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Pediatricians advise pregnant women, children against drinking raw milk

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By The Los Angeles Times
Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, 5:36 p.m.
 

The American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday warned that pregnant women and children should not drink raw milk and said it supports a nationwide ban on the sale of raw milk because of the danger of bacterial illnesses.

The group's statement said it supports federal health authorities “in endorsing the consumption of only pasteurized milk and milk products for pregnant women, infants and children.”

The academy “endorses a ban on the sale of raw or unpasteurized milk and milk products throughout the United States, including the sale of certain raw milk cheeses, such as fresh cheese, soft cheeses and soft-ripened cheeses.”

Thirty states allow the sale of raw milk. The Food and Drug Administration prohibits the interstate shipment of raw milk for human consumption, though it allows transport of some clearly labeled raw cheeses.

Advocates say raw milk is delicious and provides health benefits, including protection against asthma and lactose intolerance. And when the animals are raised properly and the milk is treated carefully, they say, raw milk poses little danger to human health.

Last week, health officials in Minnesota warned that raw milk could be making more people sick than previously recognized, based on a 10-year study. They estimated that more than 17 percent of the state's residents who drank raw milk got sick.

Raw milk has long been identified as a source of food-borne-illness outbreaks, but it is also responsible for uncounted sporadic illnesses, the Minnesota officials said.

And, in another study, scientists who looked at hundreds of samples found that organic whole milk offered more of the fatty acids good for the heart than conventional milk. “We were quite surprised to see the magnitude of difference in milk from organic farms,” said Charles Benbrook, lead author of that study and a program leader at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University.

Raw milk from cows, sheep and goats is a source of pathogens such as listeria, salmonella and E. coli — which can cause serious, even fatal, illness, the pediatricians' policy statement said. And it contends that the benefits of raw milk “have not been clearly demonstrated in evidence-based studies” and do not outweigh the risks.

That assessment is confusing, said Mark McAfee, head of a raw milk dairy with products sold in 625 stores.

“I could not disagree with them more profoundly. And it's based on science,” he said.

What he sells “is not the raw milk we saw 50 to 75 to 100 years ago,” he said. Raw milk that's regulated by state officials and produced under strict standards is safe and beneficial to people, he said.

Pasteurization, introduced in the United States in the 1920s, kills bacteria by heating milk. Before that time, the pediatricians' statement said, raw dairy products were responsible for hundreds of outbreaks of infection.

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