The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced Monday that it has taken the stance of many other medical associations by advising that pregnant women, infants, and young children only consume pasteurized dairy products.
The AAP statement also calls for a nationwide ban on the sale of raw milk, a call likely to rile many raw milk advocates.
The policy statement, written by Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a professor of pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and published in the journal Pediatrics, says that raw milk products are a continuing source of bacterial infections.
Whether from cows, goats, or sheep, raw milk and products made from it pose health dangers to pregnant women, fetuses, the elderly, young children, and people with compromised immune systems, the statement says.
Interstate Sales Banned, but Raw Milk Is Legal in Many Areas
In 1987, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration outlawed the interstate shipment of raw milk, but since it is a federal agency, it has no jurisdiction over whether or not the milk can be sold within state boundaries.
State laws regarding the shipment of raw milk vary from state to state. Some allow for the sale of raw milk from goats or sheep only, while others are more liberal. A 2011 survey by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture determined that raw milk and related products were legal to sell in 30 states, though only 11 states allowed retail sales.
Earlier this month, lawmakers in Wisconsin, America’s dairy state, approved farm-to-consumer sales of raw milk with certain restrictions, including verifying that the milk is free of pathogens and meets bacterial and somatic cell count standards.
However, raw milk advocates often cite studies that show raw milk is a safe, sustainable source of nutrition and argue that the regulation of farm-to-table milk is an intrusion by the “nanny state.”
Raw Milk: A Source of Preventable Outbreaks?
Milk pasteurization became mainstream in the U.S. in the 1920s and has been credited with a massive decrease in infectious diseases since then, particularly in the realm of childhood tuberculosis.
Raw milk and related products have become increasingly popular in the past decade among people who believe in the added health benefits of raw milk, especially retaining the enzymes killed during the pasteurization process.
“We have no scientific evidence that consuming raw milk provides any advantages over pasteurized milk and milk products,” Maldonado said in a statement. “But relative to the amount of raw-milk products on the market, we do see a disproportionately large number of diseases and illnesses from raw milk.”
Researchers with the AAP say that there were 93 recorded outbreaks of disease linked to raw milk or raw-milk products from 1998 to 2009. These outbreaks led to 1,837 illnesses, 195 hospitalizations, and two deaths, caused by either E. coli, salmonella, or campylobacter bacteria.
The AAP statement listed dangerous organisms that have been found in raw milk, including giardia, rabies, and norovirus. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the U.S., causing 19 to 21 million illnesses and contributing to 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations and 570 to 800 deaths annually.
“We invented pasteurization to prevent these horrible diseases,” Maldonado said. “There is really no good reason to drink unpasteurized milk.”