals who did not consume any raw milk. Still, health officials disregard this important fact and blame the milk. When the FDA, CDC, and state health officials target raw milk, they distract themselves from isolating the true source of illness. The risk of foodborne illness is far greater for many other foods.”

Between 1990 and 2004, a CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) report shows a much greater risk from consuming the following foods:

31,496 illnesses, 639 outbreaks from produce (38%)
16,280 illnesses, 541 outbreaks from poultry (20%)
13,220 illnesses, 467 outbreaks from beef (16%)
11,027 illnesses, 341 outbreaks from eggs (13%)
9,969 illnesses, 984 outbreaks from seafood (12%)

A Bigger Picture

According to Robert Tauxe, CDC Chief of the Foodborne and Diarrhreal Diseases Branch, foodborne pathogens such as Campylobacter, E. Coli O157:H7, Y. enterocolitica, Cryptosporidium, and Listeria, have only emerged with in the past twenty-five years. In contrast, the five pathogens which plagued the early decades of the 1900’s when pasteurization was implemented, Brucella, Clostridium botulinum, Salmonella typhi, Trichinella, and V. cholerae, all combined account for only 0.01% of foodborne illnesses today. Most of those are associated with foreign travel.

Tauxe reports that 13 recently emerged pathogens are responsible for a majority of the 76 million cases of foodborne illness, 323,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths annually. It is estimated that 1 in 4 Americans experiences a foodborne illness each year. The following are some major pathogens and their cases per year:

Campylobacter 1,963,000
Salmonella 1,342,000
E.Coli O157:H7 92,000
Y.enterocolitica 87,000
Listeria 2,000

The majority of foodborne illness is caused by Norwalk-like viruses (noroviruses), which account for an estimated 9,200,000 cases per year. These viruses are resistant to both freezing and high temperatures. CDC currently does not conduct active surveillance to monitor outbreaks of gastroenteritis cause by noroviruses.

Overuse and misuse of antibiotics, crowded feedlots, low-quality and low-cost feed are common elements of industrial agriculture. New foodborne pathogens have emerged from this model and according to Robert Tauxe, more are expected. Campylobacter, Salmonella, enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (including O157:H7), and Listeria, are the most economically important pathogens, costing the U.S. over $7 billion annually. Globalization of the food supply has led to difficulty in the control of foodborne infections.

Dangers from Pasteurized Milk

PASTEURIZED milk has been the source of many widespread outbreaks. A total for some of the documented outbreaks due to PASTEURIZED milk over the past few decades is 239,884 cases and 620 deaths.

The nation’s largest recorded outbreak of Salmonella was due to PASTEURIZED milk contaminated with antibiotic-resistant Salmonella typhimurium. The outbreak, which occurred between June 1984 and April 1985 sickened over 200,000 and caused 18 deaths. Disturbingly, the CDC did not issue a specific Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for this outbreak; information must be gleaned from other reports published in the FDA Consumer and the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A 2004 outbreak in Pennsylvania and New Jersey involved multidrug-resistant Salmonella typhimurium infection from milk contaminated after pasteurization.

Despite numerous outbreaks due to pasteurized milk, neither the FDA nor the CDC has ever issued a warning against consuming pasteurized milk. Pasteurization is not a guarantee; pasteurized milk is not sterile. The FDA permits the presence of up to 20,000 bacteria /ml and 10 E.coli/ml in milk after the pasteurization process has been completed.

Because pasteurization destroys probiotics (good bacteria), any harmful bacteria present in the milk after pasteurization can and will flourish. On the other hand, published research shows that good bacteria and many other components in raw milk actually destroy pathogens added to the milk.

Superior Nutrition

The FDA/CDC reminder claims that “numerous studies” show no nutritional difference between raw and pasteurized milk. The reference provided for these “numerous studies” is a single 1984 article, “Unpasteurized milk: a health fetish,” by Dr. ME Potter, in which Potter creatively misinterprets a 1946 study Dr. Francis Pottenger conducted for a dental journal. Dr. Francis Pottenger’s studies on cats showed that feeding of pasteurized milk to cats resulted in widespread disease leading to infertility and early death by the third generation; cats fed raw milk remained disease-free and healthy throughout the length of the experiment, which lasted for several generations.

The FDA/CDC “reminder” provides no additional references on the comparative nutritional benefits of raw and pasteurized milk. Requests to the FDA for additional references have not been answered.

A 2006 study published the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reported that childhood consumption of unpasteurized milk resulted in large reductions in the incidence of asthma, eczema and hay fever. Blood tests revealed that drinking raw milk cuts levels of histamine, a chemical produced by the cells in response to an allergen, by more than 50 percent. This study corroborates numerous reports of asthma in children–a life-threatening condition that is increasing in frequency–clearing up after the introduction of raw milk into the diet.

By contrast, several studies have linked asthma and allergies with the consumption of pasteurized milk. Increasing intolerance to processed milk explains the relentless decline in processed milk consumption in the US, at 1 percent per year. “Fewer and fewer people can tolerate commercial milk,” states Fallon. “Pasteurization distorts the delicate protein compounds in milk. The body recognizes these warped components as foreign and mounts an energy-sapping immune response.”

Animal and human studies carried out in the early part of the century showed that raw milk was superior to pasteurized in building strong bones and teeth, promoting optimal growth and development, and protecting against disease.

The Importance of Probiotics

Many scientists are now wondering we are becoming immunosuppressed by sterile food. Research has demonstrated that a gut lined with healthy bacteria, called probiotics, can resist pathogens through a process known as competitive exclusion. As gastrointestinal bacteria compete for available nutrients, a healthy supply of probiotics will prevent pathogenic bacteria from thriving. Studies have shown that some probiotics will emit an antimicrobial compound to eliminate competitive bacteria and that other probiotics will produce a traditional antibiotic toxic enough to kill E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella.

Recent studies on raw milk have revealed numerous anti-microbial and immune stimulating factors that program the growing child for life against infection and allergies. These components are destroyed by pasteurization. Raw milk also contains good bacteria that populate the gut and keep pathogens at bay. “Scientists are only beginning to appreciate the role of beneficial bacteria in our food and in our intestinal tracts,” says Fallon. “The anti-microbial paradigm of medicine has been completely discredited; laws mandating pasteurization are based on 40-year-old science.”

Germ phobia has led to a reduction in probiotics found in foods like clean raw milk from grass-fed cows. Many consumers have realized the health benefits of raw milk, which is driving a trend.

Rapidly Growing Market

Demand for raw milk is growing rapidly–by some estimates at 40 percent per year. Raw milk is available in retail establishments in eight states and at the farm gate in many more. In states where raw milk sales are illegal, consumers are obtaining raw milk through cow share and herd share programs. A recent court decision validated the legality of cow share agreements in the state of Ohio.

As consumers grow increasingly concerned about food quality and safety, the demand for local foods has grown rapidly. Multi-state outbreaks (such as last fall’s E. coli tainted spinach and the more recent Salmonella outbreak due to peanut butter) demonstrate the problems of a centralized food supply. The FDA has recently reported that it may never know the source of the E. coli that contaminated the spinach and warns it will happen again. If such a problem should arise from a local food, such as raw milk, the source of illness could be more easily identified and contained.

Many farmers are transitioning to direct sales of raw milk because of the increased income such sales provide. Farmers selling their milk to dairy companies in the conventional system receive about $1 per gallon for their product–about the same price farmers received during World War II. Farmers selling raw milk receive between $4 and $13 per gallon.

“Raw milk is where organics was twenty years ago,” says Fallon. “Considered a fringe movement, raw milk is poised to enter the mainstream. In another twenty years, raw milk will be the milk of choice for most Americans.”

The Weston A. Price Foundation
Washington, DC

Contact: Sally Fallon Morell, President
(202) 363-4394

Press release originally published at The Weston A. Price Foundation


Health and Safety Benefits of Raw Milk:
Comments on “Unpasteurized milk: a health fetish”:

Unpasteurized milk prevents allergies and asthma:

Campylobacter 1983 – NO pathogen in the milk! 57 illnesses:

Pasteurized Milk Ordinance: (PMO)

2004 Multi-Drug Resistant Outbreak:

CDC Norovirus Fact Sheet:

Foodborne pathogens: Tauxe RV. Emerging Foodborne Pathogens. International Journal of Food Microbiology 78(2002) 31-41;Calloway TR and others. Preslaughter intervention strategies to reduce food-borne pathogens in food animals. J Anim Sci 2003 81(E Suppl 2):E17-E23

Good bacteria and other components kill pathogens in raw milk: Doyle, et al. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 1982;44(5):1154-58; Diker KS. Mikrobiyol Bul 1987 Jul;21(3):200-5; Life Science 2000 66(25):2433-9; Indian Journal of Experimental Biology 1998;36:808-11; Hygiene (London) 1985 Feb;94(1):31-44.

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1 comment:

  1. The FDA has a bad habit of sending out "warnings" about food products and supplements and NEVER following up with the notices, even when new information contradicts their earlier concerns. A prime example was their warning to consumers in 2002 about Kava-which was thought to be the cause of severe liver damage in some individuals. Later information came out that the people who developed liver disease were heavy drinkers and often drank alcohol along with alcohol. Also one kava supplier was found to be using the whole plant rather than just the roots-which can be toxic.

    Here's an excellent article that provides up to date information that the FDA is "too busy" to update.