By Kathy Voth and Rachel Gilker / April 7, 2014 / 5 Comments
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Rachel and Kathy are co-editors of On Pasture. They often collaborate on articles so that you get the best they have to offer.
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We are fans of your work on animal nutrition, which is why we are a little disappointed in this article.
My main issue is your article, as written, is misleading to the casual reader.
Your article deals with two types of milk-borne diseases: (1) communicable diseases where an infected cow transmittes the disease through unpasturized milk and (2) diseases that are the result of contamination of the milk after milking.
The the milk-borne diseases that led to pasturation were of the first type, such as TB, typhoid, diptheria, brucellosis and the like. These are diseases that, in the developed world, have been largely eliminated by vaccines. Dairy cows can be vaccinated against them or tested for them, as well. That means that pasturization is largely unnecessary to combat those diseases in the developed world.
It also means that elmination of pasturization would not lead to a dramatic increase in food-borne illness in the developed world based on the spread of TB, typhoid, diptheria, brucellosis and the like.
As to contamination of the milk after milking, pasturization does kill Listeria, E. Coli, etc. Unpasturized milk, coupled with unsanitary handling systems could increase the incidence of the type of food-borne illness we now associate with spinich, cantalope, and under-cooked ground meat, none of which we require to be pasturized. However, I would expect that the incidence of those contaminations in raw milk productionto be at a much lower level than the level of contamination caused by communicable diseases in an era prior to our ability to vaccinate and test for those diseases.
This lack of connection between the magnitue of milk-borne diseases at the time pasturization was introduced and the likely level of milk-borne disease in a modern envoirment makes your article, in my view, misleading to the casual reader.
Also, we lack research on the true benefits of raw milk so that those can be weighed against the true risks of raw milk. Also, there are tools to combat food-borne disease in raw milk other than pasturization, so that simply casting the issue of food-borne disease as one of pasturization is overly simplistic, particularly if one believes that there are benefits to consumption of raw milk.
As I write this, I am sitting in Follensbee Inn in North Sutton, New Hampshire, where Denis, the Innkeeper, has just brought Anne and me freshly baked cookies, which we will have will a glass of raw milk (100% Milking Devons) that we purchased from Bunten Farm in Orford, NH a few days ago.
The intent with this article was simply to provide a history of why pasteurization of milk became routine in the U.S. We think it’s important information for folks to know. As we did our research, we did anticipate that someone would wonder if stopping pasteurization might be ok because the diseases we were initially concerned with might no longer be a problem. Do vaccinations and updated sanitary conditions protect us? Here’s what we gathered:
• Of these diseases, we only vaccinate for one, and that one, diphtheria, is typically a human vectored disease. In the U.S. we usually get the Tdap vaccine at the age of 11 or 12. This protects us from Tetanus, Diphtheria and Whooping Cough. Then we have to get a Td booster for tetanus and diphtheria every 10 to 12 years. Back when scientists first discovered diphtheria bacilli growing in milk, it was unclear if diphtheria was a result of cattle being or the people doing the milking. They did find that milk was a very good growing medium.
• In the U.S. we do not vaccinate for Typhoid. Vaccinations are only recommended if you are traveling to a country where typhoid fever is common such as places in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. According to the Centers for Disease Control, travelers should get vaccinated 1-2 weeks before traveling, but should still take precautions with what they eat or drink because the vaccine is not always effective. Vaccinations must be repeated every few years as they lose their efficacy. Typhoid fever is the result of Salmonella serotype Typhi pathogens which can be shed in the feces of cows, or can be present on their udders. Researchers and health officials are now concerned at the rise of multi-drug resistant Salmonella serotype Typhi.
• There is no vaccine for brucellosis in humans. Vaccines for animals can actually cause the disease in humans. As in animals, the disease causes miscarriages and still births in humans. Symptoms include fever, profuse sweating, headache, fatigue, depression, loss of appetite, irritability, cough, chest pain and upset stomach. Most people recover fully, but it can also affect bones and joints causing arthritis. If untreated it can become latent and then recur after many years. Chronic complications such as endocarditis (inflammation of the heart lining) and meningitis have occurred.
• Regarding vaccines for Tuberculosis, TB expert Dr. Neil Schluger says that we don’t vaccinate in the U.S. “because we don’t have enough TB to make it worthwhile to vaccinate the entire population. It’s expensive and complicated to do that but around the world, [BDG] is a very widely used vaccine. No matter how much it works, and people argue about how well it works, it clearly doesn’t work well enough because, as I said, it’s the most widely used vaccine in the world, and TB is still the eighth leading cause of death and TB cases around the world have not declined at all in a very long time, so we need a new vaccine for sure. I would say that at the rate we’re going eradication of TB globally is not within sight. We just don’t have the tools. The bad news though is, from everything I can see, it’ll be at least 20 years — and that might be an optimistic estimate — before there’s a better vaccine available.”
That said, the kind of TB that we get from cows is not the TB that there is a vaccine for. Mycobacterium Bovis is carried in cattle, deer, bison, and elk, and often the animals have no symptoms of this disease. According to the Center for Disease Control, M. Bovis is responsible for less than 2% of the total cases of TB in the U.S, noting that the disease was once common in the U.S. but has been greatly reduced by decades of disease control in cattle and routine pasteurization of cows’ milk. In humans the disease is resistant to pyrzinamide, an antibiotic typically used to treat the other form of TB noted above.
As for modern-day sanitary farm facilities, we have no doubt that producers are doing their very best to bring us healthy, pathogen free food. And we do pretty darn well. Yet, we still have outbreaks of illnesses caused by contaminated food. As a result of pasteurization, milk represents less than 1% of those outbreaks. Of the outbreaks related to milk between 1998 and 2011, 79% were due to raw milk or cheese. These resulted in 2,384 illnesses, 284 hospitalizations, and 2 deaths.
Are there nutritional benefits from drinking raw milk? The research, and there is actually a good deal of it, says the differences in vitamins and enzymes between raw and pasteurized are so minor that they are not significant. A recently released study, partially funded by the Weston A. Price Foundation, on lactose intolerance being reduced by drinking raw milk found that there was no difference between raw and pasteurized milk.
What we interpreted from this is that the science of protecting us from diseases with vaccines or medications isn’t as good as what we can do for ourselves by using the science of killing the bacteria and pathogens first. That said, if you know the risks, and can mitigate for them, then go ahead and enjoy your cookies and raw milk.
Your Editors, Kathy and Rachel
Very touchy, indeed. Most foods can be associated with disease and death. Some of us believe Raw Milk is getting a Raw Deal. There are a lot of people out there who believe cows shouldn’t eat weeds – they are TOXIC! I am very disappointed by the one-sided approach of the “research” for this article and the inflammatory title.
I started this article with a sincere question in my mind, because I really didn’t know why it became common to pasteurize milk. I had no idea about the history, and this is just what I found out. These are the health issues that were once associated with milk, and aren’t any longer, and if I had found another side to that history as I did my research, I would have shared it.
As for the title, well, two things…I think it represents what Milk does for us, and used to do to us. And…it was also an experiment on my part. Rachel and I talked about that a lot before we published the article with this title. I advocated for the experiment because I’ve been noticing what articles I choose to read based on the headlines, and what our readers look at based on our headlines. In general we all seem to be drawn to the dramatic. I realized that the title was dramatic, but I thought it would also be a useful way of drawing people to the article so that they would take the time to read some history.
I drank raw milk whenever I visited my Grandpa’s Kansas dairy farm when I was growing up, and Rachel has consumed raw milk as well. It’s not so much that we have an axe to grind with raw milk as we think that there is some information that folks might like to have as they make choices. With my lack of knowledge about why pasteurization occurred nationwide, I thought others might be missing the same background. This is just information for the ongoing discussion. If we’re going to sell and drink raw milk we should know about potential problems and how to mitigate for them.
As you noted, other foods can and do cause disease and death and I have collected information on that as well as a possible follow up to this article.
Thanks for writing and for reading. We appreciate your participation!
Very touchy article in some discussion groups. Like most people growing up on farms and ranches, we drank whole milk. And yet, the science is confirming diseases can be present. This is one of those decisions that has no absolute answer.
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