Raw Milk Debate at the IAFP: A Clash of Culture

by Sally Fallon Morell

The International Association of Food Protection (IAFP) is a member-based association of more than four thousand food safety professionals “committed to Advancing Food Safety Worldwide by providing food safety professionals worldwide with a forum to exchange information on protecting the food supply.” The organization puts on three large conferences every year—one in the U.S., one in Europe and one in Asia—bringing food safety professionals together to learn the latest ways of pasteurizing, poisoning, zapping and pressure-treating our food to make it completely lifeless and sterile.


Former WAPF board member Geoffrey Morell has attended the IAFP meetings for the last five years, and has personally urged Allan Saylor, past president of IAFP, to host a presentation on raw milk at the U.S. conference. Saylor’s reply was that the IAFP was founded to promote pasteurization—even though in the early days, the IAPF clearly supported certified raw milk. According to the IAFP history, “…the annual meetings continued to emphasize the healthfulness of dairy products, their importance as foods for adults as well as for children and infants, and the need for laws providing for the pasteurization of all milk and cream unless it was known to be from a certifiably safe source [emphasis ours].”

Geoffrey’s requests must have had their effect (perhaps because other IAFP members were also asking for a session on this increasingly popular food), because this year, the IAFP hosted a raw milk debate as an “Amicable Exchange of Experts.” The panel at the August 3rd debate included Ted Beals, MD, and Joseph Heckman, PhD, arguing in favor—and both noting proudly their status as WAPF honorary board members—and Jeffrey Farber, PhD, and Jeff Kornacki, PhD, decidedly against. The organizers made a point of including only PhDs or MDs on the panel, noting that the debate that featured myself and David Gumpert at Harvard University in 2012 “included no PhD- or MD-credentialed participants.”


Heckman and Beals brought up points that are familiar to WAPF members: health officials need to distinguish between raw milk destined for pasteurization (which we all know can contain a lot of pathogens) and raw milk destined to be consumed unprocessed; that many studies show that raw milk can provide powerful protection against asthma, allergies, skin problems and infectious disease; that the data show that raw milk is as safe as, or safer than pasteurized milk; that raw milk tastes much better than pasteurized; and that because demand for raw milk is growing rapidly, we need reasonable standards for its production. Heckman surprised the audience by noting that immigrants to the U.S. want raw milk because this is what they are accustomed to drinking in their native countries, where it is often available from vending machines.

Beals argued that there is no rational justification to focus national attention on fresh unprocessed whole milk, which may be associated with fifty to two hundred illnesses per year among more than eleven million consumers, a rate no greater than .002 percent; whereas the rate of confirmed bacterial infections from all food in the U.S. is about .03 percent. Beals noted that there are three thousand deaths per year in the U.S. from bacterial foodborne infections, and he could have added that there have been no deaths from raw milk since at least the 1970s.


Both raw milk opponents dismissed the European studies showing that raw milk provides a protective effect against asthma, allergies, skin problems and infectious disease as “unconvincing.” And both justified their claim that raw milk is dangerous by citing a 2014 Johns Hopkins report, which concluded that “the relative risk of individual illness is almost 150 times greater per unit of nonpasteurized dairy product, compared to pasteurized.”

WAPF published a critique of this conclusion in 2015.1 The claim is derived from an analysis published by Langer and colleagues in 2012, which actually found no statistical difference in the rate of illness (as opposed to the number of “outbreaks”) attributed to raw milk or products produced from raw milk compared to those produced from pasteurized milk. In addition, the Langer analysis limited its time frame to the years between 1993 and 2006. By selecting such a narrow time period, the data excluded the nation’s largest outbreak of salmonella: in 1985, a multi-state outbreak of salmonella was traced to pasteurized milk from a Chicago milk plant. This resulted in over sixteen thousand confirmed cases, and the investigators estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 people were sickened.

Our own analysis of illnesses attributable to raw and pasteurized milk over the years 1980 to 2005 indicate almost eleven times more illnesses attributed to pasteurized milk than to raw milk. Using the estimate that one percent of milk is consumed raw, we can calculate that, on a per serving basis, raw milk is less than twice as dangerous as pasteurized milk. As recent data suggest that as many as 3 to 4 percent of Americans consume raw milk, and using these data instead of the one percent figure would make pasteurized milk twice as dangerous as raw milk on a per-serving basis.

Although the Johns Hopkins authors acknowledge that a clinical trial would provide needed clarity, they do not cite the only randomized, controlled trial to examine the effect of milk pasteurization on infectious disease. This trial compared the rate of infections in infants fed raw human milk or a mixture of pasteurized human milk and formula. The infants suffered three times as many infections when fed pasteurized human milk and formula, even though 15 percent of the raw human milk samples contained pathogenic organisms, which were eliminated by pasteurization.


The most interesting aspect of the debate was the clear difference in world view between the for and against camps. “My assumption is not that nature is perfect,” Kornacki said. “My assumption is that nature is wild and can be dangerous.” He then referenced the death angel mushroom, which can kill you with one bite—as if to say that raw milk is not just risky, but downright toxic.

True to his public health training, Kornacki noted that 25 percent of foodborne illnesses were associated with milk in 1938; now it’s less than one percent. He left out the fact that these illnesses were in steep decline long before pasteurization became mandatory. Better housing, the advent of refrigeration, the replacement of the horse with the car, better water management, and the closing of filthy inner-city dairies are more likely candidates for the decline.

But to compare the food that nourishes all mammalian infants to a death angel mushroom shows the blinkers that hamper rational thought among public health officials, even those who have a PhD!

When you assume that nature is imperfect and dangerous, you end up with all kinds of inappropriate procedures—from pasteurization to routine antibiotics to vaccinations. For sure, nature needs a certain amount of thoughtful management to make it compatible with human life, but during the last few decades, science has revealed the fact that raw milk is perfect—full of many marvels, with more likely to be revealed. Raw milk contains numerous bioactive components that kill pathogens, strengthen the immune system, create a strong gut wall, nourish our gut bacteria, ensure the assimilation of 100 percent of all the nutrients in the milk, and protect it against rot. These are largely destroyed by the rust belt technology of pasteurization.

The closer we look at nature—whether we study raw milk, the human biome, the construction of bone, the radar system of bats or the length of eyelashes, the more we are guided to the obvious conclusion: nature is infused with wisdom, and it is incumbent on man to recognize and honor that wisdom. The raw milk drinker looks at nature with awe and respect; the raw milk opponent looks at nature with fear and anger, as something that needs to be sanitized and “improved.”

1. realmilk.com/safety/the-johns-hopkins-raw-milk-study/

This article first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Wise Traditions, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation.


Sally Fallon Morell

Sally Fallon Morell is the author of Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats (with Mary G. Enig, PhD), a well-researched, thought-provoking guide to traditional foods with a startling message: Animal fats and cholesterol are not villains but vital factors in the diet, necessary for normal growth, proper function of the brain and nervous system, protection from disease and optimum energy levels. She joined forces with Enig again to write Eat Fat, Lose Fat, and has authored numerous articles on the subject of diet and health. The President of the Weston A. Price Foundation and founder of A Campaign for Real Milk, Sally is also a journalist, chef, nutrition researcher, homemaker, and community activist. Her four healthy children were raised on whole foods including butter, cream, eggs and meat.