Am I playing Russian roulette? I drink raw milk or raw milk kefir every day. The FDA and state health department officials frequently compare drinking raw milk with playing Russian roulette. Is drinking raw milk really that dangerous?
Let’s find out . . .
What is Russian Roulette?
According to Wikipedia, Russian roulette is “a potentially lethal game of chance in which a ‘player’ places a single round in a revolver, spins the cylinder, places the muzzle against his head, and pulls the trigger. ‘Russian’ refers to the supposed country of origin, and roulette to the element of risk-taking and the spinning of the revolver’s cylinder being reminiscent of spinning a roulette wheel.”
If the revolver has six chambers, there is a one in six chance of death. Okay, that’s a one in six or 16.7% chance of death. Russian roulette involves a high enough risk of death that most people would not willingly take. I certainly would not!
If the risk of death from Russian roulette is about 16.7%, what is the risk of death from drinking raw milk?
What Is The Risk of Death From Drinking Raw Milk?
What is my chance of dying from drinking raw milk? Is it anywhere close to Russian roulette’s 16.7% risk? The CDC claims that there have been two deaths from raw milk over the years, but those two were from eating unregulated Mexican raw milk cheese (whether the cheese was made from raw milk is disputed) not from drinking fluid raw milk. So what is the real risk of death from drinking raw milk? Zero % Yes, based on CDC data, actually there is zero percent risk of death from drinking raw milk!
What Is The Risk of Illness From Drinking Raw Milk?
Well, it’s now apparent that Russian roulette is way off the mark (target?) to describe the actual risk of death from drinking raw milk, but what about the risk of illness? Does the CDC get closer to the truth with the risk of illness from raw milk? Unfortunately, the CDC exaggerates (deliberately?) the risk of illness from drinking raw milk by inappropriate comparisons. Instead of using the number of illnesses from raw milk, the CDC compares ‘outbreaks’ which can consist of as few as two illnesses to thousands of illnesses. An ‘outbreak’ from raw milk usually affects only a small number of people whereas an ‘outbreak’ from pasteurized milk can include hundreds and even thousands of cases.
When we look at the actual likelihood of an illness from raw milk, here’s what we find, using government data:
Government statistics show us that the rate of illness from raw milk is very low. According to a 2007 CDC survey, about 3 percent of the US population consumes raw milk; in 2014, this is at least 10 million people. There are about 50 illnesses associated (but not proven) from raw milk every year. According to the CDC, there are approximately 50 illnesses per year from raw milk. (The majority of these are mild, and this number is probably over-reported.) Using government data, we can show that the rate of illness from raw milk is .000005 per year. Thus, there is no reason to single out raw milk as an inherently dangerous food. Many foods allowed on the market have a much greater rate of illness. Response to the Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium, Inc. [source]
Another way to look at the data: if we assume that those 10 million people drinking raw milk are averaging one drink per day, that adds up to about 3.65 billion drinks of raw milk per year. The CDC estimates 50 illnesses from raw milk each year (this number is unsubstantiated and may be overstated). Dividing the number of illnesses by the number of drinks per year yields a 0.00000137% chance of illness from each drink of raw milk. Even if you calculate the risk per year (of maybe 365 drinks of milk), the risk of getting sick from drinking raw milk is only 0.0005%. Either percentage is well within a margin I call very safe! And even if these estimates are off by an order of magnitude, the risk is still very small.
Is Drinking Raw Milk Like Playing Russian Roulette?
The risk of death when playing Russian roulette can be one chance in six!
The risk of death from drinking raw milk is zero!
Even the estimated risk of illness (per year) is only one in 200,000 (based on 50 illnesses for 10,000,000 people who drink raw milk).
I don’t see any valid comparison between drinking raw milk and playing Russian roulette! Do you? No, I am definitely NOT playing Russian roulette when I drink raw milk! What I am doing is enjoying the taste and health benefits while supporting my local, family farms. Drinking raw milk is a win, win for me and my dairy farmer friends!
Will this be the end of using this invalid comparison? Probably not. I bet we hear it again.
So why does the FDA bring up the Russian roulette threat so often when there is no basis for it? I think they use it because they can’t use facts that don’t exist. They must resort to emotional threats and scare tactics–that’s all they have. The FDA’s campaign against raw milk is not really about food safety at all, it is about food freedom and Big Dairy profits! Banning or hindering the sale of raw milk can put small family dairies out of business, but it does provide substantial support for large dairies, many of which are so unclean that they could never produce safe raw milk.
Response to the Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium, Inc., The Weston A. Price Foundation
Those Pathogens, What You Should Know by Ted Beals MD
CDC Cherry Picks Data to Make Case Against Raw Milk
Majority of dairy-related disease outbreaks linked to raw milk, CDC
Other posts you might want to read
A CDC study carefully selects data and criteria to support anti-raw milk position
Drinking Raw Milk Is Safe – Based on Government Data
John Sheehan, the Man Behind the FDA’s War on Raw Milk
Milk – Why Homogenized, Pasteurized? Follow the Profit!
Way Back When Dairy is being forced out of the Houston market!
Photo credit: Gallon bottle of milk from Paradise Springs Farm (paradisespringsfarm.com), Victor, Idaho. Photo submitted by Tibby Plasse. Photo by Bob Boulware, Plaid Tractor Designs.