Raw milk sickens the unsuspecting -- again

Posted: December 5th, 2007 - 2:50pm by Doug Powell

In May, 1943, Edsel Bryant Ford, son of auto magnate Henry Ford, died at the age of 49 in Detroit, of what some claimed was a broken heart.

Medical authorities, however, decreed that Ford died of undulant fever, apparently brought on by drinking unpasteurized milk from the Ford dairy herd, at the behest of his father's mistaken belief that all things natural must be good.

It seems like every week in the U.S. there is a report of unpasteurized milk testing positive for listeria or salmonella or E. coli or campylobacter or some other dangerous bug; every month there is a report of people, largely children, sickened after consuming unpasteurized milk.

This month it's Kansas, where at least 87 people have been poisoned with campylobacter in two separate outbreaks -- one linked to consumption of raw milk, and the other to cheese made from raw milk.

Raw milk drinkers believe the pasteurized milk found on grocery store shelves lack the essential enzymes and nutrients necessary to absorb calcium -- yet research shows this is simply not the case. The only things lacking in pasteurized milk are the bacteria that make people -- especially kids -- seriously ill.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that in 1938, before widespread adoption of milk pasteurization, an estimated 25 per cent of all foodborne and waterborne outbreaks of disease were associated with milk.

By 2001, the percentage of such outbreaks associated with milk was estimated at less than 1 per cent. From 1998 to 2005, a total of 45 outbreaks of foodborne illness were reported to CDC in which unpasteurized milk (or cheese suspected to have been made from unpasteurized milk) was implicated. These outbreaks accounted for 1,007 illnesses, 104 hospitalizations, and two deaths.

Because not all cases of foodborne illness are recognized and reported, the actual number of illnesses associated with unpasteurized milk likely is greater.

A table of the outbreaks is available at http://www.foodsafety.ksu.edu/articles/384/RawMilkOutbreakTable.pdf

Yes, lots of foods make people sick. And people should be free to choose what they ingest.

The 19th century English utilitarian philosopher, John Stuart Mill, noted that choice has limits, stating, "if it [in this case the consumption of raw unpasteurized milk] only directly affects the person undertaking the action, then society has no right to intervene, even if it feels the actor is harming himself."

Excused from Mill’s libertarian principle are those people who are incapable of self-government – children.

Science can be used to enhance what nature provided. Further, society has a responsibility to the many -- philosopher Mill also articulated how the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the one — to use knowledge to minimize harm.

Adults, do whatever you think works to ensure a natural and healthy lifestyle, but please, don't impose your dietary regimes on those incapable of protecting themselves: your kids.

Dr. Douglas Powell is scientific director of the International Food Safety Network at Kansas State University
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