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John Block: Raw Milk

By John R. Block

“Got raw milk?  Well, don’t drink it! …Too many people are risking their health and the health of their children unnecessarily.” Those are the words of Dr. Richard Raymond, former U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for food safety.  His opinion piece in Feedstuffs Magazine sounds the alarm.

Turn back the clock to 1890. We had an infant mortality rate of 25%. Raw milk and bad water certainly could shoulder a lot of the blame. In 1938, raw milk and bad water were still causing one fourth of the illnesses.

When I was a young kid, we drank raw milk. We milked 10 cows by hand and carried the buckets of milk to our house. Then, we bottled it to sell it the next day in my grandfather’s little grocery store. We even separated some of the milk and sold the cream in the store. The skim milk we fed to the pigs. No one drank skim milk then.

The country knew about pasteurization back then, but it wasn’t used much. It wasn’t until 1948 that the State of Michigan mandated pasteurization. It wasn’t until 1973 that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a rule mandating pasteurization. In 1982, the FDA rule was finally approved. Dr. Raymond reports that “Foodborne illnesses associated with milk and dairy products plummeted to less than 1% after the rule was enacted.”

The pasteurization heating process kills the bacteria sometimes found in raw milk. The process helps to ensure a safer dairy product. However, we are beginning to ignore the risk of raw milk. Illnesses are on the rise. A number of outbreaks of E. coli have been linked to dairy products that were not pasteurized.

We have a movement today of organizations and people pushing everything “natural” (whatever that means). Of course, pasteurizing raw milk is not natural, although it is much safer. To insist on raw milk is to ignore science and put your children at risk. We don’t really know what percentage of families is still using raw milk but it’s time they accepted the science of the 21st Century. They try to tell us that pasteurization destroys the healing powers of raw milk. There is no science to verify that claim.

I agree with Dr. Raymond – “Don’t drink that raw milk.”

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.

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