As the raw-vs.-pasteurized-milk debate rages, a whole host of related concerns crop up, like: how much of the fear-mongering from the pro-pasteurization people is real, and how much is propaganda from Big Agribusiness? If 10,000 people were “exposed” to raw milk from a rabies-positive cow, and 200 of them chose to get shots—but not a single one of the other 9,800 people got rabies—what are we so afraid of? If not a single person in recorded history has ever gotten rabies by drinking milk from a rabid cow, how big is the risk?
I’d have to agree with author David E. Gumpert  (The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights ) and conclude: not very big at all. Raw milk proponents say raw milk is healthier, with more vitamin B6 and helpful probiotics; that it could reduce the risk of asthma and allergies; and that it’s more flavorful to boot.
Hmm. I wonder what raw milk cheese pizza tastes like.
The very word “rabies” arouses strong feelings in most of us. I can remember as a child being told that if I got bitten by a squirrel or stray dog, I’d have to endure a series of painful shots. Otherwise, I’d risk an agonizing death that would have me foaming at the mouth.
Now raw milk drinkers in Vermont are having their fear memories jogged by the same sort of warnings. “Raw Milk Dairy In Vermont Has Cow With Rabies That Threatens 21 With Painful Shots” warns one of the blogs of food poisoning law firm MarlerClark, and its head, Bill Marler.
And a big part of the reason Vermont raw milk drinkers have to worry so much? According to MarlerClark, “Vermont’s Legislature…just loosened up regulation of raw milk sales in the state, lifting the 50 quart per day cap on how much can be sold. Groups like the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, and Rural Vermont guided passage of theFresh Milk Restoration Act of 2009.” Damn those liberal foodies, pushing all this permissive legislation. It’ll be the end of us all, I swear.
But wait. If you read through the MarlerClark item to the last sentence you get this little tidbit: “The Centers for Disease Control has no record of rabies being transmitted by drinking raw milk, but health officials say they cannot rule out the possibility.”
Well, in the interests of objectivity, I guess you have to give the MarlerClark people a teeny bit of credit for at least slightly tempering their fear mongering. (Although, as MarlerClark suggests, You never know. You just never know. And you can never ever be too safe. While we’re at it, let’s wash our hands an extra five times today and say “Thank our lucky stars, and thank the benevolent folks at MarlerClark.”)
But this sort of fear mongering has been going on for a good while. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in its, shall we say, rabid, anti-raw milk presentation of 2007, describes a case in Oklahoma involving raw milk supposedly contaminated by a cow’s rabies, under the heading “Rabies Scare.” “10,000 consumers potentially exposed,” the slide tells us breathlessly.