March 23 2012 11:14 AM

Consumers say they hear the warnings about raw milk, but they don't care.

A well-done article in last week's San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News highlighted one of the head-shaking realities that the dairy industry and all of agriculture is up against these days: Consumers can sometimes be too stupid to be saved from themselves.

The topic of the article was increasing sales of organic raw milk in the San Francisco Bay area. Its popularity is growing despite unanimous warnings from government, university, and medical experts about the health danger it poses.

Of the 4,413 cases of milk-related illness reported from 1993 to 2006, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control say more than one-third were due to raw milk. Author Helen Chen interviewed consumers who admitted they know about warnings from CDC and other medical groups, but they believe the benefits outweigh the risks, so they keep drinking it.

By the way, organic raw milk was selling for $14.50 per gallon (over $168 per hundredweight) at the farmers' market Chen visited, and a central California dairy producer told us this week it's $17 per gallon at the one near them.

The magic elixir perception that has built up around raw milk by hearsay and promotion makes devotees deaf, dumb, and blind to its hazards. Intelligence tends to come into play only when disaster happens, such as a child developing kidney failure from infection by E. coli 0157:H7 because the milk wasn't pasteurized. The article even quoted a mother who experienced exactly this heartbreak.

And yet the ignorance persists. This was illustrated by a reader poll that accompanied the online version of the article. It asked, "Do the health benefits of drinking raw milk outweigh health concerns?" By yesterday morning, 66 percent of respondents had said, "yes".