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Got milk?

27.feb.06, Doug Powell - Commentary from the Food Safety Network, Food Safety Network

Last April, four people including two children in Canada were hospitalized with bloody diarrhea and severe abdominal cramps caused by E. coli O157:H7 after drinking raw milk purchased from the back of a vehicle.

27.feb.06, Doug Powell - Commentary from the Food Safety Network, Food Safety Network
In what could be the newest "Got milk?" advertising campaign, a wholesome looking farm couple poses behind bars, adorned in black-and-white striped prison jumpsuits and sporting painted-on milk mustaches gone sour.
Not quite two months ago, the Washington State Department of Agriculture released the results of its investigation into charges that an unlicensed dairy’s raw milk sickened at least 18 people with E. coli O157:H7. Two kids almost died.
Milk and environmental swaps taken from the milking area of the farm in question tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 -- the same strain found in the human illness case samples.
One of 28 states, Washington allows the sale of raw milk, so long as producers and processors are licensed to ensure that it’s safe from potentially lethal bacteria. In other words, monthly testing of milk and inspection of the farm and milk bottling room. Dee Creek was never licensed. In it’s defense the farm’s owners contended that food safety rules didn’t apply to them because they sold “cow-shares” to customers who bought a share in the animal -- not milk.
Last week in Washington State, new legislation was enacted to safeguard public health by closing the loophole that allows people to purchase one or more shares in a milk cow, goat or sheep from an unlicensed dairy in return for a portion of the milk produced. Cow-shares must be licensed by the state. A first violation is a misdemeanor and a subsequent violation a gross misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $5,000 and up to a year in prison.
Sound tough?
It’s not nearly as tough as the original bill proposed by Sen. Mark Doumit, D-Cathlamet, who declared, "This is a life-or-death situation. This isn't just about selling a few gallons of milk. This is penalizing someone for putting someone else's life at risk." And if he had his way, a first violation would be a gross misdemeanor and subsequent violations a felony punishable by up to five years in state prison and a $10,000 fine.
While most people recover from E.coli O157:H7, up to 10 per cent of cases go on to develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which is characterized by kidney failure. It's not fun.
Regardless, raw, unpasteurized milk has been gaining in popularity as part of the growing organic and natural foods movement. Proponents say raw milk is healthier and better tasting than pasteurized milk.
The glowing media coverage of all things natural abounds. Last year the Associated Press gushed, "Kelsey Kozack's kitchen is a dairy wonderland. Fresh cheeses, yogurt and quarts of fresh raw milk abound, all compliments of Iris, a gentle tan cow who grazes on the family's seven-acre property." Kelsey was quoted as saying, "After you've been drinking raw milk for a while, you can't drink store-bought again. It has a lot more flavor and is healthier."
Tell that to kids in hospital with a potentially fatal illness.
In December last year, the Pima County Health Department in Arizona reported that it had received confirmation of Salmonella contamination in nonpasteurized, raw milk sold at several natural- and health-food stores in the Tucson area.
Last April, four people including two children in Canada were hospitalized with bloody diarrhea and severe abdominal cramps caused by E. coli O157:H7 after drinking raw milk purchased from the back of a vehicle.
Washington state health officials note that there was an E. coli outbreak in 2004 involving three people in Whatcom County tied to illegal raw milk, and in 2003, three people in Yakima County and eight in Skagit County became ill from tainted milk.
Earlier last year the New York State health department warned against consumption of some imported Mexican cheeses made from unpasteurized milk after identifying 35 cases from 2001 to 2004, including one infant death in 2004, attributed to Mycobacterium bovis, a form of TB found in cattle.
There are too many other such cases to mention.
Raw milk drinkers believe the pasteurized milk found on grocery store shelves lack the essential enzymes and nutrients necessary to absorb calcium -- yet research shows this is simply not the case. The only things lacking in pasteurized milk are the bacteria that make people -- especially kids -- seriously ill.
With proper testing, it may be possible to offer a safe, unpasteurized product to the consuming public. But the onus is on producers to show the rest of us that data. Adults, do whatever you think works, but please, don't impose your dietary regimes on your kids. Flowery words don't do much for kids in the hospital.
Dr. Douglas Powell is scientific director of the Food Safety Network at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada (www.foodsafety.ksu.edu).
dpowell@ksu.edu
785-317-0560 (cell)

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