“In a 2012 study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 1 percent of Americans drink raw milk, although that number may be a bit higher — a FoodNet survey in 2007 found that 3 percent of the U.S. population, or about 9.4 million people, regularly consumes raw milk.
Whether or not to consume milk in its unaltered state is a highly emotional issue, and for good reason. Should anyone — and particularly someone like a child or elderly person with an immature or compromised immune system — ingest milk that harbors the deadly bacteria E.coli O157:H7, they could risk losing a kidney.
But compared to other foods, dairy remains relatively safe (you’re more likely to end up in hospital from salmonella in eggs or other leafy greens than listeria found in dairy products), but the debate remains fierce.
There are accusations of data manipulation on the part of the pasteurized milk industry and complicit public health officials and charges of willful, irresponsible behavior against raw milk drinkers. But what the debate ignores is that clean, raw milk that has been properly handled and tested contains nothing inherently bad for us mammalians, and, in fact, may be quite healthful.
Assuring food safety means carefully implementing and maintaining precise sanitary handling procedures, and the FDA has those in its Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO). The problem is that the ordinance applies only to raw milk intended for pasteurization, and to pasteurized milk. Raw milk that is produced for direct human consumption is controlled by regulations established by each individual state – there is no federal oversight.
Which is exactly why Mark McAfee, co-founder of California’s Organic Pastures Dairy Company (OPDC) in Fresno, founded the Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI) in 2011, after Whole Foods removed his company’s milk from its shelves because of the lack of national safety standards.
Milk production standards, whether from the FDA or RAWMI, aim to keep the population of disease-causing bacteria as low as possible. The scariest bacteria, in raw milk or any other food, is one type of coliform bacteria that originates in poop, labeledE.coli 0157:H7. Other kinds of bad bacteria, such as campylobacter and salmonella, are also monitored.
“There is no common source of raw milk contamination,” says McAfee. “E.coli has been the ugly stepchild in California, but in Pennsylvania, it has been campylobacter and salmonella. Every region has its own problem. That is why, at RAWMI, we go to a specific geographic location, and the safety plan reflects their specific problem.”…”