A study that appeared in last month's Centers for Disease Control research journal has found that the average number of outbreaks linked to consumption of raw milk is spiking across the U.S. with more than 80% of recorded illnesses in the 30 states where raw milk sales are legal.
According to the study, in the January 2015 issue of the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, there were 81 outbreaks in 26 states from 2007 to 2012, and the average number of outbreaks has moved from three per year during 1993-2006 to 13 per year during 2007-2012.
Currently, raw milk – which is not pasteurized to kill pathogens – is prohibited from interstate commerce. In addition to the 30 states that allow its sale, another 10 states allow a form of cow share, whereby a consumer pays for a portion of the care for the cow in exchange for its milk.
Opponent of raw milk sales, the National Milk Producers Federation, said the data shows that unpasteurized milk presents a health hazard.
"The more raw milk that is available to people, the more people become sick; the connection is crystal clear," said Beth Briczinski, NMPF's vice president for dairy foods and nutrition. "Since 2004, eight more states have allowed raw milk sales, and food-borne illnesses associated with raw milk consumption have increased."
Briczinski said the findings show that legalizing raw milk sales will translate into "more illnesses, more hospital visits, more state resources spent investigating outbreaks, and more lives harmed from consuming raw milk."
Raw milk advocates, however, including the Weston A. Price Foundation and its Campaign For Real Milk, say it offers health benefits that pasteurized milk does not – from acne-clearing properties to the "built-in protective systems" of bioactive components.
For others, raw milk is about sustaining small farms. The Massachusetts Farm Bureau, for example, supports strict monitoring of raw milk sales as direct-to-consumer opportunities have provided a path to profitability for many of the state's dairies, even while raw milk sales are not supported by the larger American Farm Bureau Federation.
Both the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration recommend avoiding consumption of raw milk.
Read the CDC's latest report on raw milk: Increased Outbreaks Associated with Nonpasteurized Milk, United States, 2007–2012
This story first appeared Dec. 12, 2014. It was updated Feb. 17, 2015.