Health Canada says raw milk more dangerous than cigarettes and alcohol

Here’s another in Darcy Wintonyk’s series for CTV B.C. on the politics of raw milk, this time titled “Do Consumers Need Protection from Raw Milk?”:

Those Californians must really be "playing Russian roulette with their health", judging by all these raw milk jugs for sale to just anybody who walks by a supermarket shelf. Photo from CTV.

“What’s more dangerous for your health: smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or drinking unpasteurized milk?

According to Health Canada, it’s drinking milk.

Canada is the only G8 country where the sale of raw milk is illegal. The country outlawed its sale in 1991. However, drinking raw milk is legal.

The debate over the legality of raw milk has recently surfaced because of two high-profile Canadian court battles.

Last week, Ontario farmer Michael Schmidt recently won his lengthy trial for the right to sell raw milk to customers at his dairy co-op, successfully arguing members are aware of the health risks. Chilliwack, B.C., farmer Alice Jongerden will soon fight a court injunction against her co-op in B.C. Supreme Court beginning February 2.

A question of risk

From a public health standpoint, milk is illegal because of its inherent risk of food borne illness, like E. coli, salmonella or Listeriosis. Canadian health authorities have chosen to make the pasteurization of milk mandatory because legalizing it would mean more people could drink it — and possibly become ill.

“When it comes to a staple food like milk, which is an essential source of nutrients to the vast majority of Canadians, there is a need to provide greater protection for consumers. In particular, milk is widely consumed by young children, who are at greater risk for complications from food borne illness,” a spokesperson for Health Canada said in an email to ctvbc.ca.

In the United States, where 29 states allow the sale of raw milk, scientists say the liquid is a serious health risk. Of 153 milk-related health outbreaks in the U.S. from 1990 to 2003, 50 were attributed to raw dairy – as were 1140 sicknesses.

“In the states where raw milk is legal, there are more outbreaks than those where it isn’t. Interpreting it, you could say it makes a case that it should be illegal,” Dr. John Carsley, a public health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, told ctvbc.ca.

For public health agencies, any potential health benefit of raw milk is overruled by the risk of sickness.

“Considering one-tenth of one per cent of milk is raw in the U.S., but 33 per cent of all milk sicknesses are due to raw milk, it’s pretty staggering,” Robert D. Ralyea, a food scientist at Cornell University, told ctvbc.ca from his New York lab.

But this risk protection for food products is not applied evenly under Canadian law.

There are other food products on store shelves that have proven risks of making you sick with E. coli, like raw chicken, shellfish or ground beef – all products with a much larger distribution system than raw milk. But meat and seafood are legal because the health risks are greatly decreased when the products are cooked thoroughly.

But what about non-food products that are legal in Canada but also have very real health risks — including tobacco and alcohol? Raw dairy advocates say it’s a double standard that has more to do with protecting the profits of big dairies in Canada than protecting the health of Canadians.

“There’s no problem purchasing cigarettes and alcohol and products that kill thousands of people every year. It’s ridiculous,” said Pete Kennedy, a legal advocate for raw dairy farmers in the U.S.

Mark McAfee, the owner and CEO of California’s largest raw dairy, says Canada’s has a “choke hold” on its dairy producers.

“This is a market control system that has a huge economic complement. It’s money, money, money and control,” he told ctvbc.ca from his Fresno, California, farm….”

Get the whole story here on CTV BC.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Health Canada says raw milk more dangerous than cigarettes and alcohol

  1. I see Organic Valley on the shelf. Ask them what they think about whole foods, raw milk, and grass-fed beef, or pastured poultry.

    The Milkmen USA

  2. Bernie Bailey

    So for our entire life the Health department has told us that cigarettes are the highest cancer causing health issue in Canada. Our government sued the big tobacco firms last year and won millions because of the burden that cigarettes put on our public health system. I have spent thirty years in the dairy industry and now I find out I was handling poison. Can I sue them—– give me a brake

  3. Karen Selick

    Someone needs to challenge those statistics from Robert D. Ralyea. They are not consistent with information available elsewhere. There have been a couple of outbreaks of illness due to PASTEURIZED milk that literally involved hundreds of thousands of people at a time. That never happens with raw milk.

    • cheryl housto

      I agree with you Karen, I just recieved the outbreaks statistics reports from the Canadian Food Inspections Agency at Health Canada and from what I read pasteurized milk sickened thousands more people than raw milk, in which small numbers were “suspected” not proven. In one case 200,00 people were affected from drinking PASTEURIZED MILK.
      These statistics of course are not publicized as Health Canada would like to continue the smear campaign on raw milk.

    • Jenny

      Of course illnesses happen with raw milk – there’s plenty of literature available. The only reason you don’t see hundreds of thousands of cases from an outbreak is simply because there aren’t that many people drinking it.
      And actually, the large outbreaks from ‘pasteurized’ milk likely resulted because the milk was NOT pasteurized properly . Ergo, for all intents and purposes this milk was still ‘raw’.

      • Richard Barrett

        “aren’t that many people drinking it.” According to Ben Chapman, Assistant Professor of Nutrition and Food Science, at the April 24, 2014 Science to Policy Symposium, he stated in Canada that there is 700,000 and in U.S.A. there is 3.5% of the population drinking it. For and update go to April 25, 2014 posting.

  4. Pingback: Raw Milk: Hedge Your Bets « Land Animal

  5. I’ve heard this rubbish from the Liquor and Tobacco industries over the years. Tell this to AA, tell it to family doctors and alcoholics. Tell it to parents of impressionable teenagers, to schools. I’m sure you will have captive listeners.

  6. If the government says that raw milk is more dangerous than cigarettes then why don’t they have an ad like the one they do in Canada for Cigarettes. The one where you see the inside of the body that shows the lungs filled and lined with “crud.” The one that is printed directly on the pack of cigarettes.

    Those who promote raw milk and believe in raw milk can show the insides of the human body as Raw Milk enters the body and circulates throughout the anatomy interior of our body. We can bet that that will look better than what we would see if Commercial or pasteurized milk enters and works its way through the human body.

    What do you think?

    Milkmen USA

  7. Karen Selick

    To Jenny: You assume that the large outbreaks due to pasteurized milk resulted from improper pasteurization, leaving the milk “raw”. This is not necessarily the case, for several reasons:

    1. The milk may have been properly pasteurized, then contaminated post-pasteurization. The point is that when everything is done in enormous mass-marketed batches like this, a single error can affect thousands of people.

    2. There are some bacteria that are NOT killed by pasteurization, even when it is carried out according to law. It’s possible that these bacteria were the cause of the mass outbreaks. In places like California where raw milk is legal, the bacteria counts of raw producers like Organic Pastures is much lower than that of producers in the pasteurization stream, thereby minimizing the probability of an outbreak caused by these pasteurization-resistant bacteria.

    3. By keeping raw milk illegal, the law encourages “shady” operations which are more likely to be dangerous than those who operate openly in the marketplace.

    • Jenny

      To Karen:
      1. Yes, post-pasteurization contamination is a possibility and some of the outbreaks involving pasteurized milk could be related to this. This just emphasizes how important it is to destroy pathogens and keep them out of finished milk.
      2. I am aware that pasteurization does not equal sterilization. But pasteurization does kill the vast majority of potential human pathogens, particularly the ones with a low infective dose. That is likely why we don’t see many outbreaks that implicate pasteurized milk. And that is also why no degree of careful raw milk handling can compare to the ‘safety factor’ provided by pasteurization.
      3. Are illegal shady operations really more dangerous? Perhaps you could share your supporting data. Organic Pastures, Dee Creek Farm, Grace Harbor Dairy, Simsbury Town Farm Dairy, Alexandre EcoFarm, Autumn Olive Dairy, Jackie’s Jerseys, and Hartmann Dairy (to name a few) all appear to have been legal and ‘unshady’ operations – and it seems they all have been implicated in past raw milk outbreaks.

      The ‘raw milk is just as safe as pasteurized milk’ argument just doesn’t wash. Freedom of choice, on the other hand, seems like a much more reasonable basis for a fight!

  8. Karen Selick

    To Jenny:

    The freedom of choice argument is precisely what is being made in court.

    There is evidence that raw milk provides health benefits that pasteurized milk cannot. For instance, pasteurization destroys the enzyme phosphatase, which is necessary to ensure the proper absorption of the minerals in milk.

    In one study of 15,000 European children, the drinkers of what was called “farm milk” were less likely to suffer from asthma or allergies.

    So consumers should be able to choose which risks they would prefer to take. That’s precisely the argument that is being made in the Schmidt case.

    • Jenny

      To Karen:

      Phosphatase presence in milk is inconsequential for human nutrition. The human body produces its own phosphatase, in ample supply.

      Regarding the single study you found that supposedly supports a raw milk benefit claim, I presume you’re referring to Waser et al. (2007). The authors clearly state within that article that “The present study does not allow evaluating the effects of pasteurized vs. raw milk consumption because no objective confirmation of the raw milk status of the farm milk samples was available.” (in fact, they couldn’t say for sure if it was milk, or just the farm environment that may have influenced these observations). They also go on to say that “raw milk may contain pathogens such as Salmonella or EHEC and its consumption may therefore imply serious health risks” and that “consumption of raw farm milk cannot be recommended as a preventive measure.”

      Stick with the freedom of choice argument – at least this one makes some sense. Although it’s little consolation to susceptible young children who don’t have the option to make that riskier choice.

      • Richard Barrett

        “body produces its own phosphatase, in ample supply.” It does not! Philip Schultz, Austin, Texas who was medical diagnosed with Osteopenia and was even taking calcium supplements which did not help, started taking raw milk (unpasteurized) and after 11 months returned for his 4th annual bone density scan and was above normal. Organic Pastures, California has had lots of these testimonies.

  9. Karen Selick

    To Jenny:

    Thanks for the advice.

    Since you have not identified yourself or stated your credentials, I have no way of assessing whether your statement regarding the body producing phosphatase has any authority, except to research it myself, which I am far too busy to do.

    You’re correct that I was referring to the Waser study. I think you have misstated their findings on whether there was any confounding of the farm environment with the drinking of “farm milk”. The authors felt that they had separated out this effect to their own satisfaction.

    In any event, we know that there are plenty of people who have had the experience of being able to drink raw milk without digestive upset, while they are not able to drink pasteurized. The apparent cause is that pasteurization also destroys another enzyme, lactase. Now, you will probably tell me that people could get that from other sources, too, such as supplements–which may be true. But the strange thing is that scientists (perhaps you’re in that crowd?) and government refuse to study any of this in order to determine the validity of this widely observed phenomenon.

    Scientists also act as if they already know everything about milk and how its various components affect human health, which is nonsense. There may be other changes that pasteurization causes that haven’t even been studied yet. I remember reading years ago that in places where people drink mostly pasteurized milk, milk drinking is associated with HIGHER rates of osteoporosis, contrary to the claims of the dairy industry. No, I can’t quote chapter and verse. This was something I read before becoming involved with this case. I haven’t bothered to track it down since Michael’s trial was over and all the evidence had already been called before I got involved.

    Furthermore, we also know that people do develop defences against various germs. That’s why Mexicans can drink the water which gives Canadians diarrhea. There is evidence that raw milk drinkers develop immunity to some bugs that cause problems for non-raw drinkers. So as far as those innocent children are concerned, isn’t it smarter for their parents to send them out into the world with a stronger immune system, than to leave them vulnerable to things that they could have developed immunity to?

    • Jenny

      Karen,
      You say ” No, I can’t quote chapter and verse.” That is the crux of the problem with each and every one of the arguments raw milk proponents seem to cling to. For some reason, people on this site seem to equate ‘having done their research’ after spending a couple of hours reading the drivel on the WAPF website. It’s baffling.
      And please re-read the Waser study without the blinders. The quotes I referred to do not misinterpret the findings in any way.
      And lastly, sending a child out to become needlessy stricken with E. coli HUS is not smart – it’s child abuse! Shame!

  10. Karen Selick

    To Jenny:

    While your previous posts were useful, your latest one has deteriorated to the point of contributing nothing to the debate.

    You are the one who needs to re-read the Waser study without blinders, as well as re-reading what I wrote. I did not dispute that the portion you put in quotation marks was accurate. However what you put in brackets (“(in fact, they couldn’t say for sure if it was milk, or just the farm environment that may have influenced these observations)”) simply misrepresents what the authors themselves said. Perhaps that’s the reason you had to state it in your own words: you couldn’t find anything to quote from where the authors had said what you wanted them to say. They indicated satisfaction that they had separated out the farm environment from the milk drinking.

    You then go on to strike a low blow insinuating that the only thing I have read on the subject of milk and foodborne diseases was the WAPF website, and that I confuse that with research. Neither of those things is true, and there was no basis for your making such an allegation.

    Then you suggest that parents would “send a child out to become needlessly stricken with E. coli HUS”. No parent I know would do that. But people do take calculated risks with their children every day, and even doctors and scientists and governments recommend that we do so. We know for certain that a small percentage of children will be adversely affected by vaccination–possibly even killed–yet doctors and governments still recommend that all children be vaccinated. I’ll bet even you recommend that yourself. So why not berate yourself for “sending” some anonymous child to his/her death?

    Parents who choose raw milk for their children do so in the belief that the benefits outweigh the risks. Millions of them have been proven correct, since the vast majority of those kids grow up with healthy immune systems, less risk of allergy and asthma, and intact kidneys.

    However, at this point I suspect that we have lost all our readers and are just talking to each other. So unless you have anything informative or rational to add–not just insulting–there’s no point in your replying.

  11. Janeen

    I read it! and I am totally in agreement with you Karen! glad you stuck it out to make your last point…
    Isn’t it interesting how people can view the world so differently – I see Raw Milk as our family’s Vaccination Program minus the toxic preservatives! So far…I’ve yet to have any of my 4 kids to the doctor for anything except a broken bone – they are strong, smart and healthy and I know it’s from the real food we grow and eat. Just because someone is in the city and can’t grow their own food, I see no reason why they couldn’t BUY and eat the same food
    Jenny, you can continue to live in your “safe food” bubble but there’s no need to critisise those of us that have a completely different paradigm than you. You may never “get it” but you need to ACCEPT different view points – We aren’t forcing our ideas on you, you are forcing yours on us – if there’s any SHAME, it should be in that! this is the 21st century – come on!!

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