The past couple of weeks, raw milk has been dominating the news. This spring, consumer groups took to Washington to protest the restrictions against raw milk sales. While these groups lobby for greater availability of raw milk and raw dairy products, we recently received harsh reminders on the food safety risk of consuming unpasteurized milk.
This week, the Food and Drug Administration along with two North Carolina agencies says three definite and five likely cases of a bacterial ailment have been linked to raw milk from a York, S.C. dairy farm.Alaska reported this recently that several people became sick after drinking raw milk from a Point MacKenzie dairy that sells cow shares. The Anchorage Daily News reported the four cases resulted in serious gastrointestinal illnesses.
The Michigan Department of Community Health issued a warning after three people came down with Q fever, caused by infection with the bacterium Coxiella burnetii after drinking raw milk from a farm west of the Detroit metro region.
Last month, Wisconsin had 16 people get sick from consuming raw milk at an after-school party.
These cases are reminders of the risks that come with drinking raw milk. What is alarming is the almost mythical attributes some people attribute to raw milk. Take a cruise across the Web with your favorite search engine, and the items pop up proclaiming people’s love affair with milk in the raw. Read the comment sections, and it is an eye-opening experience.
I am not a raw milk hater. Like many farm kids I grew up on milk straight out of the bulk tank. I have several dairy farmer friends who have built their businesses around the raw milk sales model. Others sell raw milk cheeses. Each is licensed and inspected as required by state law.
However, dairy farmers have to remember there is a risk. In 2010, a dairy farm from western Pennsylvania was sued after a customer became ill from Campylobacter jejuni. I am sure being sued never was a part of the farm business plan. The farm developed a business plan to serve a marketplace that desired a raw milk product. And no matter what the outcome from this case, it will most likely have longstanding ramifications for the business.
So, although the Web might showcase the wonders of raw milk, farmers and consumers need to remain aware of the risks to both business and health.
--Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade, Special Sections Editor