Legislature Must Rein In Risk Of Raw Milk

(The Hartford Courant, CT)

F. Philip Prelli

 

A bill to protect consumers from the dangers of raw milk died in the General Assembly's Environment Committee, but fortunately there is still an opportunity for the legislature to revive this important public health legislation.

Raw milk presents a serious health risk to children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. In an effort to better monitor and control any problems arising from tainted raw milk, the measure proposes to limit its retailing to "on-farm" sales only and to strengthen current labeling to a more informative consumer warning targeted at high-risk groups.

The issue is not about the professionalism of the retail raw milk producers. It is about a process that inherently is fraught with difficulties because of the high concentration of fecal matter on a dairy farm. Raw milk obtained from small farms where the cows all have names and are raised on grass diets does not change that fact. Manure will be present where cows are housed and milked.

The most effective way to ensure the safety of milk is through pasteurization, which destroys pathogens. Statistically, given the billions of gallons of pasteurized milk consumed in the U.S. each year, pasteurized milk is many hundreds of times safer than raw milk. Pasteurization does not change the nutritional value of milk. Some of the diseases that pasteurization can prevent are tuberculosis, campylobacteriosis, listeriosis, undulant fever, salmonellosis, and E. coli 0157 infections and its complications.

 

In the summer of 2008, 14 people were sickened from consuming unpasteurized milk produced by a Simsbury farm licensed to sell retail raw milk. The three most seriously ill were children. Two of the children did not consume raw milk. The E. coli 0157 infection spread among them from close contact with children who had consumed the tainted milk before the severity of the infection was known. Two of the children developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication caused by the virulent E. coli 0157 strain.

It is not the first time that illness from the consumption of raw milk or raw milk products has occurred in Connecticut.

According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, in 1990 four cases of campylobacteriosis were linked to the consumption of raw milk from a Connecticut farm. In 2001, unpasteurized milk from two different Connecticut farms was recalled because of contamination by listeria and campylobacter.

Listeriosis is a potentially fatal disease responsible for significant mortality, primarily affecting fetuses and pregnant women. There have been at least three occasions over the past five years where action taken by Connecticut's Department of Agriculture kept tainted raw milk products from the marketplace.

Occasionally, due to human error, pasteurized milk has become contaminated post-pasteurization, and other food-borne illnesses have occurred from contaminated lettuce, spinach, peanuts and most recently pistachio nuts. That is not a good reason to ignore a public health threat that has been recognized by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association and the National Association of Public Health Veterinarians.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has said, "Prevention of disease in children is one of the academy's highest priorities. Raw milk is known to transmit infectious diseases, and pasteurization is known to minimize risk. Raw milk has no benefit that would justify any increased risk to children."

Consumers should not be misled into believing this is a debate about locally grown products vs. giant food producers. Nor is it a debate about "family farms" vs. "factory farms."

Every dairy farm in Connecticut is owned by a family and supports a family or families. This is a debate about food safety and the moral obligation to protect people at the dawn and the twilight of life.

Raw milk is a food that can be easily contaminated and presents a serious health risk to children, the elderly and the infirm. The legislature needs to act before another tragedy occurs

4-3-09

 

 

 

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