The article promoting the consumption of raw milk largely ignored the risks of raw milk consumption, especially for children (“Raw milk back on the table,” by Suzanne Nelson, May 21).
The article made reference to a report in Clinical & Experimental Allergy. The reference suggested that consumption of raw milk is associated with lower rates of asthma. However, the authors of that report state that “the present study does not allow evaluating the effect of pasteurized vs. raw milk consumption because no objective confirmation of the raw milk status of the farm milk samples was available.” The authors suggest this may be because participants in the study are aware that raw milk consumption is not recommended for young children, and so they often boil their milk as they are advised to do by public health officials.
In a recent report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, raw milk is documented as a source of Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, Listeria, Mycobacterium bovis, and other pathogens. Between 1998 and 2005, raw milk was associated with 45 outbreaks of food-borne illnesses, accounting for 1,007 individual illnesses, 104 hospitalizations and two deaths. In an outbreak in Pennsylvania, 16 of 29 of those who became ill were children younger than 7 years old.
I believe the health risks and associated public health care costs outweigh the benefits of consuming raw milk, especially for young children and those without a healthy immune system. However, I support the right of the consumer to choose raw over pasteurized milk, as long as the consumers are made aware of the risks and vendors are compelled to comply with regular testing of their products for those organisms that could result in outbreaks. Consumer choice should be accompanied by consumer responsibility for any negative outcomes.