Rates of serious illness from drinking “raw” or unpasteurized milk products are increasing. They need to be more strictly regulated.
As a pediatrician at a Sacramento area hospital, I have seen the cost to families. An adorable 2-year-old boy with bright blue eyes was hospitalized for weeks, with a dialysis catheter coming out of his chest, after his kidneys failed from E coli. His parents tried their best to keep his spirits up, but the situation became traumatic for him. Sometimes kids’ kidneys do not recover. Sometimes they require a renal transplant.
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California is one of only 11 states that allow raw milk to be sold in any retail store, usually right next to pasteurized milk. The only difference is that it has a label stating it may contain disease-causing microorganisms and listing those populations most at risk – children, the elderly and pregnant women.
The warning label does not adequately portray the risks. Other states have realized this is a public health crisis. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 30 outbreaks linked to raw milk from 2007 to 2009. There were 51 outbreaks from 2010 to 2012.
Our culture rejects “processed” food in favor of more natural alternatives, which is usually a good thing but not for raw milk. There are numerous websites dedicated to the benefits of raw milk, but they misquote studies and tout blatant lies, while minimizing the risks.
So here are the facts. Pasteurization, which is merely heating the milk, reduces harmful bacteria. While opponents say beneficial bacteria are also killed, they can still be found in pasteurized products such as yogurt. Further, the destruction of harmful bacteria outweighs the benefit of keeping good bacteria alive.
Raw milk advocates also argue that pasteurization denatures beneficial enzymes. However, these enzymes would be denatured in the acidic conditions of the stomach anyway. There have been a few studies that suggested a link between the consumption of raw milk and a decrease in allergies and asthma, but there are other explanations for the correlation.
Every credible health organization – the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics – and every large analysis of the current research have concluded that the risks of raw milk far outweigh the benefits.
It is time for California to join the vast majority of states and enact legislation that prohibits the sale of unpasteurized milk in retail stores.
Vidhi Jhaveri is a Sacramento pediatrician. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.