Because of spam, I personally moderate all comments left on my blog. However, because of health issues, I will not be able to do so in the future.

If you have a personal question about LI or any related topic you can send me an email at I will try to respond.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Southeastern Wisconsin Residents Sickened by Raw Milk

Pasteurization was invented late in the 19th century. Some people hailed it as one of the greatest advances of all history, since thousands were sickened or died from the effects of tainted milk. Some, but not all. Many fought its usage bitterly and for decades. Many of pasteurization's opponents argued that model farms could produce raw milk of such quality and purity that pasteurization was totally unnecessary.

Unfortunately, these model farms never worked as well as proponents hoped. Cows are prone to a variety of diseases and no matter the care given some diseased milk always slipped through. Nor could the time consuming ongoing care be scaled up to meet mass demand. Pasteurization won not because it was a perfect solution but because none of the other alternatives measured up. By about the 1920s it became standard on all milk in the U.S.

Huge commercial milk farms today also face problems with keeping cows healthy. That's one of the reasons farmers started given the cows the hormone rBST. The use of the hormone also raised fears, although the science backing up those fears is lacking.

The backlash to milk manifests itself in many ways, one of which is advocating raw milk, or milk that has not been pasteurized. Raw milk, they saw, is literally healthier than pasteurized milk, which destroys minerals in the milk and kills even potentially beneficial bacteria. You can read an article from 1938 that summarizes much of what raw milkers say today. Although raw milk cannot be purchased in stores in most states, and some states go further than that to ban it, enthusiasts, numbering an estimated 500,000, go to farms to purchase raw milk or even buy shares of cows to designate themselves farmers thus legally allowing them to drink the milk of their "own" cows.

One problem remains. Those pesky cows keep getting sick. In an article titled Southeastern Wisconsin residents sickened by raw milk by Catherine Idzerda in the Janesville, WI, Gazette, we learn that:

Thirteen people in southeastern Wisconsin have been sickened by the consumption of unpasteurized milk, state public health officials said today. ...

The individuals who are sick tested positive for campylobacter jejuni, a bacterial infection that causes gastro-intestinal symptoms and fever, said state officials. ...

People began to get sick between Aug. 14-20. All victims had consumed raw milk or been in households where someone else consumed raw milk and became ill. Campylobacter can be passed between people.

This despite raw milk sales and distribution being illegal in Wisconsin.

I wish cows did not get so easily sick. I wish commercial farms were more respectful of the animals in their care. Both raw milk and regular old commercial pasteurized milk can be problematical. And both can be perfectly safe and healthy and good for you. Neither one is magical. Both have to be produced by farmers tending to cows and getting their wares to markets, sometimes far distant in time and space. It's that distance between cows and consumers that drove pasteurization in the first place. Our society has made that distance farther today.

Drink raw milk if you want. Just don't make claims for it that can't be upheld in stark reality. Cows, even well-tended cows, do get sick and pass those diseases on to those who drink their milk.

If you want to take this as a reason for veganism, you are free to do so. That conclusion isn't my intention, though. Any food can be a vector for disease, as recalls of dozens of vegetables have shown. My advocacy is for healthy food, with consumers understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the vast world-wide farm systems that bring food to our tables. All those systems can be improved, and all are only as strong as their weakest link. Demand healthy food by all means. Expecting magic will just make you sick.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You said "Unfortunately, these model farms never worked as well as proponents hoped.".

Claravale Farms says "In our 80 year history, no consumers of Claravale Farm milk have ever died or gotten sick from milk born pathogens and no pathogens have ever been detected in the milk." ( Sounds like a model farm that works to me.

Should soda be banned? People get sick from it. If not soda, then why milk?