The "Alternative" to Pasteurized Milk May Be Illness and Death

Six children have been hospitalized with E. coli O157:H7 infections, acquired from drinking unpasteurized (raw) milk. As of this writing, three are reported to still be in the hospital in Oregon -- two in critical condition.

"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." While the author of that quote, philosopher George Santayana, probably wasn't talking about the history of public health and food safety, he might well have been.

One of the great advances in public health in the United States was the adoption of pasteurization of milk in the 1920s and 30s. Previously, many babies and children became ill and died from consuming contaminated milk. But pasteurization, a process of heating milk briefly to a temperature designed to kill disease-causing bacteria, essentially put a halt to that problem.

Unfortunately, a segment of the population seems to have forgotten that pasteurization is used for a good reason -- to protect health. As part of the misguided "alternative" health movement, some have bought into the myth that raw milk is nutritionally and otherwise superior to milk that has been processed in any way. Added to that are unwarranted fears of genetically-engineered hormones given to cows to prolong lactation. Neither of these myths is true; but that hasn't stopped the proliferation of farms that will provide the unwary with supposedly beneficial raw milk.

For the truth about the composition and benefits of milk see ACSH's publication What's the Story: The Role of Milk in Your Diet and the ACSH article "Scientific Panel Rejects NY Green Party Claims Regarding rBGH Milk Safety."

Ruth Kava, Ph.D., R.D., is Director of Nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health (,