Letter to the Editor: Raw milk legislation in Alaska

Letter to the Editor: Raw milk legislation in Alaska

by Sue Jones
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– OPINION –

The Department of Environmental Conservation, a government agency in Alaska responsible for making sure citizens have access to safe food at the grocery store, has put out a proposed regulation change that would allow the sale of unpasteurized, virtually unregulated milk, in Alaskan grocery stores. 

Currently, raw milk in Alaska is only allowed to be sold through herd shares. This law allows the small percentage of people who are interested in raw milk the opportunity to consume it by buying a portion of a cow and therefore technically they are consuming their own raw milk.  It has never been illegal in Alaska for people who own cows to consume the milk raw from those cows if they chose to do so, knowing there are pathogen risks (bad germs) when drinking raw milk. http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_documents.asp?session=31&docid=23171 

Alaska now wants to open up the raw milk market to all its consumers by allowing on-farm and retail sales. This is a dangerous idea! People would have access to raw milk without knowing the dangers, especially if they bought it for their children. There have been raw milk outbreaks of food poisoning in Alaska. They were contained because a smaller number of people consumed the milk. These outbreaks would have been much larger, affecting many more people, if the raw milk had been sold in the grocery stores:

  • https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/08/outbreak-tied-to-raw-milk-continues-in-alaska/ 
  • https://dhss.alaska.gov/News/Documents/press/2013/SecondCampyOutbreak_PR_05232013.pdf 

The elephant in the room when discussing the issue of raw milk is an organization that passionately believes that raw milk is more nutritious than pasteurized milk. This grassroots organization is behind advancing raw milk legislation at the state level. The pro raw milk camp believes raw milk has healing benefits that consumers have been prevented from knowing about. Though there have been some studies showing a benefit to drinking raw milk, every single one of the scientists included a statement in the literature that more research should to be done to explore possible benefits because the harm of drinking raw milk is much greater than any perceived benefit, especially in children. The literature also shows that heat-treating — also known as pasteurization — milk does not diminish the nutritional benefits of milk. 

Consider this, a person who smokes tobacco is up to 30 times more likely to develop cancer than a person who does not smoke. A person who drinks raw milk is almost 100 times more likely to get sick than someone who drinks pasteurized milk. Information on raw milk outbreaks can be found on the CDC’s website. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/rawmilk/rawmilk-outbreaks.html 

In two years, the U.S. Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) will celebrate 100 years of implementation. It is easy to forget that prior to pasteurization of milk (heat treatment to kill the bad germs) illnesses and deaths attributable to milk have decreased from about 25 percent of all illnesses just before World War II to now less than 1 percent when milk meets the standards outlined in the PMO. One hundred years ago, the majority of these illnesses were in children.  

It is one of the government’s primary duties through public health work to promote consumers’ good health and protect its consumers from harm. Those most at risk when drinking raw milk are children, the elderly, and immune compromised. 

We are so fortunate to live in times where it is not unreasonable to expect to live into our 80s. That is a far cry from the early 1900s, where many did not expect to see their 50th birthdays. There are many reasons for the significant jump, but advances in food safety are among the top. It is easy to take store bought, pasteurized milk for granted. None of us experienced life when children routinely died from bovine tuberculosis, undulant fever, scarlet fever, typhoid, or diphtheria when consuming raw milk.  

Today illness and deaths from raw milk and raw milk products are from “new” germs like pathogenic E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. Keep in mind that cows lay in their manure and defecate while being milked. It is very easy for any of these germs to get in the milk. These germs, called pathogens, cause more than diarrhea and vomiting.  https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/dangers-raw-milk-unpasteurized-milk-can-pose-serious-health-risk   https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/rawmilk/raw-milk-videos.html 

It’s not a time to lessen standards or throw away proven technologies or practices that have worked to keep our milk supply safe — pasteurization.  Heat treatment kills germs. This is a scientific fact. 

The bottom line is that American consumers expect that the food offered for sale at the grocery store is not going to sicken or kill them or those they love. If this change for raw milk goes through, the only way a consumer will know the dangers will be to read the warning label. I don’t know anyone who looks for warning labels on food at the grocery store to let them know that eating the food product might send their child to the hospital fighting for their lives. Who would even think to look for such labels on milk? What are the chances a person who accidently buys raw milk sold in the store even knows a risk exists? 

In 2015, a study was released showing that children were at the highest risk for raw milk illnesses.  59 percent of the outbreaks involved a least one child younger than 5 and children age 1 to 4 years old accounted for 38 percent of illnesses caused by Salmonella and 28 percent by Shiga toxin-producing E.coli.  https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/21/1/14-0447_article 

Here are some real-life video stories of children and adults who have been harmed by raw milk.  A couple are heartbreaking to watch; lifelong damage was done.  https://realrawmilkfacts.com/real-life-stories 

Alaska is not the first state to legalize commercial distribution of raw milk, but it should not make the same mistake that states like Washington have made, where recalls for “dirty” milk are routine and the number of illnesses has skyrocketed. Knowing the facts, why would Alaska make a decision that would harm children who don’t get a choice about pasteurized or non-pasteurized milk? If you would like to read up on the proposal in Alaska and offer your thoughts, the state is accepting comments until February 22, 2022. https://dec.alaska.gov/eh/vet/regulations/raw-milk-and-products/ 

About the author: This letter is posted anonymously at the author’s request and with Food Safety News having knowledge of the author.

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