Group aims to educate public about unpasteurized milk


Capital Press

A group of veterinarians, public health experts, food safety advocates and even raw-milk enthusiasts have improved and relaunched a website to give consumers facts about raw milk.

"We are clearly biased ... but not political. We weigh the risk, and raw milk has a higher risk than pasteurized milk" when it comes to foodborne illness, said Michele Jay-Russell, lead author for the site.

The site is being underwritten by Marler Clark, a Seattle law firm that represents victims of food poisoning.

The website was launched in April 2010 following two symposiums on the issue in 2009. It was relaunched Nov. 17 with more information and an interactive map on state raw-milk laws and pending legislation across the U.S.

Jay-Russell, a veterinarian with a master's degree in epidemiology and a Ph.D. in microbiology, said there is a strong veterinarian presence guiding the website because a lot of the problems with raw milk originate in disease in dairy animals.

"There's a lot of expertise in just understanding the transmission route," she said.

In the U.S., healthy dairy animals such as cattle and goats may carry foodborne pathogens such as campylobacter, E. coli, listeria and salmonella, which can cause serious illness and even death in humans.

With the growing popularity of raw milk and increasing claims of health advantages, the group wanted to give consumers science-based information and answers to their questions.

"There's really a lot of misinformation out there for consumers and safety concerns for public health," Jay-Russell said.

The site provides evidence-based information and anecdotal presentations from people who had bad experiences with raw milk, she said.

The website is devoted to addressing hot topics that surround raw milk, such as safety, health advantages and the laws and regulations that govern the sale of raw milk. All content for the site is reviewed by scientists and health educators in universities, government, industry and professional organizations.

It also tracks infection outbreaks, recalls and health claims.

"We try to cover both sides as long as it's not over-biased. A lot of information is not based on science but on marketing," she said.

Beyond presenting evidence-based scientific research and opinion, the website stays up-to-date on topics of interest in the food-safety and raw-milk communities.

"I think it's really important to consumers, in part, and also to farmers thinking to get into raw milk," she said.

Many raw-milk enthusiasts have claimed that it not only tastes better than pasteurized milk but prevents autism, cancer, Crohn's Disease and asthma.

However, incidents such as the recent E. coli outbreak that was linked to California-based raw milk producer Organic Pastures lead others to declare that the risks outweigh the benefits, a press release from the group stated.

"At this point most of the purported advantages of raw milk are still anecdotal, but the risks are proven," William Marler, a food-safety attorney and the site's publisher said in the press release.

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