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Latest illnesses point to raw milk’s popularity

Published: Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

WASHINGTON – An outbreak of bacterial infections on the East Coast illustrates the popularity of raw, unpasteurized milk despite strong warnings from public health officials about the potential danger.

Even presidential candidate Ron Paul has joined the cause of consumers looking to buy unprocessed “real foods”  from the farm, saying government shouldn’t deny them that choice.

An outbreak of campylobacter illness is a reminder of the potential hazards, however. Raw milk from a dairy in Pennsylvania is now linked to 38 cases in four states, and the farm has temporarily suspended sales. Campylobacter can cause diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain and fever and can be life-threatening if it spreads to the bloodstream.

Consumers who want unpasteurized milk have to work to find it. It’s against federal law to transport it across state lines, and most states don’t allow it to be sold in stores off the farm. Twenty states prohibit raw milk sales altogether.

The government says the milk is unsafe because of the pathogens cows may encounter on the farm. A wide variety of pathogens, other than campylobacter, can be found in raw milk – including salmonella, listeria, E. coli and others – and those sickened could suffer from stroke, kidney failure, paralysis or death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency points out that raw milk killed many people – especially young children – before the onset of pasteurization, which kills disease-causing germs by heating milk to high temperatures for a specific period of time.

The CDC says pasteurized milk is rich in proteins, carbohydrates and other nutrients, and that heat only slightly decreases thiamine, vitamin B12, and vitamin C.

While the government contends that milk is a minor source of those nutrients, raw milk advocates say that’s proof that pasteurization makes milk less wholesome and pure.

The government doesn’t keep records of raw milk consumption or sales, but it’s clear the product is popularized by a larger movement that encourages less processing and more “real food.” Raw milk goes a step further than organic milk free of added growth hormones. Organic milk, too, has enjoyed a sales boost in recent years.

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