While I am back to being dairy-free after a couple of months of trying raw goat’s milk, the fight over whether raw milk is safe or not is something I still follow. This fight is mostly the CDC and local authorities against small farms and the consumers who buy from them.

As a philosophy, I feel that farmers and consumers should have freedom of choice in their food. It is, after all, a very basic freedom. I feel very concerned when I hear stories of “stings” being run on small farms because of their raw milk cow shares. Not only do I think it a terrible waste of government resources, I think it shows an animosity in the government towards raw milk that is not seen towards other food items sold. 

But as a mother, I want to know whether raw milk is safe or not to feed my children and myself. While it has become a non-issue for my family, as we simply don’t tolerate any dairy well, I also feel part of the "mother community" and would like to know how safe it really is.

So, it was with interest that I read the dire warnings of the CDC released last year (you can read it here, in PDF form). In short, they feel that that wherever raw milk is made legal, incidences of dairy-related outbreaks increase. They recommend increased restricting and prohibiting of raw milk as a way of reducing outbreaks, and end with this line, “Consumption of nonpasteurized dairy products cannot be considered safe under any circumstances.”

Dire words indeed.

Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A Price Foundation, who has been a strong supporter of raw milk freedom in the US, has since then released a critique of the CDC report. She points out dairy products simply aren’t a high-risk product, whether it is pasteurized or not. She is quoted in a press release as saying, “What consumers need to realize, first of all, is that the incidence of foodborne illnesses from dairy products, whether pasteurized or not, is extremely low. For the 14-year period that the authors examined, there was an average of 315 illnesses a year from all dairy products for which the pasteurization status was known. Of those, there was an average of 112 illnesses each year attributed to all raw dairy products and 203 associated with pasteurized dairy products.”

“In comparison, there are almost 24,000 foodborne illnesses reported each year on average. Whether pasteurized or not, dairy products are simply not a high risk product.”

While there were three deaths linked to dairy consumption (two related to raw dairy products, one related to pasteurized), 30 deaths are connected with eggs, and 15 to raw oysters every year, on average.

To further the case, Morell also points out that in the CDC analysis, they lump all of dairy consumption together, rather than comparing raw liquid milk to pasteurized liquid milk. She claims, “Since they fail to present analysis that compares laws concerning fluid milk and outbreaks attributed to fluid milk, we must conclude that they didn’t find any statistical difference. Despite the obvious motive to demonstrate a link between changing the laws to permit raw milk and increased public risk, they in fact demonstrate that they are unable to find any such consequences.”

According to Ted Beals, a retired pathologist who has studied the raw milk issue, when looking at how many drink raw milk, and how few outbreaks actually occur, he feels that the government numbers actually “show us that raw milk is a very safe food.”

When I first researched this topic, I realized how much I wanted someone to tell me that there was no way my child could get sick from whatever food I choose to give my children. But there is just no way to make it a 100% guarantee (whether drinking raw milk or pasteurized or any other food item in question). So the question then goes too, what is reasonably safe? No one wants to play food poisoning Russian roulette, after all.

Statistically, it seems it would be safer to feed my child a glass of raw milk (from a farmer who uses excellent safety procedures), than to serve them an egg that had a slightly runny yolk. I would also assume that a glass of raw milk is also safer than a green smoothie containing spinach since there have been so many recalls and outbreaks involving spinach (and because it is very hard to wash e. coli off of produce).

I will be watching as the raw milk fight continues, and will be hoping for better information (and food freedom!) in the future.