Milk | Photo: fdecomite, CC BY 2.0
A friendly reminder that raw milk confers no health benefits and a host of health risks, even if your provider is “careful.”
Consuming raw milk isn’t a good idea at the best of times. Giving raw milk to children is a terrible and dangerous idea.
Raw milk, that is, milk that hasn’t been pasteurized (heated) to reduce the potential for it to cause illness, is actually illegal to sell in many places. In the US, the federal government has used its limited powers (in this case over interstate commerce) to prevent it being sold from one state to another, but in many states it’s still astonishingly legal to sell. In Canada, selling it (even at the local level) can land you with thousands of dollars in fines and potential jail time, and for good reasons.
The scientific evidence is clear and overwhelming: There are zero demonstrable health benefits to consuming raw milk. It does not have more nutrients. It does not fix lactose intolerance. It is not better for people with a milk allergy. It will not prevent a milk allergy. It does not have good bacteria that will render it safe for you to consume, at least not while it’s in milk form (though certain cheeses made from raw milk are quite safe after friendlier bacteria have had a chance to proliferate and outcompete them, and even Canada allows the sale of raw-milk cheeses that are older than sixty days).
But, you say, raw milk tastes better.
Well, fine. I can’t tell you what does or doesn’t taste better, and as an adult you’re allowed to do unsafe things. If you want to jump out of a perfectly functional airplane, you’re allowed to do so (and to enjoy it!) and we don’t have to agree on the enjoyability of such an activity.
But when it comes to the risks to children, I want to be clear: raw milk is not safe for children, and you should not give it to them. You can’t push a child out of a plane and tell them to enjoy it. Most responsible people would call that abusive behaviour.
But my farmer takes precautions, I hear you saying. That’s lovely, and does make it safer than it would otherwise be. Especially if they’re testing for the bacteria that cause tuberculosis (mycobacterium), brucellosis (brucella), scarlet fever (group A streptococcus), diphtheria (corynebacterium diphtheriae), and Q-fever (coxiella burnetii), as well as salmonella, listeria, yersinia, campylobacter, staph. aureus, and everyone’s favourite e. coli, all of which can be present in milk before pasteurization.
But they can’t test every batch of milk, or test every cow with enough frequency to give you anything like a guarantee. Testing takes time (longer than anyone wants unpasteurized milk to sit around for), so they don’t test the milk you’re actually about to drink, and many of these pathogens can find their way into milk from healthy cows, or from cows who just weren’t sick the last time they were tested. As the CDC puts it:
“The dairy farm environment is a reservoir for illness-causing germs. No matter what precautions farmers take, and even if their raw milk tests come back negative, they cannot guarantee that their milk, or the products made from their milk, are free of harmful germs.”
Even with restrictions on the sale of unpasteurized milk, thousands of people have been made sick over the past decade from consuming raw milk products. If you want to take that risk for yourself, that’s fine. But if you want to make someone else take that risk for no reason other than personal taste, make an objectively better choice and don’t.
If you wouldn’t give your child raw eggs, raw beef, honey, or raw seafood (as the Canadian government advises you not to), don’t give them raw milk either.
Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.