Raw milk is dangerous; opposition to Missouri bills is necessary for safety


By Jane M Caldwell

Portions of this article were originally published in Food Technology magazine.

At this session, the Missouri General Assembly will consider whether the sale of raw milk in the “Show Me” state should be legal.

Rep. Ann Kelley, R-Lamar, pre-tabled House Bill 78 and Sen. Jill Carter, R-Granby, is a sponsor of an accompanying bill, Senate Bill 86. These bills would prohibit the sale of “Grade A Retail Raw Milk or Cream Made in Missouri.” – making the products legal in a grocery store, restaurant, soda fountain or similar establishment as long as the milk is clearly labeled with a specific warning.

The retail sale of raw milk in Missouri is currently prohibited. Only direct sales from producer to consumer are permitted. The goal of these bills is to circumvent federal bans on the sale and transportation of raw milk.

Fantasy vs Facts

Raw milk consumption is a contentious issue, with science battling myth, social media trumping reliable internet sources, and food safety shaking hands with politicians. Given the “buy local” trend, general distrust of technology and food processing, and misinformation published on websites and blogs, some consumers have come to believe that raw milk is better than pasteurized milk.

“I’ve always been surprised when I hear people extolling the benefits of raw milk,” said Bill Marler, a leading Seattle food poisoning attorney. “I think there’s a certain false sense of security in our food. In many ways, because we’re so good at feeding so many people safely, I think that otherwise educated people still don’t necessarily realize the risks associated with certain food consumptions.”

Health claims for the consumption of raw milk are not proven or have only very little significance in the case of vitamin loss. However, there is extensive evidence showing that raw milk poses a known public health risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that symptoms of raw milk consumption range from diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, fever, and abdominal cramps to severe syndromes such as Guillain-Barré, hemolytic-uremic syndrome, septicemia, meningitis, and intrauterine infections in pregnant women.

Documented raw milk outbreaks and diseases

The CDC reported that from 1998 to 2018, 202 outbreaks and 2,645 outbreak-related diseases occurred because of drinking raw milk. Children under the age of 5 are most at risk. From 2007 to 2012, at least one child under the age of 5 was involved in 59 percent of outbreaks. 38 percent of Salmonella diseases and 28 percent of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli diseases, which can lead to kidney failure, long-term health consequences and death, occur in one to four-year-olds.

The Real Raw Milk Facts website documents the dangers of raw milk. They include two Missouri children who were infected by germs in raw milk in 2008 and suffered life-threatening illnesses that led to continued, potentially lifelong, medical care and disability. Videos show family members discussing their children’s response to E. coli O157:H7 infection from contaminated raw milk. These include stroke, kidney failure, gallbladder damage, and central nervous system impairment. The stories are heartbreaking and ironic. The parents of the affected children believed all the apocryphal and anecdotal advice. They thought they would offer their children a healthier alternative to pasteurized milk.

Yes, the pre-bills for this Missouri legislature will include a warning label on raw milk sold in retail stores in Missouri. Unfortunately, babies and toddlers don’t read. Neither do many seniors in assisted living or in long-term care.

Federal Raw Milk Ordinance

Because milk is an important part of the diet of infants, children and older adults, who may not have choices about the products they consume, raw milk consumption needs to be regulated. The interstate sale and distribution of raw milk was banned by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1987, but this still leaves the legality of domestic sales and distribution with the various states.

“Government legislators tend to be a bit conservative, and one of the things they really, really, really like is small farmers coming in and railing against government intervention and regulation. It is therefore sometimes very difficult to convince the legislator not to make progress with raw milk bills,” says Marler. Many lawmakers want to overturn federal laws because they believe they can provide another source of income for small family businesses.

call to action

If you are concerned about this potential legislation, please contact Missouri state officials and senators and forward this article to them. Let’s prevent kidney failure in another Missouri toddler by educating our lawmakers about the dangers of raw milk.

Debunking the raw milk myths
Many of the misconceptions about the health benefits of raw milk have been proven inaccurate by the US Food and Drug Administration:

  1. Raw milk does not cure lactose intolerance.
  2. Raw milk does not cure or treat asthma or allergies.
  3. Raw milk is no more effective than pasteurized milk in treating osteoporosis.
  4. Raw milk does not contain beneficial bacteria (probiotics) for gastrointestinal health.
  5. Raw milk is not an immune-boosting food and is particularly unsafe for children.
  6. Raw milk does not contain any immunoglobulins that strengthen the human immune system.
  7. Raw milk does not contain any additional proteases or lipases that facilitate milk digestion.
  8. Raw milk is not nutritionally superior to pasteurized milk.
  9. Raw milk does not contain any natural antimicrobial components that make it drinkable.
  10. Raw milk does not contain nisin for pathogen inhibition.
  11. Folate-binding protein is not denatured during pasteurization, and folate (vitamin B9) utilization is not reduced in pasteurized milk.

About the author: Jane M. Caldwell, Ph.D., is a freelance science and health writer who has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals, books, and the popular press. She is the food safety and quality editor for Food Technology Magazine and writes data-driven, educational essays for the American Council of Science and Health. She hosts and creates medical edutainment podcasts for On Medical Grounds and publishes a weekly substack foodie newsletter called SPICY. Email: [email protected]

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