I still remember reading milk cartons as a kid, and asking my parents what "pasteurized" meant. While I don't remember exactly what they said, I'm sure they told me that it made the milk safe by killing bacteria. Even as a kid, I understood that bacteria in my milk were probably a bad thing.
Louis Pasteur is one of the most famous scientists in history, and rightly so. In 1862, he invented the process of heating milk to kill the bacteria in it. Pasteurization, as we now call it, has saved millions of lives in the 150 years since. Pasteur also created the first vaccine for rabies. He was a true giant.
Fans of raw milk appear to be stunningly unaware of Pasteur's achievements, and equally ignorant of the dangers of bacterial infections. Many of the health and safety claims for raw milk can be found on sites such as RealMilk.com, a site that is chock full of
- Conspiracy theories: the Government is hiding the truth from you.
- Denialism: raw milk never hurt anyone, and even protects you against bacteria.
- Shifting the blame: infections are caused by other contaminated foods, not raw milk.
One of the more chilling facts about RealMilk.com is their emphasis on feeding raw milk to infants, who are at the greatest risk of dying from infections. Their "Campaign for Real Milk" advocates
"universal access to clean raw whole milk from pasture-fed cows, especially access for pregnant and nursing mothers and for babies and growing children."We have plenty of good science about raw milk. CDC review of infectious disease outbreaks across the U.S. from 1993-2006 found that
|Langer et al., Emerging Infectious Diseases 18:3 (2012).|
"The rate of outbreaks caused by unpasteurized milk (often called raw milk) and products made from it was 150 times greater than outbreaks linked to pasteurized milk."Dr. Robert Tauxe, an infectious disease specialist at the CDC, debunks some of the myths about raw milk in an article freely available on Medscape. John Snyder and Mark Crislip have both written compellingly about the dangers of raw milk at sciencebasedmedicine.org.
If I were being cynical, I might say that the wild-eyed proponents of raw milk deserve whatever infections they get. But their children don't. 3-year-old Kylee Young, who the Washington Post wrote about this past Sunday, didn't deserve to suffer kidney failure and a stroke after her mother fed her raw milk that was infected with E. coli O157:H7. Kylee can no longer walk or talk and needs constant care. Her mother now says
"If I had known what I know now, I would never have fed [raw milk] to my daughter."Louis Pasteur and his wife had five children, three of whom died of childhood infections. These tragedies were Pasteur's motivation for studying infectious disease. Thanks to his work 150 years ago, no one today needs to die from drinking unpasteurized milk. The raw milk movement insists, despite the evidence, that they know better.
So go ahead, drink your raw milk and eat a paleo diet too, while you're at it. But don't ask our modern medical system to pay for your treatment when you get sick. And most of all, don't subject innocent children to the unnecessary risks of raw milk.