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Docs Warn Against Raw Milk for Kids, Pregnant Women

Policy statement from pediatricians' group bolstered by Minnesota study on foodborne illness

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Brenda Goodman

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Dec. 16, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- In a new position statement, U.S. pediatricians say raw milk and cheeses are simply too risky for infants, children and pregnant women.

The statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics, published online Dec. 16 in the journal Pediatrics, urges parents not to let their kids drink unpasteurized milk or eat cheese made from it.

The doctors also called for a ban on the sale of all raw-milk products in the United States.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 148 outbreaks due to consumption of raw milk or raw-milk products were reported to the agency between 1998 and 2011.

Raw milk is milk that hasn't been pasteurized, or briefly heated to at least 161 degrees Fahrenheit to kill harmful germs. Before milk began being widely pasteurized in the United States in the 1920s, it routinely made people sick.

Raw milk can harbor bacteria that cause tuberculosis and diphtheria, as well as the germs that cause nasty bouts of stomach trouble such as Listeria and E. coli, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Children are more susceptible to these illnesses than adults, and they tend to get the worst of the complications, such as sudden and sometimes life-threatening kidney failure. Illnesses tied to raw milk also can cause miscarriages in pregnant women.

"Pasteurization is one of the major public-health advances of the century. It's a shame not to take advantage of that," said Dr. Mary Glode, a professor of pediatric infectious disease at Children's Hospital Colorado, in Aurora.

Yet as more people embrace locally produced foods, raw-milk products have experienced a surge in popularity.

Fans say it tastes better and that it might protect kids from developing allergies and asthma, although there's little research to back up those claims.

It also costs a pretty penny. With consumers willing to fork over $7 to $14 a gallon, dairies are pushing state legislatures to ease restrictions on the sale of raw milk as a way to save cash-strapped family farms.

One raw-milk advocate said the danger of related illness is overstated.

"We've been tracking these numbers for quite some time. There are an average of 50 reported illnesses each year from raw milk, with 10 million drinkers of raw milk, so the percentage of illnesses is extremely low," said Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit nutrition education group that supports the sale of raw milk.

"We think it's a mountain out of a molehill," she said.

Those numbers clash with data gathered by the CDC, however. In the period from 1998 to 2011, the reported outbreaks resulted in nearly 2,400 illnesses, 284 hospitalizations and two deaths. That's an average of roughly 200 people sickened each year by raw dairy products.

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