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The Raw Milk Debate

Jul 11, 2012

Are your patients talking about unpasteurized milk?
 
Some of mine are and so are a few of my health conscious friends. I have been so shocked to hear when some of my patients with diabetes have decided to switch to raw milk or unpasteurized milk.  I thought years ago with the invention of pasteurization in the 1890s to kill off serious diseases such as tuberculosis that no one would think of going back to raw milk and its potential risks. If it’s been a while since you have thought of pasteurization, it is the process by which milk is heated to 161 degrees for 15 seconds to kill harmful bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria. These bacteria are especially harmful to pregnant women, children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems including those with diabetes. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 83 percent of milk-related, foodborne illness outbreaks are from raw milk and 5-10 million Americans drink raw milk.
 
When you Google “raw milk” you will see government organizations such as the FDA and CDC strongly oppose consumption of unpasteurized milk, but you will also find several web sites and claims specifically attacking the FDA’s research such as this one:  http://www.realmilk.com/documents/SheehanPowerPointResponse2009Oct.pdf. Unpasteurized milk supporters believe that raw milk from pasture-fed cows is very safe and even describe its healing and medicinal benefits. On the other hand, the FDA is strongly warning consumers of the dangers of consuming unpasteurized milk. This is a very polar debate!
 
As diabetes educators, I think it’s good to know both sides of the story and to educate our patients on the serious risks of consuming unpasteurized milk. When one of my patients tells me their family has switched to raw milk or they buy unpasteurized cheese at the farmer’s market, I try to slowly find out why and what they have been told. I then let them know about the FDA recommendations so they can be informed and weigh the pros and cons for their family with their personal beliefs. Here is a good handout from the FDA describing the risks: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/UCM245236.pdf. The FDA also has several pages of information on the dangers of raw milk: http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/consumers/ucm079516.htm.

Each state makes its own laws about selling raw milk within the state. Around half of all states allow some form of raw milk to be sold to consumers, according to the FDA. We may even have patients consuming raw milk or unpasteurized products and not even realize it. It is important for our patients to ask the farmers at the farmer’s market if their products are unpasteurized and read dairy labels carefully.

You can also check out one of my favorite nutrition newsletters, Environmental Nutrition, which had a recent article in the March 2012 issue about raw milk.
 

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