How many Americans do you think have become ill in an average year from raw milk contamination, be it E.coli 0157:H7 or campylocacter or salmonella or listeria? I’m not talking about deaths, I’m talking about illnesses.

Try 54. And if you take out the average of five per year who became sick from imported Mexican cheese, the number shrinks to 49.

Those are the numbers that come out when you average official government statistics showing 1,791 total illnesses from raw dairy, and 1,609 raw-milk illnesses over 33 years between 1973 and 2005.

Pete Kennedy, a lawyer for the Weston A. Price Foundation who provides legal counsel to farmers arrested or harassed for producing raw milk, has come up with these numbers. He filed a request last year with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) under the Freedom of Information Act, for data on illnesses stemming from both raw milk and pasteurized milk.

It took the government ten months to come up with the data, certified and “under penalty of perjury.” And even these figures may be high, since the government in its cover letter hedges, saying, “Food vehicles identified are not necessarily confirmed with statistical or epidemiological evidence.”

As for pasteurized milk, there are something on the order of 600 illnesses on average per year, more than ten times the average for raw milk.

Kennedy points out that the number of illnesses from raw milk and pasteurized milk “is still miniscule compared to the overall numbers” of people made ill in an average year by food borne illness, which the CDC estimates at 76 million. Of course, the government isn’t policing pasteurized milk like it is policing raw milk.

All this seems to be consistent with data Mary McGonigle-Martin has uncovered suggesting that E.coli from raw milk is way overblown.

“Some hundreds of thousands of people are consuming raw milk,” Kennedy says. “It seems like the government’s campaign against raw milk is an overreaction and is motivated by something other than science and health.” What else could possibly be motivating the government?