Friday, March 9, 2018

Raw milk comments cause another minor furore

This time, a senior scientist has kicked over the beehive and created a minor furore.   Professor Nigel French FRS, Director of the New Zealand Food Safety Science and Research Centre, has stated in an interview that he would not drink raw milk, nor give it to his family.

In my opinion, he is correct in stating that even the most careful production of raw milk cannot avoid some contamination by cow faeces, which, of course, contain bacteria and viruses.  Some of these bacteria and viruses can cause serious human disease.  As a microbiologist, I am fully aware of the sensitivity of microbiological testing and can confirm Prof. French's comment that bacteria can still be present, even if the test shows negative.

Scrupulous cleanliness and attention to detail can reduce the chances of faecal contamination of the milk, but cannot eliminate the risk.  Since the beginning of the year, there have been two recalls of raw milk over fears of contamination by Campylobacter, a bacterium that can cause diarrhoea (frequently bloody), abdominal pain, fever, headache, nausea, and/or vomiting.  Occasionally, it can produce more serious symptoms requiring hospitalisation.

Reading the comments on the article, it is clear that the proponents of raw milk consumption will not be swayed by scientific facts, and it is their right to drink raw milk.  However, the New Zealand
Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor Dr Peter Gluckman concluded: "The claimed health benefits of raw milk compared with pasteurised milk are for the most part not backed by scientific evidence, making the risk-benefit ratio very high for this food product ..."  

I have written about the hazards of drinking raw milk before (see the label Raw Milk) and the latest recalls simply confirm my opinion.  Many of the people commenting on the report are saying that they grew up drinking raw milk without problems.  What they appear not to appreciate is that our lifestyle has changed.  We don't collect our milk daily; children are coddled and protected from exposure to bacteria by the use of antibacterial soaps and cleansers, they don't go out to play in the dirt and often they are not exposed to farm animals.  In my opinion, their immune systems are less robust.  At the very least, children should not be fed raw milk - they have no ability to refuse it.  

The regulations surrounding sale of raw milk have been tightened considerably, including labelling and warnings on bottles.  Raw milk cannot be sold from health food stores and use-by dates must be printed on the packaging.  It is interesting to note that sales of raw milk are not permitted in Australia.

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