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It ought to be an old saying by now: Consumers have the right to make choices, but expect some of them to be dangerous or stupid. In the case of raw milk, consumers are doing both.

This time, though, the choice is as sad as it is absurd. It's sad because it can potentially put their lives and those of their children at risk. It's absurd because in some states consumers' political leadership is acting no more intelligently than they are.

Federal law requires all milk sold in final package form for human consumption to be pasteurized for one simple reason: Raw milk poses a health risk, especially for people who are sick, very young, very old, or who are immune-compromised. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, between 1998 and 2008 consumption of raw milk in the U.S. was documented to be responsible for 1,614 cases of illness, 187 hospitalizations, and two confirmed fatalities.

Yes, in rare cases people can even die from drinking raw milk.

Despite repeated warnings to consumers not to do so FDA even has a question and answer page on its website raw milk has somehow become a new, sexy government coverup in the minds of nutrition conspiracy theorists who want unregulated access to it.

There is absolutely no mistaking what FDA says on it's website. Here are just three examples:

Question: "Is it safe to consume raw milk?"
FDA answer: "No."

Question: "Does raw milk cure some illnesses and allergies?"
FDA answer: "No."

Question: "Does raw milk kill pathogens?"
FDA answer: "No, it does not. In fact, raw milk potentially harbors a wide range of dangerous pathogens that can cause illness."

Inexplicably, lawmakers in some states seem inclined to say OK. In late March, a bill to allow the sale of raw milk was sent to the Wisconsin State Assembly for consideration. That same day FDA and several state agencies issued yet another warning against drinking raw milk, which was prompted by word from Michigan health officials that at least 12 cases of raw-milk-related illness had been confirmed as of March 24, 2010.

How many more people have to die and how many dairy producers will be sued for providing it to them before intelligence finally takes over?

This article appears in Hoard's West on page 67 of the May 25, 2010 issue.

Read more about raw milk here.