After the CDC warned about the dangers of raw milk and raw milk products yesterday, The Weston A. Price Foundation says the authors appeared to have deliberately cherry picked data to make their point. Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation explained that dairy products, in general, make up a tiny part of total foodborne illnesses in the USA – regardless of whether or not they are pasteurized or unpasteurized (raw) milk products.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) report claims that raw milk has a 150 times greater chance of causing foodborne illness than pasteurized milk. They based their report on data gathered from 1993 to 2006. Link to the CDC report

Sally Fallon Morell, said:

“What consumers need to realize, first of all. is that the incidence of foodborne illnesses from dairy products, whether pasteurized or not, is extremely low. For the 14-year period that the authors examined, there was an average of 315 illnesses a year from all dairy products for which the pasteurization status was known. Of those, there was an average of 112 illnesses each year attributed to all raw dairy products and 203 associated with pasteurized dairy products.

“In comparison, there are almost 24,000 foodborne illnesses reported each year on average. Whether pasteurized or not, dairy products are simply not a high risk product.”

Morell wonders why the authors excluded 2007 data, given that it was a peak year for illnesses associated with pasteurized milk – surely if data leading up to six years ago were included, why omit five years ago? The authors do not explain why they stopped at 2006. In 2007 e. coli linked to pasteurized cheese made 135 people ill in the USA – in the same year there were three deaths linked to listeria-tainted pasteurized milk.

No data were included that covered the 1980s either, when tens of thousands of foodborne infections were linked to pasteurized dairy products. In 1985, 16,000 reported cases of salmonellosis were traced back to just one pasteurized milk dairy. According to several reports, in 1985 over 160,000 people across the USA became ill from consuming pasteurized milk products, says the Weston A. Price Foundation.

According to JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), 1985 had the largest outbreak of salmonellosis (salmonella infection) in US history.

Fallon Morell said:

“In the context of the very low numbers of illnesses attributed to dairy in general, the authors’ decision to cut the time frame short, as compared to the available CDC data, is troubling and adds to questions about the bias in this publication.”

Morell adds that the CDC authors are not documenting the actual data they are using properly. They have used many preliminary reports. For example, five of the outbreaks quoted did not occur in the USA, some were not linked to any illnesses, seven were only related to cheese, and only five out of 46 outbreaks they counted involved investigations.

The Weston A. Price Foundation wonders why the authors did not focus on illnesses, instead of concentrating mainly on outbreaks. Two cases of minor tummy upsets can constitute an outbreak, as can thousands of sufferers with bloody diarrhea – “outbreak” is a very loose term. If public authorities really want to show concern for public health, surely data on illnesses is what counts, not the total number of outbreaks.

Judith McGeary of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance:

“The authors acknowledge that the number of foodborne illnesses from raw dairy products (as opposed to outbreaks) were not significantly different in states where raw milk is legal to sell compared with states where it is illegal to sell (In other words, had the authors looked at actual risk of illness, instead of the artificially defined “outbreaks,” there would have been no significant results to report.)

Below are some more flaws identified by the Weston A. Price Foundation:

  • Illnesses from queso fresco and suitcase style raw cheese were lumped together with foodborne diseases attributed to fluid raw milk. Fluid raw milk is much less likely to cause illness.
  • The authors of the report had all the information regarding which milk products were legal, and which were said to be the cause of illness – however, these data were not used in the report.
  • Raw milk consumption rates – instead of using the CDCs 2006-2007 data, the authors used old data which said 1% of Americans consumed raw milk, (the newer data shows that the figure is 3% – over 9 million individuals).
  • Relevant data on populations of each state were not used, even though they were available. California, New York and Texas, the three states with the most people, allow legal sales of raw milk – the reason there were more cases in these states is simple, they have more people in them; not because they allow raw milk sales. Montana and Wyoming do not allow raw milk sales, and have few cases of illness, but this is most likely because their populations are very small.

McGeary said:

“It would hardly be surprising to see some sort of increase in foodborne illnesses related to a food where that food is legal. If we banned ground beef, we’d see fewer illnesses related to ground beef products. Yet this new study fails to prove even that common-sense proposition, even as it claims to prove a great deal more. What the data really shows is that raw dairy products cause very few illnesses each year, even though the CDC data indicates that over 9 million people consume it.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist