The discussion following my previous post about the role of pre-pasteurized milk isn’t just a theoretical debate. 


That is because the data that are accumulated about raw milk illnesses are used as part of an ongoing propaganda campaign to discredit the idea that real raw milk can be and is produced safely for hundreds of thousands of people each day.  In order to justify the argument that all raw milk is the same, and is inherently life threatening, opponents at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control see illnesses like those at Durant, WI, high school, as valuable, because they can be used to simultaneously blame raw milk as dangerous and portray  advocates as uncaring. That is what is going on in this article from a Wisconsin paper about the Durant illnesses—a girl who was sickened is quoted as saying that if she knew the milk was unpasteurized, she never would have consumed it. Of course, the article’s writer didn’t see the need to explain that no one outside the farm family that produced the milk should have been drinking that milk because it wasn’t intended to be served unpasteurized. 


Adding insult to injury, the 38 illnesses in Durant will now be added as raw milk illnesses to the database kept by the CDC, to be pulled out whenever major media inquire about the dangers of raw milk. Indeed, that Wisconsin paper used that data: “From 1998 to 2011, 148 out­breaks due to con­sump­tion of raw milk or raw milk prod­ucts were re­ported to the CDC and re­sulted in 2,384 ill­nesses, 284 hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and two deaths.” 


It’s the same data that in a Fox News report earlier this year that put it this way: “According to the CDC, there were 2,384 illnesses, 284 hospitalizations and two deaths attributed to raw milk or raw milk products from 1998 through 2011.”


Sometimes the data gets sloshed and stirred around a little differently, like in this Washington Post article earlier this year, which presented the CDC data this way: “The agency reported that 796 people in 24 states had become sick after consuming raw milk between 2006 and 2011, the latest years for which complete data are available.”


How big a factor are the pre-pasteurized illnesses in this data? Interestingly, food safety lawyer Bill Marler suggested a few years ago that the number could be significant, when this same subject came up in connection with another episode of Wisconsin illnesses from pre-pasteurized milk. He wrote in a comment on this blog: “David, I think it does make sense to talk about ‘two raw milks.’ I tend to agree that in general, if you know the product is going to be heat treated, much less care is taken in the production – hamburger is a great example. I have asked the folks at Food Safety News and Real Raw Milk Facts to be sensitive about that going forward.”


On his own blog, he made a quick computation indicating how seriously the pre-pasteurized cases could be affecting the CDC data: “Over the last few years I have been keeping track of outbreaks and recalls linked to raw and pasteurized milk and cheeses over at Real Raw Milk Facts (of which I have been a financial supporter). We went through the list and more clearly defined the Type/size of dairy to try and differentiate between outbreaks and recalls linked to raw milk that had been intended for pasteurization and raw milk that was not. I hope this makes it clearer where the outbreaks are coming from. By my count, outbreaks or recalls due to raw milk intended to be consumed raw account for 23. There were 15 outbreak or recalls related to raw milk intended to be pasteurized, inadequately pasteurized or contaminated post-pasteurization.” (He was looking at data for a couple years.)


So Marler was suggesting that one-third or more of the reported illnesses could be from pre-pasteurized milk.  When I looked closely at the numbers reported by Real Raw Milk Facts covering 13 years, some 349 out of 2,468 reported raw milk illnesses, or about 13%, were from queso fresco cheese alone. (Queso fresco cheese appears to generally be made from pre-pasteurized milk.) Then there are 57 illnesses from “multiple raw dairy products—milk, cheese, colostrum.” And according to the data, we don’t even know, for 1,263 of the illnesses, whether the milk involved was from cows, goats, sheep, or what. 

Clearly, we’re dealing with a can of worms here that indicates a substantial number of the reported illnesses attributed to raw milk are in fact from commercial dairies. This is a can of worms Big Dairy very much wants to keep closed.