Legislator says state going overboard in warnings against raw milk

A state legislator who pushed legalization of “cow share” raw milk marketing in Tennessee contends the state Department of Health has gone overboard in continued warnings to consumers that nonpasteurized milk can be dangerous.

“Consuming raw milk in the belief it’s healthier than pasteurized milk is a perilous risk that shakes off the possibility of a range of serious and occasionally fatal illnesses for the individuals and anyone they share it with,” said state Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner in a July 21 news release. “Our best choice for healthy, nutritious milk is the pasteurized kind. Even if one believes there are health benefits, an upside, is it worth gambling on the downside risk of a serious illness, especially in a child?”

The release (Note: posted HERE) says the department has confirmed two cases of cryptosporidiosis in the Chattanooga area that are “associated with consumption of raw milk from a dairy cow share program” and is checking to determine if others were sickened as well.

Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, said there is no more risk to raw milk than pasteurized milk and probably less. Cryptosporidiosis is a parasite-caused ailment linked to animal waste and, according to Niceley, more often to beef cattle than milk cattle. In any case, he said, it involves exposure to the waste and not to the drinking of raw milk in and of itself.

“Blue Bell ice cream killed three people, and it’s made with pasteurized milk,” the senator said in an interview last week. “Why aren’t they up in arms warning about that?”

Blue Bell Creameries in April announced a nationwide recall of ice cream after reports of the product being contaminated with listeria bacteria. National media has reported that three deaths in Kansas appear linked to the contamination.

“They (state health department officials) really, really, really don’t like people drinking raw milk, and I don’t know why,” said Niceley, adding that he complained to officials after a similar release in 2013 that reported on illnesses caused by raw milk that turned out, in his view, to be wrong.

“They just jump to conclusions,” he said. “A (restaurant) salad bar is a lot more likely to have something that will make you sick than raw milk.”

State law generally prohibits the sale of raw milk, but Niceley sponsored 2009 legislation that lets consumers buy an interest in a cow under the care of a farmer, then get the animal’s milk for consumption.

From a dairy operator’s perspective, the lawmaker said the upshot is that he or she receives about $8 for a gallon of raw milk going directly to the consumer versus about $1 when milk is sold to a “big corporation” that pasteurizes and markets the product.

From a consumer’s perspective, Niceley said he believes raw milk helped him personally overcome an intestinal illness and contended some studies have shown multiple health benefits. Pasteurization was invented before widespread use of refrigeration, cattle vaccination against diseases and other modern precautions, he said, but is not really necessary today — provided those producing raw milk follow all the rules and precautions.