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Is Raw Milk Getting a Raw Deal? Or Is It a Real Food Safety Issue?

Over the past few years, American consumers have made a conscious decision to focus on natural, good-for-you brands and healthy foods. Generally speaking, this move can be lauded as a positive for the nation’s health, but raw milk in particular stirs quite a bit of debate. Natural food advocates argue that the product is healthier, while public health officials argue pasteurization is needed to prevent food illness outbreaks.

The CDC is fairly clear on the subject: it believes raw milk presents an unnecessary risk in the food chain. Between 2007 and 2012, 26 states reported 81 illness outbreaks linked to raw milk to the CDC. These outbreaks resulted in 979 illnesses and 73 hospitalizations. Thirty of these outbreaks were reported between 2007 and 2009, while the remaining 51 were reported between 2010 and 2012.

It’s quite possible the CDC will update their raw milk page in the wake of a new illness outbreak reported in California and Florida, which resulted in one hospitalization and one death, respectively. The agency determined that the outbreak was likely linked to raw milk produced by Miller’s Organic Farm in Bird-In-Hand, PA, after routine sequencing of a listeria strain discovered at the company’s production facility was found to be genetically similar to the outbreak strain.

Here’s the kicker: the outbreak occurred in 2014, and the CDC was unable to determine the source of the outbreak until Jan. 29, 2016. How could an illness like this be hidden from the public eye for so long? For starters, the outbreak only affected two known individuals, making it difficult for public health officials to determine a source. I doubt many in the industry are surprised, however, considering how vocal the CDC is about their aversion to raw milk.

The real question for raw milk comes down to its safety. Clearly, the U.S. government believes it to be a looming food safety issue, yet states continue to push for its legalization. Is that necessarily a smart idea?

Just ask these lawmakers who got sick after consuming raw milk to celebrate the legalization of raw milk in West Virginia.