PhotoA dairy farmer and a former raw-milk aficionado have joined forces to remind parents: please, don't feed raw milk to young children.

Oregon mother Jill Brown thought she was doing a good thing when she gave raw, unpasteurized milk to her then-23-month-old daughter Kylee. Unfortunately, that milk proved to be contaminated with a particularly virulent strain of E.coli — bad enough for healthy adults with mature immune systems, but for young children whose immune systems are still in development it can prove fatal.

In Kylee's case, it led to complete kidney failure that would have killed her, had her mother not donated a kidney for transplant. Kylee Brown will still have to deal with painful and expensive kidney problems for the rest of her life.

“There might be some benefits of raw milk, but there are huge risks,” Jill Brown, Kylee’s mother, told Food Safety News. “There needs to be more public awareness that this is a high-risk food. If I had known what I know now, I would never have fed it to my daughter.”

Armchair Science

Pasteurization, named after French scientist Louis Pasteur, is the process of heating milk to a temperature high enough to kill most (though not all) pathogens.

Raw-milk advocates usually cite one of two reasons to oppose pasteurization: one, pasteurized milk and milk products don't taste the same as raw dairy; and two, some people believe that the heat of pasteurization destroys essential nutrients in addition to pathogens. However, many of the anti-pasteurization arguments are based on outdated or incorrect data.

For example, the anti-pastuerization site, in February 2014, still offers as evidence an article titled Raw Milk vs. Pasteurized Milk, originally published in the April 1938 issue of a British magazine called Armchair Science. Here are some of its anti-pasteurization criticisms:

Pasteurization’s great claim to popularity is the widespread belief, fostered by its supporters, that tuberculosis in children is caused by the harmful germs found in raw milk.... Recent figures published regarding the spread of tuberculosis by milk show, among other facts, that over a period of five years, during which time 70 children belonging to a special organization received a pint of raw milk daily. One case only of the disease occurred. During a similar period when pasteurized milk had been given, 14 cases were reported.

It's not specified where these “recent figures” came from or who the “special organization” was or any other verifiable details.

However, regardless of what British medical science might have believed about tuberculosis in the pre-World War Two era, it's now known that tuberculosis is a bacterial infection of the lungs that is spread through the air, not by drinking milk. Arguing against pasteurization on the grounds that it offers no protection from tuberculosis is like arguing against it because it does nothing to reduce gunshot fatalities — true, but a complete non-sequitur.

Some food aficionados say that, for example, cheeses made from raw milk taste richer and better than any pasteurized cheese product. This is certainly possible, but even so: Jill Brown the former raw-milk fan and Brad Salyers the former raw-milk dairyman remind all parents and childcare-givers not to give raw dairy products to kids — because even healthy young children generally have weak immune systems by adult standards.

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