A new government study warns that “outbreaks” blamed on raw milk were “150 times greater” than outbreaks attributed to pasteurized milk, citing statistics from a 13-year period ending in 2006.
But a foundation that runs education programs on science, diet and health says the results were skewed because of the way federal report authors “cherry picked” data.
Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, said the new government study listed 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,” she said.
Citing the nearly 24,000 “foodborne illnesses reported each year on average,” she noted that “dairy products are simply not a high risk product.”
But she said the authors’ apparently arbitrary decision to choose to end their analysis at 2006 should have been explained.
“The CDC’s data shows that there were significant outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to pasteurized dairy products the very next year, in 2007: 135 people became ill from pasteurized cheese contaminated with e.coli, and three people died from pasteurized milk contaminated with listeria,” the Price Foundation report said.
And shortly before the time frame for the study, there were 16,000 confirmed cases of Salmonella traced to pasteurized milk from a single dairy, the foundation reported.
The federal report, published in the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, also noted that states where raw milk sales are legal had “more than twice the rate of outbreaks as states where it was illegal.”
The study noted 121 dairy-related disease outbreaks during the 1993-2006 period, which caused 4,413 illnesses, 239 hospitalizations and three deaths.
“In 60 percent of the outbreaks (73 outbreaks) state health officials determined raw milk products were the cause. Nearly all of the hospitalizations (200 of 239) were in those sickened in the raw milk outbreaks,” it said.
Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborn and Environmental Diseases, called for action.
“Restricting the sale of raw milk products is likely to reduce the number of outbreaks and can help keep people healthier. The states that allow sale of raw milk will probably continue to see outbreaks in the future,” he said.
The Price Foundation, however, pointed to the government’s own statistics that reveal the risk of getting a foodborne illness from raw milk “is much smaller than the risk of becoming ill from other foods.”
It cited information that allows a calculation of raw milk illnesses on a per-person basis in a 2007 Centers for Disease Control FoodNet survey. That found that 3.04 percent of the population consumes raw milk, or about 9.4 million people, based on the 2010 census. This number may in fact be larger in 2011 as raw milk is growing in popularity. For example, sales of raw milk increased 25 percent in California in 2010, while sales of pasteurized milk declined 3 percent.
But the figures revealed only 42 illnesses per year attributed to raw milk.
“Using government figures for foodborne illness for the entire population, [the information] has shown that you are about 35,000 times more likely to get sick from other foods than you are from raw milk,” said Fallon Morell. “And with good management practices in small grass-based dairies offering fresh unprocessed whole milk for direct human consumption, we may be able to reduce the risk even further.”
Pete Kennedy, of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, said the government’s agenda is to “restrict and discourage the sale of unprocessed dairy products. This will have the effect of denying freedom of choice.”
The Price Foundation reported that for the CDC to reach the results in its newest report this week, it “manipulated and cherry picked this data to make raw milk look dangerous and to dismiss the same dangers associated with pasteurized milk.”
“In the context of the very low numbers of illnesses attributed to dairy in general, the authors’ decision to cut the time frame short, as compared to the available CDC data, is troubling and adds to questions about the bias in this publication,” Fallon Morell said.
“Perhaps most troubling is the authors’ decision to focus on outbreaks rather than illnesses. An ‘outbreak’ of foodborne illness can consist of two people with minor stomachaches to thousands of people with bloody diarrhea. In addressing the risk posed for individuals who consume a food, the logical data to examine is the number of illnesses, not the number of outbreaks,” the Price Foundation report said.
“The authors acknowledge that the number of foodborne illnesses from raw dairy products (as opposed to outbreaks) were not significantly different in states where raw milk is legal to sell compared with states where it is illegal to sell,” said Judith McGeary of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. “In other words, had the authors looked at actual risk of illness, instead of the artificially defined ‘outbreaks,’ there would have been no significant results to report.”
Basic assumptions also created flaws in the report, the foundation said.
“Newer data [from the CDC] showed that about 3 percent of the population consumes raw milk – over nine million people – yet the authors chose instead to make conclusions based on the assumption that only 1 percent of the dairy products in the country are consumed raw,” the foundation said.
And, McGeary said, “It would hardly be surprising to see some sort of increase in foodborne illnesses related to a food where that food is legal. If we banned ground beef, we’d see fewer illnesses related to ground beef products. Yet this new study fails to prove even that common-sense proposition, even as it claims to prove a great deal more. What the data really shows is that raw dairy products cause very few illnesses each year, even though the CDC data indicates that over 9 million people consume it.”
The federal government explains, “Pasteurization of milk was adopted decades ago as a basic public health measure to kill dangerous bacteria and largely eliminate the risk of getting sick from one of the most important staples of the American diet. In 1987, the agency issued a regulation prohibiting the interstate sale of raw milk.”
Today, 30 states allow the sale of raw milk and 20 forbid it, but the federal government forbids it in interstate business.
In a recent Wisconsin dispute over raw milk, a judge ruled that Americans do not have a right to choose their food, not even when they own the cows and the milk.
The judge decided in a fight over families’ access to milk from cows they own that Americans “do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow.”
Circuit Court Judge Patrick J. Fiedler said the families who reported they were boarding their cows for a fee and then getting the milk instead were running a “dairy farm.”
“It’s always a surprise when a judge says you don’t have the fundamental right to consume the foods of your choice,” said Kennedy.
The judge wrote:
“The court denied plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, which means the following:
“(1) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a diary (sic) herd;
“(2) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow;
“(3) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to board their cow at the farm of a farmer;
“(4) no, the Zinniker plaintiffs’ private contract does not fall outside the scope of the state’s police power;
“(5) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice; and
“(6) no, the DATCP did not act in an ultra vires manner because it had jurisdiction to regulate the Zinniker plaintiffs’ conduct.”
Kennedy called the ruling outlandish.
“Here you have a situation where a group of people, a couple of individuals, boarded their cows which they wholly owned, with Zinniker farms, and paid them a fee for the boarding.”
He continued, “The judge said people have no fundamental right to acquire, possess and use your own property.”