The American Academy of Pediatrics have issued a new policy statement urging pregnant women, infants and young children to consume only pasteurized dairy products as opposed to raw milk and milk products.

The statement, published in the journal Pediatrics, supports already existing recommendations from the American Medical Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the International Association for Food Protection, the National Environmental Health Association, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Association.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unpasteurized milk and milk products can contain harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites. If consumed, the products can cause sickness, diarrhea, stomach cramping, and in more severe cases, kidney failure, paralysis and even death.

The CDC state that the risk of becoming ill from raw milk or milk products is significantly greater for people with weakened immune systems, the elderly, pregnant women, infants and young children.

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A new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics urges pregnant women, infants and young children to consume only pasteurized milk and milk products.

The statement authors, led by Yvonne Maldonado, professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine in California, note that prior to the development of pasteurization, drinking milk was one of the main causes of childhood disease and death, and many children contracted tuberculosis from drinking it.

Although previous research has demonstrated that cow herds are now healthier compared with the “pre-pasteurization era,” the authors say these herds carry other organisms that can lead to severe bacterial infections in pregnant women and children.

“There have been recent studies demonstrating that even healthy dairy animals in good facilities carry some of these organisms on their udders, or the organisms are somewhere in their environment and the milk can be contaminated with them,” says Prof. Maldonado.

“When these organisms are ingested, especially by young babies or pregnant women, they can cause severe illness.”

However, the authors note that popularity of unpasteurized milk and milk products has been growing, due to claims that the products contain the same amount of nutrients as pasteurized milk.

But Prof. Maldonado says there is no solid evidence to support these claims:

We have no scientific evidence that consuming raw milk provides any advantages over pasteurized milk and milk products.

But relative to the amount of raw milk products on the market, we do see a disproportionately large number of diseases and illnesses from raw milk.”

According to the CDC, there were 148 outbreaks due to consumption of raw dairy products reported between 1998 and 2011. These resulted in 2,384 illnesses, 284 hospitalizations and two deaths. The majority of the illnesses were caused by the bacteria E. Coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella or Listeria.

Interstate shipment and sales of raw milk and some raw milk products were banned by the FDA in 1987. However, the statement authors note that this ban has no influence over whether such products that are created within a certain state are allowed to be sold within that state.

Although unpasteurized dairy products are clearly a public health hazard, a 2011 survey by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture found that the products were still being sold legally in 30 US states, including California.

The authors point out that one exemption in the FDA ban allowed cheeses that had been matured for a minimum of 60 days to be transported over state lines for sale, as long as the cheese was clearly labeled as unpasteurized.

However, considering the evidence that raw milk and milk products are a common cause of illness, the new policy statement urges a nationwide ban on the sale of unpasteurized dairy products, including raw milk cheeses that have been matured for at least 60 days.

The authors back this up by citing evidence that the 0157 E. Coli strain – known to cause severe sickness and even liver failure – is able to survive in raw milk cheese after 60 days.

Furthermore, the policy statement urges pediatricians to support a ban on unpasteurized dairy products by lobbying their state representatives.

Prof. Maldonado concludes:

We invented pasteurization to prevent these horrible diseases. There is really no good reason to drink unpasteurized milk.”