April 2, 2010

WSJ Wades into the Raw Milk Debate

Rarely has the WSJ graced the electronic tableau of LBoN, but, hey, despite , IMHO, the failings of the op-ed page, its reporters still produce some good stuff -- most of it is just usually behind a firewall!

The paper had an article on raw milk the other day. I have read some about this subject, but haven't written much about it here. It's an emotional issue, as a look at the comments following the article demonstrates.

I've eaten a good bit of raw milk cheese -- much of it from local sources -- and had no problems. Heck, really enjoyed most of it. Proponents of raw milk will often espouse its health benefits, but, from what I can tell, most -- if not all -- of that is based on anecdotal evidence. It would be interesting to see some hard-core studies comparing people who have drank raw milk for a number of years to those who drank pasteurized milk for a number of years and look at hard "endpoints," like incidence of certain diseases, etc. Don't know if that will ever happen.

In the meantime, the fact is that there are real risks associated with raw milk.

Between 1998 and 2008, there were 85 outbreaks of human infections resulting from consumption of raw milk reported to CDC, including a total of 1,614 reported illnesses, 187 hospitalizations and two deaths. Illnesses and deaths have also been linked to the consumption of fresh cheese made from unpasteurized milk, notably the Queso Fresco style cheeses popular in Hispanic communities.

And in the comments section, Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer who is well known in food policy circles, weighs in -- and I mean, weighs in, with a 2,700-word monster of a comment that actually is broken up into two back-to-back comments -- to lay out in more detail the risks. An example:

Kalee Prue, a 27-year-old mother of one, became infected with E. coli O157:NM in June 2008, as the result of consumption of raw milk. Her symptoms began in early July, and intensified for several days. On two occasions, Kalee sought treatment in the emergency room. On July 12, it became apparent that she was developing hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). She was then admitted to the hospital on July 13. Kalee’s renal failure was complete and prolonged, and she required plasmapharesis from July 13 through August 11. Severe anemia necessitated repeated transfusions with packed red blood cells as well. By the time she was released from the hospital on August 14, she had incurred over $230,000 in medical bills. Kalee has not recovered full renal function. She is at severe risk for long-term renal complications, including end stage renal disease (ESRD), dialysis, and transplant.

That said, as some commenters noted, if it's a risk some people are willing to take, I think they should be free to do so. But I'm not going to blame the FDA and other health agencies for doing their jobs in trying to protect the public health -- even if they do it unevenly, sometimes ridiculously so, at times.


Troy said...

It is a risk I am willing to take . . . and because I am lactose intolerant, drinking raw milk is healing to my digestive system.

Fillippelli the (Wannabe) Cook said...

The lactose intolerance aspect is really interesting. IMO, it's a shame that some money couldn't be scraped together to do even some small, well-conducted studies just to get at some of the bigger questions around raw milk.

Harvest Valley carries it in its new market, think from the dairy in New Castle. I'll pick some up this spring and give it a whirl.

Troy said...

That is the same brand I usually drink, Pasture Maid Dairy, which is also available at the East End Food Co-op and Right by Nature in the Strip (next to the Cork Factory).

I know others who drink it because they are lactose intolerant also.

I believe the digestive enzymes that are naturally occurring in milk are removed by the pasteurization process.