David E. Gumpert has been a long time advocate of Nourishing Our Children, and I’ve been grateful to have found a supporter in him. He reached out to me to review his latest book, The Raw Milk Answer Book: What You Really Need to Know About Our Most Controversial Food and I am delighted to report that I highly recommend it via our Amazon affiliation. I think it is an invaluable resource and I learned a fair amount reading it. I like how thorough, methodical and impartial David’s approach is, and how he answers a logical chain of questions with facts, figures, and extensive research. I would characterize the book as quite “fair” in its handling of both sides of the issue. This book answers over 200 questions on the topic of raw milk which I envision is comprehensive enough to satisfy most of our curious minds. I will most definitely refer to the book again and again. It is available as a paperback, an e-book, and just released as an audio book as well.
A little about the author and journalist before I write about his latest book. David also wrote Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights: The Escalating Battle Over Who Decides What We Eat, and The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind Americas Emerging Battle Over Food Rights, both of which have been positively reviewed by the Weston A. Price Foundation. He also has a blog called The Complete Patient.
The Raw Milk Answer Book Table of Contents
After and Introduction, David covers:
- Raw Milk Basics
- Why All the Fuss?
- Why the History of Raw Milk Matters So Much
- How Risky Is Raw Milk, Really?
- What Are the Health Benefits of Raw Milk?
- Reconcile the Risks and Benefits of Raw Milk
- Buying Raw Milk
- Find the Safest Raw Milk
- Find the Best Quality Raw Milk
- Bring Raw Milk Into Your Home … Peacefully
Is raw milk safe?
In my experience, raw milk safety is often the question folks have the most concern about, so I want to share some of what I learned on the subject. Throughout the book, David serves as an impartial reporter would and illustrates both sides of the issue. Public health authorities claim that raw milk is just too risky for most people, and especially for children and individuals with compromised immune systems, like those undergoing chemotherapy. The CDC even has created a web site with videotaped interviews of individuals who got sick from raw milk, or whose children got sick.
Advocates of raw milk assert that the risks associated with raw milk have been exaggerated. They contend that there are risks associated with all foods, and that even pasteurized milk has made people seriously ill, and even killed a few.
David very methodically analyzed all the available data on how many illnesses are actually reported from the consumption of raw milk: “I have gone through the tedious process of extracting annual data from the CDC database. When you examine CDC data over the last decade, you find that there are generally between 25 and 200 reported illnesses from raw milk each year. In 2008 there were 132, in 2011 there were 60. There is no long-term trend up or down, though from 2006-2010 the trend was steadily up, before the number of illnesses plummeted in 2011. So what I did was take a typical recent year for both raw milk illnesses, and total foodborne illnesses as reported by the CDC. That way, we are comparing apples and apples. What I found was as follows:”
- In 2008, there were 23,000 total foodborne illnesses reported by the CDC.
- 132 came from raw milk and raw milk cheese.
- Thus, slightly over one half of one per cent of the total reported illnesses was from raw milk.
David goes on to explain that to truly assess the risk of drinking raw milk, we need to know whether the risk of getting sick or dying is one in 100, one in 1,000, or one in a million. Unfortunately, like most questions involving raw milk, the answer seems to vary according to the person’s views, for or against. That is due to the fact the data is not complete. For example, we don’t have ongoing data about raw milk consumption that would help quantify the risk on a per-serving basis. Similarly, we don’t have comparative data on illnesses from different foods.
Still, even in this data vacuum, a number of experts have attempted to provide risk assessments. According to Ted Beals, a retired pathologist and professor at the University of Michigan, and a raw milk proponent, you have a greater chance of getting injured in an auto accident on the way to the farm than you have of getting sick from the raw milk you actually buy.
But CDC researchers say raw milk is a terrible danger: “It is important to note that a substantial proportion of the raw-milk-associated disease burden falls on children; among the 104 outbreaks from 1998-2011 with information on the patients’ ages available, 82% involved at least one person younger than 20 years old.” The CDC didn’t say how this percentage compares to other foods.
What is the actual risk?
So which is it? Is the risk as remote as being struck by lightning, or is there a serious risk of children becoming sick? The short answer is that we just don’t know. Part of the reason is that our public health establishment, which monitors food-borne illness, hasn’t done the kind of research necessary to provide a serious risk analysis and comparison to other foods.
David offers his own personal opinion:
I know that a number of children have become seriously ill from raw milk, which I discuss in more detail in Chapter 5 on food safety. The nonprofit organization, Center for Science and the Public Interest, says that 70% of all illnesses from dairy result from raw milk, which is a high percentage, considering that likely three per cent of the population or less is drinking raw milk.
I also know that hundreds of thousands of people are drinking raw milk each day, without any hint of illness. In Massachusetts, where I live, and where raw milk is sold directly from approximately 25 licensed dairies to consumers, there hasn’t been an illness reported from a licensed raw dairy in the state since it began licensing dairies in the 1990s. In surrounding states, like New Hampshire and Maine, the situation is similar. Vermont had a handful of illnesses in 2010, according to state regulators, but from the description they provided during legislative hearings seeking approval of new regulations to broaden raw milk distribution, it seems as if most or all of the illnesses came from dairies that primarily sell raw milk for pasteurization, and not from dairies that are regulated to sell it raw.
One other thing: In my experience, a few dairies with identifiable problems have been responsible for the most serious illnesses. Or, put another way, there are hundreds of small dairies selling raw milk that have been doing it for years without a single illness.
Nutritionist Chris Kressler did an intriguing analysis in 2012. He made the point that most illnesses from tainted food, including raw milk, are mild, with a few days of upset stomach. Then he added:
“The statistic we should be more concerned with is hospitalizations for serious illnesses such as kidney failure and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) caused by unpasteurized milk. This does happen, and children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable and more likely to experience a serious illness. That said, hospitalizations from raw milk are extremely rare. During the 2000 − 2007 period, there were 12 hospitalizations for illnesses associated with raw fluid milk. That’s an average of 1.5 per year. With approximately 9.4 million people drinking raw milk, that means you have about a 1 in 6 million chance of being hospitalized from drinking raw milk.”
“To put this in perspective, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, you have a roughly 1 in 8,000 chance of dying in a motor vehicle accident if you live in the U.S. Therefore, you have a 750 times greater chance of dying in a car crash than becoming hospitalized from drinking raw milk.”
I drink raw milk with confidence.
I want to add my own personal experience. I have been drinking raw milk since 2004 while I lived in San Francisco and now in Portland. I am blessed to be part of a local herd share offered through The Abbey Farm. I have visited the farm. I didn’t tolerate pasteurized milk at all but, do very well on raw milk. I have concluded that the benefits of raw milk to those who digest it well far outweigh the risks.
Some of the questions that are answered in the book:
- Is it really healthier than pasteurized milk?
- Can I get the same nutritional benefits by drinking pasteurized organic milk?
- Is pasteurized milk that isn’t homogenized as nutritious as raw milk?
- Is raw milk legal to sell in my state?
- How do I locate a source to buy it from?
- What is a herd share or cow share arrangement?
- How do I determine if a particular dairy is producing safe raw milk?
- Can I tolerate raw milk if I have trouble digesting pasteurized milk?
- Should I serve raw milk to my children to improve their health?
- Will it help my children’s eczema?
- Why is there so much conflict about whether raw milk should be legal?
- What if my spouse and I adamantly disagree about serving raw milk to our family?
- On and on the questions go.
David writes: “Sandrine, Thanks for all your great support, not only for this book, but for all the parents and children and their rights to food choice.”
David has generously offered to send 5 complimentary copies to 5 individuals within the United States. One book per household. To enter the giveaway, please answer the following questions in the comments with at least 5 sentences. Be sure to include the words “raw milk” in your answer. The deadline is Tuesday, August 18 at 8:00P, PDT. Everyone who enters will be notified of the results via email.
[Update – I have randomly chosen 5 qualifying responses and have notified those who will receive a paperback version of the book from David Gumpert complimentary: Sally Goldin, Cynthia Hill, Janna Weil, Kate (Ekstrom) Grenon, and Amanda. Congratulations!]