Those who support the legalized sales of raw milk do so with a zeal and passion that is rarely seen in our industry. Despite proponents' strong personal beliefs, science is not on their side. A study recently published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms what we have known for nearly a century - the risks of consuming raw milk are too great to public health and, ultimately, our industry's reputation.

Milk is nature's most perfect food, abundant in life-sustaining nutrients. And by that very nature, it also is one of the best places on the planet for bacteria to grow and multiply. Through pasteurization, we can significantly improve product safety and extend shelf life.

Pasteurization is one of the great public health success stories in our nation. At one time, tuberculosis and brucellosis were lingering threats to human health. In both cases, the simple act of heating milk for a specific period of time rendered the diseases harmless breaking the transmission cycle from cattle to humans.

While those diseases now are held at bay in industrialized countries, they remain a threat in other regions around the globe. Here at home, despite our best efforts, bacterial illnesses caused by Campylobacter, E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria loom in raw milk. Thankfully, pasteurization remains nearly bulletproof as a way to eliminate those bacteria when milk is pasteurized and dairy products are handled properly post packaging.

In the recent CDC study, researchers once again confirmed that raw milk and products resulting from it lead to the lion's share of milk-related illnesses. While only accounting for an estimated 1 percent of dairy product sales from 1993 to 2006, raw milk products caused 60 percent of the documented disease outbreaks. Even more disconcerting is the CDC's finding that nearly 84 percent of hospitalizations were due to consuming unpasteurized dairy products. Young people are at especially greater risk, take extra precautions because raw-milk illnesses disproportionately affect those under 20 years old.

The argument for sales of raw milk is weak. No peer-reviewed scientific articles have supported claims for consuming raw milk. At the same time, its consumption unnecessarily makes people ill. These widely publicized outbreaks of illness associated with raw milk continue to damage the image of all dairy products. Ultimately, raw milk is a raw deal for consumers and our industry.

This editorial appears on page 194 of the March 25, 2012 issue of Hoard's Dairyman

Read more about raw milk here.