Raw milk is becoming popular in health trends, but concerns arise over bird flu transmission

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By 5mustsee.com

Hannah Neeleman, a farmer in Utah, incorporates raw milk into her turmeric latte, freshly obtained from a cow’s udder. She shares this practice with her daughter, garnering significant attention on social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok. There’s a growing trend of individuals consuming raw milk, attributing health benefits that are purportedly lost during pasteurization, a process that involves heating milk to eliminate harmful pathogens. Videos circulating online showcase people embracing raw milk, with some even ingesting it directly from the cow’s teat, praising its purity.

While dairy farmers catering to the raw milk market observe a spike in demand, public health officials in the U.S. have consistently cautioned against the risks associated with consuming raw milk. This concern has now been amplified due to the prevalence of a particularly contagious strain of bird flu affecting dairy cows nationwide.

Recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal an instance of a Michigan dairy worker contracting avian flu, marking the second human case in under two months linked to the H5N1 outbreak in dairy herds. Although health authorities deem the risk of humans contracting the H5N1 virus as low, they emphasize the virus is neutralized through pasteurization.

In light of these developments, the CDC advises against consuming unpasteurized milk due to exposure risks. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports on mice rapidly exhibiting symptoms and high virus levels in the respiratory tract after ingesting raw milk from birds flu-infected cows, casting doubt on the potential human infection risk.

Researchers warn about the likelihood of human transmission of bird flu through raw milk consumption, citing the presence of high virus concentrations in milk from infected cows.

Virologist Richard J. Webby from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital expresses reservations regarding the consumption of virus-contaminated raw milk due to the unclear risks involved. Infectious disease expert Céline Gounder warns that increased human exposure to the H5N1 virus heightens infection chances and facilitates potential mutations that could enhance human-to-human transmission.

The difference between raw and pasteurized milk lies at the core of this debate. While advocates tout the nutritional advantages of raw milk, claiming its enrichment with enzymes, probiotics, and vitamins surpasses pasteurized alternatives, food scientists argue that both versions provide equivalent nutritional value.

There have been slight decreases in some vitamins during pasteurization, and while some milk enzymes may become inactive, there is no proof that these enzymes offer any health benefits.

Raw milk contains minimal levels of probiotic bacteria, but for them to be beneficial, they must be present in the billions, as seen in yogurt or sauerkraut, according to experts.

Just having the bacteria present doesn’t automatically translate into health benefits, as explained by Martin.

While the consumption of raw milk has grown in recent years, it remains uncommon. Approximately 4 percent of American adults reported consuming raw milk at least once in the past year according to survey data from the FDA between 2016 and 2019.

Mark McAfee of Raw Farm noted a shift away from pasteurized milk towards alternatives like oat milk and soy milk, with an increasing interest in unpasteurized milk driven by word of mouth.

Raw Farm currently processes about 85,000 gallons of milk weekly from 1,800 cows, supplying raw milk to nearly 400 stores in California, as shared by Aaron McAfee, Mark’s son.

Sales at Raw Farm have surged by 36% in the last four weeks compared to the same period last year, Aaron McAfee reported.

Increased access connected to higher incidents of food-related illness

Raw milk may contain harmful bacteria such as Campylobacter, E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria, leading to symptoms like diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting. While most people recover quickly, severe cases can result in kidney failure or Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Martin emphasized the heightened illness risk associated with raw milk consumption, despite any perceived nutritional or health benefits, which lack scientific backing.

While states like California and Iowa permit the sale of raw milk, its interstate sale is federally prohibited. According to CDC data from 2013 to 2018, increased access to unpasteurized milk has been linked to more outbreaks of food-borne illnesses.

Dennis D’Amico, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut, highlighted the difficulty of ensuring raw milk safety without pasteurization, a process involving heating milk to at least 162 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds.

John Lucey, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, likened pasteurization to cooking meat to a specific temperature, emphasizing the importance of safety procedures in food preparation.

Exploring the Perspectives of Raw Milk Supporters Regarding Risks

Noah Young, a 28-year-old farmer from Kenesaw, Nebraska, who shares farming tips with his large social media following, decided to start buying raw milk from a local ranch during the pandemic.

In a lighthearted video posted in March, Young challenged the concerns raised by health officials about raw milk, sparking engagement and discussion.

Young emphasized the need for individuals to balance the risks and benefits associated with consuming different foods, including raw milk.

Aaron McAfee, a raw milk producer from California, highlighted the stringent testing and monitoring procedures in place to ensure the safety of his dairy products.

McAfee reassured the public that his dairy farm has not encountered cases of avian flu, emphasizing the safety measures in place.

Brigitte Ruthman, a dairy farmer from Massachusetts, expressed her focus on bacterial contamination rather than concerns about the H5N1 virus when it comes to raw milk.

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