CDC Cherry Picks Data to Make Case Against Raw Milk

The Weston A. Price Foundation Contact: Kimberly Hartke, Publicist
For Immediate Release 703-860-2711, 703-675-5557


Agency ignores data that shows dangers of pasteurized milk
Watch Harvard Raw Milk Debate

WASHINGTON, DC, February 22, 2012. In a press release issued yesterday, authors affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control claim that the rate of outbreaks caused by unpasteurized milk and products made from it was 150 times greater than outbreaks linked to pasteurized milk.” The authors based this conclusion on an analysis of reports submitted to the CDC from 1993 to 2006.

According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, the CDC has manipulated and cherry picked this data to make raw milk look dangerous and to dismiss the same dangers associated with pasteurized milk.

“What consumers need to realize, first of all,” said Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, “is that the incidence of foodborne illnesses from dairy products, whether pasteurized or not, is extremely low. For the 14-year period that the authors examined, there was an average of 315 illnesses a year from all dairy products for which the pasteurization status was known. Of those, there was an average of 112 illnesses each year attributed to all raw dairy products and 203 associated with pasteurized dairy products.

“In comparison, there are almost 24,000 foodborne illnesses reported each year on average. Whether pasteurized or not, dairy products are simply not a high risk product.”

Because the incidence of illness from dairy products is so low, the authors’ choice of the time period for the study affected the results significantly, yet their decision to stop the analysis with the year 2006 was not explained. The CDC’s data shows that there were significant outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to pasteurized dairy products the very next year, in 2007: 135 people became ill from pasteurized cheese contaminated with e. coli, and three people died from pasteurized milk contaminated with listeria (

Outbreaks from pasteurized dairy were also a significant problem in the 1980s. In 1985, there were over 16,000 confirmed cases of Salmonella infection that were traced back to pasteurized milk from a single dairy. Surveys estimated that the actual number of people who became ill in that outbreak were over 168,000, “making this the largest outbreak of salmonellosis ever identified in the United States” at that time, according to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

According to Fallon Morell “In the context of the very low numbers of illnesses attributed to dairy in general, the authors’ decision to cut the time frame short, as compared to the available CDC data, is troubling and adds to questions about the bias in this publication.”

According to Fallon Morell, the CDC’s authors continue to obscure their study by failing to document the actual information they are using. They rely on reports, many of which are preliminary. Of the references related to dairy outbreaks, five are from outbreaks in other countries, several did not involve any illness, seven are about cheese-related incidents, and of the forty-six outbreaks they count, only five describe any investigations.

Perhaps most troubling is the authors’ decision to focus on outbreaks rather than illnesses. An “outbreak” of foodborne illness can consist of two people with minor stomachaches to thousands of people with bloody diarrhea. In addressing the risk posed for individuals who consume a food, the logical data to examine is the number of illnesses, not the number of outbreaks.

“The authors acknowledge that the number of foodborne illnesses from raw dairy products (as opposed to outbreaks) were not significantly different in states where raw milk is legal to sell compared with states where it is illegal to sell,” notes Judith McGeary of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. “In other words, had the authors looked at actual risk of illness, instead of the artificially defined “outbreaks,” there would have been no significant results to report.”

This does not end the list of flaws with the study, however. The link between the outbreaks and the legal status of raw dairy mixed an entire category of diverse products. Illnesses from suitcase style raw cheese or queso fresco were lumped together with illnesses attributed to fluid raw milk, a much less risky product. In the majority of states where the sale of raw fluid milk is allowed, the sale of queso fresco is still illegal. The authors had all of the data on which products were legal and which products allegedly caused the illnesses, yet chose not to use that data.

Similarly, to create the claimed numbers for how much riskier raw dairy products are, the authors relied on old data on raw milk consumption rates, rather than using the CDC’s own food survey from 2006-2007. The newer data showed that about 3 percent of the population consumes raw milk—over nine million people–yet the authors chose instead to make conclusions based on the assumption that only 1 percent of the dairy products in the country are consumed raw.

The authors also ignored relevant data on the populations of each state. For example, the three most populous states in the country (California, Texas, and New York) all allow for legal sales of raw milk; the larger number of people in these states would logically lead to larger numbers of illnesses than in low-population states such as Montana and Wyoming and has nothing to do with the fact that raw milk is illegal in those states.

“It would hardly be surprising to see some sort of increase in foodborne illnesses related to a food where that food is legal,” said McGeary. “If we banned ground beef, we’d see fewer illnesses related to ground beef products.   Yet this new study fails to prove even that common-sense proposition, even as it claims to prove a great deal more. What the data really shows is that raw dairy products cause very few illnesses each year, even though the CDC data indicates that over 9 million people consume it.”

The Weston A. Price Foundation is a 501C3 nutrition education foundation with the mission of disseminating accurate, science-based information on diet and health. Named after nutrition pioneer Weston A. Price, DDS, author of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, the Washington, DC-based Foundation publishes a quarterly journal for its 13,000 members, supports 500 local chapters worldwide and hosts a yearly conference. The Foundation headquarters phone number is (202) 363-4394,,

Contact: Kimberly Hartke, Publicist, The Weston A. Price Foundation
703-860-2711, 703-675-5557

Kimberly Hartke is the publicist for the Weston A. Price Foundation. Her public relations company, Hartke Communications specializes in health and wellness clients. To book a nutrition education expert, contact Kimberly via,

15 Responses to CDC Cherry Picks Data to Make Case Against Raw Milk

  1. Another example of how to lie with numbers
    Another way I believe they’re misrepresenting the data is in the way they categorize the outbreak as being from pasteurized vs. unpasteurized products. Take the Jalisco Listeriosis outbreak from 1985, which sickened 86 people. CDC’s database categorizes this as an unpasteurized milk outbreak. But I disagree with this categorizatoin because Jalisco products are all sold as pasteurized products. It just so happens that in this case, some of the milk didn’t get adequately pasteurized. In my mind, this is an example of a PASTEURIZED product contamination because that’s how the product is sold. Additionally, milk that is produced with the intent of being pasteurized is produced with much lower standards than milk that is intended to be consumed raw, and therefore MUST be pasteurized. So in my opinion, this categorization is totally misleading, so when I did my own analysis of the CDC’s data on listeria outbreaks: I changed the categorization of this one row. And sure enough, the numbers led me to the following conclusions:
    1) In the dairy category, far more people were sickened by pasteurized dairy than unpasteurized dairy, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of those who consume the product.
    2) More people contract listeriosis from processed meats compared to dairy products of any kind.

  2. Sherif F. says:

    Hi! And thanks for your great work!

    I absolutely love raw milk, believe in its benefits, and believe that it is safe when obtained from a trusted source. I also believe that people should be free to purchase it and if the government wishes to require a warning on the label that outlines the risks, then this would be acceptable to me.

    Additionally, I benefit a great deal from WAPF recommendations, literature, and appreciate the activism the foundation is undertaking.

    I appreciate this statement greatly. However, I feel like it opens itself up to a lot of criticism and can definitely be strengthened.

    For one, it points out the flaws in the CDC’s analysis but doesn’t establish how a countervailing conclusion may be reached. Here are my specific criticisms:

    What both sides of the debate need to be talking about is the number of people who get an illness **as a percent** of the number of people who consume the product.

    The total number of illnesses is not an important number, and barely needs to be mentioned. Here’s why: if 10 people consume raw milk and 10 of them get sick, while 100 people consume pasteurized milk and 50 of them get sick, then the pro-raw-milk side will say, “50 people got sick from pasteurized milk while only 10 got sick from raw milk. Hence, pasteurized milk is a lot more dangerous.” But the other side would come back and say, “yes, but 100% of the 10 people who consumed raw milk got sick, while only 50% of the people who consumed pasteurized milk got sick”.

    This is actually what the CDC is claiming – a much smaller percentage of the people who drink pasteurized milk experienced an “outbreak” from it as compared to the percentage of people who drink raw milk. They’re saying that ratio is 150 times bigger for raw milk than for pasteurized milk. Yes, the subset of data they chose to present is probably biased and missing important data, but this response by WAPF doesn’t address this. It’s only looking at the total number of people who were affected by “an outbreak” rather than a percentage of those who consume each type of milk. The statement is right in pointing out that the CDC ignored the later and earlier data, and that they measured “outbreaks” rather than “illnesses”, but this doesn’t account for such a huge disparity between the percent of “outbreaks” from raw milk vs. pasteurized milk. 150 times factor is actually pretty huge, and needs to be quantitatively accounted for in the statement for it to be convincing.

    Additionally, it is absolutely dubious to focus on the percentage of illnesses from dairy as opposed to other products. It would only make sense to compare dairy to one other product category at a time, like “leafy greens”. if you compare dairy to the combination of all other products that people consume, then it is utterly insignificant that dairy illnesses are a small percentage of food-borne illnesses, because it might just be a result of dairy consumption being a small percentage of all other consumed products.

    If only 1% of food-borne illnesses are due to dairy, that would be significantly low if people consumed dairy as 10% of their food. However, the same 1% would be huge if people only had dairy as 0.05% of their total food consumption. So, the percentage of food-borne illnesses due to dairy only bears meaning in contrast to the percent of dairy consumption as related to all other food consumption.

    Clarifying these numbers and how they ought to be interpreted would not only strengthen the case, but would also inform the readers of the WAPF statements better and more accurately, and can only enhance the WAPF’s credibility. In the end, even if fewer people get sick from pasteurized milk as a percent of consumption, this in no way implies that raw milk is such a danger that states should be able to outlaw it. The numbers for raw milk might still be low, and there are other arguments, like the fact that quite a few people can consume raw dairy, but not pasteurized dairy (like myself), and so on.

    Whenever numbers are missing or uncertain, this should simply be pointed out. For example, “we only how many people consume each type of milk within a 50% margin of error for raw milk and a 20% margin of error for pasteurized milk, and therefore the resulting percentages are not fully reliable, but we may establish the following bounds for them. They are no greater than X and Y, for raw and pasteurized milk respectively.”

    In short, I personally would benefit greatly from more clarity, precision, objectivity, etc.

    Once again, thanks for your great work!

  3. Lactose Lover says:

    Suppose there were samples of milk available from the outbreaks that you could test for pasteurization. You would use the results of the test to categorize the milk causing the outbreaks as either pasteurized or unpasteurized. Since the authors of the study can’t test the original milk samples, they use the label under which the product was sold as the best proxy for what they believe the sample was. If, in the case of the Jalisco Listeriosis outbreak, the label of “pasteurized” was known to be incorrectly applied, the milk should not be categorized as such.

  4. grace zygadlo says:

    I’ve been healthy child drinking raw milk, while living in europe. Only few years in Canada drinking pasteurized milks, juices and I’ve got all kind of allergies, fatique, varicous vains. I demand freedom to choose food I know is good for me, and I demand to be always informed what’s in my food. Grace

  5. Joanne Unleashed says:

    Second the Suggestions Suggestion
    Sherif has presented valuable criticisms to the reporting of the data, and I would also like to see Sherif’s concerns addressed. What is the actual percentage of persons made ill from the different products? How big is the pie slice from raw milk products compared to the pie slices of leafy greens, deli meats, hamburgers, etc.?

  6. tjboyd says:

    Clarification on data
    The data on the number of servings raw or pasteurized dairy does not exist. We only have data on the number of people consuming it.

    As we mentioned in the press release, CDC’s data indicates that over 9 million people drink raw milk and 112 of them allegedly get sick from some kind of raw dairy product (not just raw milk) each year. Doing the math, that means that approximately one-tenth of one percent of the people consuming raw milk get sick from raw dairy each year. Regardless of any comparison to any other food, these numbers don’t reflect a “high risk” product.

  7. Justin S says:

    More details
    As others have mentioned, the argument for raw milk would be better represented if it came with more actual data sets. The original post fails to cite too many numbers.

    Another thing to consider is WHO is consuming the product. I know a lot of mothers who are trying to give raw milk to their young children. This matters… if the data shows that raw milk is in a high-risk category, parents should know. The parents I see giving raw milk to their kids are the same ones that are banning hot dogs from their tables. It’d be nice to know if the consistent thing to do would be to forbid both.

  8. Don says:

    Three comments:
    1. If FDA took the same approach with restaurant food-related illnesses that they take with raw milk products, we would be seeing a push from FDA to ban all restaurants! But if asked about restaurants the FDA’s (current) reply would likely be what it should be about raw milk: “Why close down all restaurants because a few are dangerous?” The FDA’s brush is wide or narrow according to their political agenda. And if we lose on raw milk, the restaurants’ day will eventually come; it’s just further down the schedule.
    2. Perhaps we should begin referring to processed milk products as “Soylent White”. Or is that tofu?
    3. Joel Salatin for President!

  9. Rachel says:

    There is no such thing as totally safe nutritious food.There is always an element of risk in every aspect of life. Margarine is a sterile product but of no nutritional value.

  10. Alexander Cranford says:

    There is no such thing as totally safe nutritious food.There is always an element of risk in every aspect of life. Margarine is a sterile product but of no nutritional value.

  11. Melisa Steinke says:

    I’m interested in how it changes the composition of milk…
    Yes, the numbers seem skewed to favor against raw milk. Make you think, really? In all the years before pasteurization was invented why didn’t people stop drinking milk because it was bad for them. People aren’t that dumb. They seem to think we are.
    I don’t see our government addressing how the pasteurization process changes the milk making it lose its nutritional value, which is the very reason I’d want to drink it.
    Ladies I know who drank raw milk into “more mature years” have healthier bones. Today’s society worries about osteoporosis. During pasteurization we burn away what is needed for our teeth and bones.
    Also, fat molecules change shape during the pasteurization process. They become dagger-like and have been found to scar blood vessels and if I remember correctly, heart tissue also.
    I know there is a low pasteurization process that is legal, but its difficult to find milk processed this way. I’d really like the option for raw milk. Until then, my family has been drinking rice and almond milk. I like to think that every time I don’t buy cow milk I am voting for a change.

  12. Brigitte says:

    It’s all about the money

    Because raw milk usually comes from individual farms, the big guys are afraid of loosing their profits if everyone would go to consuming raw dairy. Big corporations get so greedy and want to have it all: Money and control of what we eat/drink. Because if they can control what we eat, we’ll get sick from all the processed food, and that makes us needing doctors to prescribe medicine, which costs money. The big pharmaceutical industry gets our money, the hospitals, the trade assiciations, government agencies like the FDA, ect. Read the book “Natural Cures ‘They’ don’t want you to know” by Kevin Trudeau and you’ll get the inside story.

  13. Barry Schinnerer says:

    The darkest side of this, that people do not want to see, is that the FDA and the people it serves do not want you to be healthy. Its not that they are worried about your health, its that they are worried about you becoming healthy. Raw milk equals health, I know from experience. When people wake up and see this, perhaps we will get our priorities straight and fix or do away with the FDA.

  14. triffel says:

    If you want to see comparisons, just stop in and talk to dairy farmers who have consumed raw milk for ever

  15. Diane Smith says:

    Hey, Minnesotans! Please sign our raw milk petition!
    Thank you for all your work, Sally!
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    my petition to help ‘undo’ the ridiculous legislation
    that keeps my farmer from being able to sell raw grass-fed
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