The raw milk controversy: Where “natural” means “may contain harmful bacteria”

Producer of contaminated raw milk apologizes; number of people sickened by milk increases to 38

The number of people sickened by contaminated raw milk from a Chambersburg-area farm has increased to 38, the Pennsylvania Department of Health said Friday.

Edwin and Dawn Shank, owners of Your Family Cow, released a heartfelt letter of apology to their customers.

“So now the wondering, suspense and uncertainty is over for our family and farm crew and is replaced by humiliation and embarrassment,” Edwin Shank said in the letter. “Dawn and I have shed a lot of tears over this. Now we know for sure what the growing list of emails and calls from you were pointing to. It was us. We are very sorry.”

Nearly half of the people sickened by the raw milk are under the age of 18, Pennsylvania health officials said. Officials expect additional cases to be confirmed.

The state has 153 certified raw milk providers among its 8,500 dairies. Dairies certified to sell raw milk must pass standards set by the state and four unannounced annual inspections.

Inspectors look for cleanliness of the milk parlor, packaging, temperature of the milk and the health of the herd, Elliott Krepps said.

“We are a regulatory agency and we follow protocol to make sure we protect the safety of the public when it comes to food-borne illnesses and food safety,” she said.

Source: Penn Live (The Patriot News, Harrisburg, PA)

James Ravilious © Beaford Arts

People who purchase raw milk over pasteurized milk, which removes bacteria, think that raw milk is more natural. They assume, that this more natural state is “healthier”, that is has more enzymes and nutrients.

“It’s a whole food. It has all the components that nature provided,” said Mary Lusk, a holistic health coach who lives in Newberry and buys her raw milk from the The Healthy Grocer.

Lusk, who buys the raw milk produced at an Elizabethtown dairy, said raw milk has improved her health and that of her children.

“I feel for so many years we’ve been told raw milk is a bad product. It’s going to make us sick and die,” she said. “Yes there’s a risk involved, but there are risks in everything you do. Walking out of your house poses a risk, getting into car. People who drink raw milk have done the research and have learned it has more extreme benefits to the ratio of risks.”

But, here we have to call out a logical fallacy. First, there is no evidence that any of the above is true. To appeal to a less processed, natural product is a logical fallacy. Many things that are natural will kill you. This is why many laws were instituted to assure food safety. Other things that are natural but dangerous is arsenic (found in high values in groundwater supplies), many mushrooms and wild plants, radon (natural radiactive gas), bacteria (certain kinds in high amounts) and viruses. So, you can see that argument falls apart easily. Second, Ms. Lusk cites the risk we have everyday. But why risk potentially contaminated food when you can reduce the risk tremendously by consuming foods prepared under modern methods. The argument hinges here on her belief that the raw milk is somehow more beneficial than pasteurized milk, which is not demonstrably true, it’s just her opinion from her personal experience (the least reliable form of evidence).

The Patriot News ran an editorial regarding the sale of raw milk back in May of last year. Pennsylvania has a large dairy industry. They advocated that “As long as raw milk drinkers understand the higher risks, they should be allowed to drink it.”

Comments to the piece were mostly in favor of the removal of government interference and the continued allowance of the sale of raw milk.

There are several issues at play here that result in a controversy. First, people are not keen about government interference telling them what they can and cannot do for themselves or their family. Second, there is a public safety issue regarding the product – is it ethical or are you liable for potentially making your customers or your children sick? Third, there is the “natural benefits” issue, that the product is better for you than what we can currently use or the current product (pasteurized milk) we have access to is actually bad and the more natural (less processed) product is better. Not everyone understands the risk or is aware of the risk-benefits analysis. Often, they simply believe whatever sounds good to them.

For more on the controversial issues surrounding the sale of raw milk see this piece on Keystone Inquiry which concludes that naturalistic fallacies are exploited as marketing tools. The public is quick to forget how modern advances made our lives WAY safer and we live longer, healthier lives than before technology and scientific methods were used.

  6 comments for “The raw milk controversy: Where “natural” means “may contain harmful bacteria”

  1. Massachusetts
    February 3, 2012 at 10:40 PM

    OK, so raw unpasteurized milk comes with an increased chance of bacterial contamination, which is clearly very bad. If we assume, for the sake of argument, that bacterial contamination isn’t an issue for now, are there any studies that indicate raw milk provides any nutritional benefits over the pasteurized product, or are such claims completely unproven, scientifically speaking?

  2. J Wilson
    February 4, 2012 at 12:33 AM

    Lacto-ferrin is destroyed by pasteurization. A simple google search will reveal the science supporting lacto-ferrin’s anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.

    In layman’s terms, it’s a protein that binds with iron, denying viruses/bacteria/fungus iron they need for replication/proliferation. This is a gross oversimplification, but you can research further if you like.

    The issue is not raw milk. Millions of people drink in everyday in Europe. There they have developed proven standards of clean productions, regulations in place and regular inspections. The regulations in the U.S. are a patchwork of common sense, basic food handling protocols and traditions of varying effectiveness.

    The problem is the people handling the milk… good old human error. Not the milk itself.

  3. tony
    February 4, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    lets get it straight raw milk lovers are not interested in facts or scientific arguments – its just a religion like organic free range. On one hand they hate gm food but it has killed no one and love a food that does kill. hat’s not logical but idiots aren’t.

  4. Massachusetts
    February 4, 2012 at 3:10 PM

    @J Wilson: Thanks for pointing out the lacto-ferin angle. I’ll check it out.

    I don’t know whether or not I agree with your assessment right now, but it was certainly NOT the answer of an “idiot.” Two point for you for professionalism and respect.

  5. February 4, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    I think that you, Sharon, are part of the evil organization called “Big Glass of Milk.”


  6. randy
    February 12, 2012 at 8:19 PM

    Corporate paid bloggers really ruin the internet. Obviously thats who Tony is.

    Its amazing that they have concealed so long how our food is destroyed through heat, chemicals and radiation. And GM foods destroy the digestive tract to the point that it cant be out in cat food in too large a proportion because the cats die! people take longer to die, so we dont notice. Studies do show it, but corporations pay to slant the statistics or outright conceal and lie, and say “we dont know” when we actuallly have lots of proof, it just isnt the answer GMO corporations want. GMO kills.

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