As you may have seen elsewhere today, the American Academy of Pediatrics has published a formal policy statement on raw or unpasteurized milk and milk products. It urges that pregnant women and children avoid consuming these products on the grounds that raw milk offers no proven benefits over pasteurized milk – nutritionally or otherwise – but does offer a significantly greater chance of contracting a range of bacterial and viral illnesses, some of which can be severe and occasionally deadly. The risks hold true regardless of whether the raw milk is from cows, goats or sheep, according to the statement.
I talked about the new policy statement, which appears in the journal Pediatrics,with its lead author, Yvonne Maldonado, MD, a Stanford infectious disease expert and pediatrician at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.
While acknowledging that raw milk has its devotees, Maldonado said a host of scientific studies simply don’t back up the claims of health benefits. And there are some serious diseases associated with raw milk consumption, including salmonella, E. coli, campylobacter and norovirus, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the U.S.
“It used to be that one of the major causes of childhood disease and death, before we had pasteurization, was drinking raw milk because we didn’t have a way to decontaminate it,” Maldonado told me. “Children got tuberculosis from drinking raw milk. That’s why we invented pasteurization – to prevent these horrible diseases.”
Since I spoke with her for our press release, which provides a lot more detail on all this, another study has been published in the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases on the incidence of illnesses contracted by consumption of raw milk. That study comes from the Minnesota Department of Health and is based on data reported between 2001 and 2010. I haven’t been able to access the full study yet, but the one-line summary for the article that I found on the EID web site states: “The risk of illness associated with raw milk consumption is far greater than previously realized."
There is also a one-paragraph summary available on a CDC site – but a Medscape article (free, but registration required) – "Drinking Raw Milk: Worth the Risk?" – goes into more detail on the paper. From that article:
On the basis of population estimates, reported raw milk consumption data, and applying pathogen-specific multipliers to the 530 infections associated with raw milk consumption, the researchers estimate that 17.3% of people who consumed raw milk in Minnesota during the 10-year study period may have acquired an illness caused by 1 of these enteric pathogens.
According to the Medscape article, the intestinal pathogens referred to are E. coli, salmonella, cryptosporidium and campylobacter. More from the piece:
"The results indicate that the number of sporadic raw milk–associated illnesses is likely substantial, greatly exceeding the number of cases linked to recognized raw milk–associated outbreaks," the authors write. "[T]he number of cases associated with reported raw milk consumption appears to be increasing, just as the movement to relax regulation of raw milk sales appears to be gaining momentum in many states."
The Medscape article closes with the authors saying, "Findings such as ours should be used to further educate potential raw milk consumers, as well as policy makers who might be asked by constituents to relax regulations regarding raw milk sales."
Currently 30 states allow sales of raw milk and raw milk products, although most interstate shipments and sales are prohibited by the FDA. The policy statement from the academy endorses a nationwide ban on the sale of raw or unpasteurized milk and milk products and encourages pediatricians to lobby their state representatives in support of such a ban.
Previously: Is donated breast milk safe? Examining milk banks versus Internet sites
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