Cennamology Chief Editor
As a person who has had E. coli in the past, and spent a week in Johns Hopkins Hospital because of it, I can attest that food that has been haphazardly inspected by the producers can lead to increased costs in public health. Therefore, it would be a wise decision to pursue the measures necessary to prevent children and adults from contracting the disease, and to reject any suggestions that may exacerbate that risk. One policy proposal that may put the public at a greater risk of getting E. coli, and is gaining serious political clout in recent years, is a relaxation of the regulations of raw (unpasteurized) milk.
What is troubling about those who support the ease of access to raw milk is that they are unabashedly embracing of bacteria that could harm the public at large. Producers and consumers of raw milk do not seem to be fazed by the fact that there are nearly 150 times more likely of being infected with a disease than those who steer clear of raw milk. Despite this, the bacteria embracing crowd appears to be growing, as are their political efforts. In fact, the issue of raw milk has been a hotly debated topic in the Maryland legislature for the past few years, and will most likely return to Annapolis for the upcoming session.
Those who sell raw milk claim that it is healthier and safer than pasteurized milk. They are skeptical of pasteurization because they think that the radiation and chemical treatment makes the milk dangerous to consume. The health benefits of raw milk that are touted by activists include strengthening the immune and digestive systems, dental benefits, epidermal benefits, and (as claimed by more extreme proponents) the ability to cure cancer, autism, and diabetes. However, these claims have not been supported by science.
California raw milk seller Mark McAfee’s products were linked to six cases of E. coli in children, yet it has been reported that his sales have grown. It is also troubling that McAfee is quite proud of the unsanitary nature of his products, saying “manure is the carrier of the beneficial bacteria found in raw milk.” Manure is also the carrier of E. coli. Whatever “benefits” manure may bring, the risk of E. coli more than cancels them out.
On the other hand, the success of pasteurization has both history and science on its side. For example, once pasteurized milk was introduced in New York City at affordable rates, the infant mortality rate dropped precipitously. Pasteurization is believed to be one of the greatest breakthroughs in public health, and putting children at risk by easy access to raw milk is something that should be strongly discouraged.
However, taking personal freedom into account, an outright ban on raw milk will be an ineffective policy. A ban is likely to make the problem worse because it would result in an underground black market that is totally unregulated. Chances are far more likely than not that any raw milk sold on this market will be untested. An underground market will significantly increase the likelihood of outbreaks, and it would be much safer if the products were available but sold at a standard that is acceptable to both the government and consumers. People who sincerely desire access to raw milk, believing that it has enormous health benefits, will find a way to get it. If they are to get it, it would be best if it is through a regulated market.
America is the country where any person of any lifestyle can come to live their life as they please. Those who are radically devoted to unprocessed foods view the consumption of raw milk as an essential component of their lifestyle. One raw milk supporter views raw milk as “a primary touchstone of that sort of agrarian, old-fashioned way of life.” In a period where organic, gluten-free, and low fat diets are becoming more popular with consumers, this agrarian way of life is important to many Americans. A ban on raw milk is undesirable because those who are dedicated to this way of life will find illegal means to obtain raw milk, which will make them less safe, not more.
I went through the experience of having E. coli when I was eleven years old. After I recovered, health officials unsuccessfully searched for the potential source of where I got sick. Policymakers should do whatever they can to make sure E. coli never becomes easier to contract. Widespread availability of raw milk will complicate this goal. However, banning raw milk will also complicate this goal.
The most effective policy would be to make raw milk available to those who view it as an essential part of their lifestyle while ensuring that the milk they are consuming is still regulated in a satisfactory manner. A regulation of raw milk needs to ensure that the milk is acceptable to both those who buy it for “beneficial bacteria” while the bacteria that puts the public at greatest risk is not present.