Is Raw Milk Safe?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Skimming the cream from raw milk (flickr user Chiot's Run)

Over the past three years, the popularity of unpasteurized milk – or raw milk, as it’s sometimes called – has grown across the country. Advocates say heat-treating milk destroys enzymes and nutrients, while detractors say it's necessary to keep people from getting sick. Battles over how milk is sold and regulated have exploded. 

Ten states, including Maine, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, have made it legal to sell unpasteurized milk in stores. Meanwhile, other states are fighting to make it easier to purchase. In Wisconsin, Governor Jim Doyle indicated last month that he’ll sign a bill – already passed by the senate and assembly - legalizing and regulating the sale of raw milk between farmers and consumers. In Massachusetts, raw milk supporters this week protested the fact that they ONLY have this right. They’d like to be able to buy milk from more places than the state’s 27 regulated farms. And in many states like New Jersey, raw milk supporters secretly run unpasteurized milk across state lines.

If you’re not part of the milk wars, you might be wondering: Why are people fighting so hard to drink milk that’s not pasteurized? And is it safe?

David Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America's Emerging Battle Over Food Rights. He says that, under the right circumstances, raw milk is safe. And Bill Marler is an attorney who represents foodborne illness victims. He’s also the editor of He says that raw milk can be extremely risky to people’s health.


David Gumpert and Bill Marler

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [14]

jm from rawmillk forbidden iowa

the big deal is the gov. the fda and big dairy dont want you to choose another source of milk.Theirs only.give them more money cuz they need keep givinig them more cuz you dont give a crap about the farmer making pennies per gallon for pasturized government milk. I believe if every body and their momma started drinking it there would be problems because people need to know the right kind of milk being made in the right hands.and your own health.if your eating donuts garbage and never take care of yourself dont bother seeking out raw milk.

Jul. 06 2010 10:23 PM
Jacque from So CA

I just finished a lovely iced latte' made with raw milk. I have dairy goats and drink raw milk daily - also make butter, yogurt and cheese. I know exactly how clean my milk is because I care for the goats and process the milk. It tastes way better than anything pasteurized - but I wouldn't buy it from someone else due to not knowing how it's been handled.

May. 14 2010 06:18 PM
Matt M from Bronx, NY

While raw milk isn't a huge risk for people with fully functioning immune system, that's a smaller group than you might expect: it does not include young children, the elderly, and pregnant women. The CDC spells it out pretty plainly:

And the consequences of a pregnant woman contracting Listeria are disastrous:

May. 13 2010 11:33 PM
Dave from North of Boston

Why is the danger of pasteurized milk being ignored? I suspect the families of those who died and miscarried in 2007 from pasteurized milk contaminated with listeria and those who have died from salmonella-contaminated milk don't think of our dairy system as safe. Industry-supplied milk products can contain huge amounts of hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics and allow milk from sick cows to be mixed with the rest of the dairy output. Keep in mind that 2% of pasteurized milk sources sampled recently show listeria-contaminated milk output that can be deadly. Celeste - please show more of your journalistic abilities: understand the arguments on both sides instead of blurting one-sided emotional responses as you did again Thursday morning.

May. 13 2010 09:56 AM

I was very disappointed in the Raw Milk segment, I agree that both hosts were very flippant with a serious health issue. I expect more from NPR and that there are standards that should be met.

The science is proven that there are health risks from drinking raw milk. There is no supporting science to support drinking raw milk, it is only a fool's gold supported by anecdotal stories.

Mocking the subject is not helpful and puts a segment of society (children) at risk as some of their guardians now TAKEAWAY that raw milk is OK to drink because it tastes better.

Shame on you.

May. 13 2010 09:24 AM
Alan from Everett, WA

Statements by Dave in NJ reflect the hubris of western medicine that thinks it is the only way to salvation or health. Read a book "The Untold Story of Milk" and you'll find pasteurization isn't so cut and dry. It's a way to be sloppy in production just like irradiation. Milk for consumption is produced with a higher standard. I myself prefer not to drink a bunch of dead bacteria that is bad for you and know that my health is the better for drinking probiotic milk. Look up on USDA and FDA websites and you'll find people get sick on pasteurized milk. Many I'm sure go unreported.

May. 12 2010 10:15 PM
david from Englewood, NJ

The Takeaway is a talk program for grownups, thank you. The rest of the radio dial is a frightening abyss of faux news programs, whose headlines are calculated only to keep you in locked in place between the commercials

May. 12 2010 03:01 PM
Sharon from Edmond, Oklahoma

I have just started listening to this show occaisionally, but I may never again. I thought the hosts were flippant and ill informed and the story was totally off the mark. I do not think this story allowed the listener enough information to make a value judgement on the benefits vs hazards of this product and gave me the impression of being more about making cute comments rather than making intelligent ones.

May. 12 2010 11:07 AM
Maria Richter from Brooklyn

I appreciate this story; the raw milk debate is a resonant and important one. Harper's magazine had an enlightening article on many of the pros and cons + the history of pasteurization in the U.S. It would have helped the raw milk advocate to be a little more articulate.
Also, to "listener in Boston": I believe it was John who made the "renal failure" comment. Celeste Headlee cuts people off and is "high and mighty"? Got misogyny?

May. 12 2010 09:10 AM
Adriana from Brooklyn

LOL, you guys got all flippant with Bill. Totally inappropriate and un-public-radio-like, but I love it.

May. 12 2010 08:58 AM

Is it safe to raise humans in overcrowded and polluted "factory farms" otherwise known as cities? What are all the dangerous health implications of being packed together in our urban human "feed lots?"

May. 12 2010 08:40 AM
dave in NJ from NJ

It is profoundly irresponsible to characterize drinking raw milk as a sensible and reasonable 'choice'. The science behind pasteurization is irrefutable. This is another example of the media dabbling in science, to society's detriment. The current 'debate' about immunizations is similar. There are just some questions in this world where the answers have been proven beyond doubt. Should you vaccinate your children? YES. Should you drink raw milk? NO. It is dangerous and unnecessary. To treat these questions as having any nuance is dangerously irresponsible, and harms society.

May. 12 2010 08:14 AM

I grew up drinking raw milk from our cows along with real butter and using real cream. What is the big deal with raw milk products?

May. 12 2010 07:25 AM
listener in Boston from Boston

Celeste Headlee is so rude. I was offended that she just said "Are you experiencing renal failure" after John sipped the raw milk. Thank goodness John buffered her comment. I've always thought she cuts people's words off way too quickly and comes across too high and mighty. John Hockenberry once again balanced out the show. Too bad.

May. 12 2010 07:02 AM

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