Newswise — On Feb. 2, health officials in Pennsylvania said at least 35 people in four states were struck with a bacterial infection after drinking unpasteurized “raw” milk, the same day a New Jersey legislative committee approved a bill to allow raw milk sales in that state.

Martin Wiedmann and Rob Ralyea, Cornell University researchers and experts on food safety, comment and the danger presented to farmers and consumers by the raw milk movement.

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Rob Ralyea is a senior extension associate with the Milk Quality Improvement Program in the Department of Food Science. On Feb. 2, he testified before the New Jersey State Assembly’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee about the dangers of raw milk.

“While some people think allowing sales of raw milk is in the best interest of the farmers, it’s inherently not in these situations.

“Farms risk losing a lot, including the farm, for the few dollars more they get when selling raw milk. There is currently a lawsuit in Washington for $2.4 million as a result of raw milk illness, so there is a liability when an illness can be traced to a farm. We wear seatbelts because they have been proven to reduce injuries and deaths in auto accidents. Pasteurization does the same thing as it relates to public health and consuming milk.

“A proven public health mechanism is completely removed in this case and anything can happen, as is illustrated once again in Pennsylvania.”

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Martin Wiedmann is a professor of food science and a doctor of veterinary medicine and also directs the Cornell Milk Quality Improvement Program. Wiedmann’s research focuses on the transmission of bacterial and food-borne diseases and dairy food safety and quality.

“Raw milk represents a considerable risk for consumers, who may experience severe food-borne diseases that can be transmitted through raw milk – including diarrhea, brain infections, abortions and chronic neurological diseases.

“Farmers who sell raw milk also take a considerable risk – if raw milk sold by a given farm causes human disease, farmers are likely to be sued by lawyers specializing in food-borne disease litigation and may have to pay millions of dollars to disease victims.

“This outbreak serves as another reminder of the dangers of selling and consuming raw milk.”