A recent outbreak of Q fever in Michigan has been linked to raw milk consumption, health officials reported earlier this week. Q fever is a flulike disease that can be spread from animals to humans. The cause of the illness is the bacteria Coxiella burnettii, which is commonly found in farm animals, but most typically in goats and sheep. Infected animals can easily deposit the bacteria in manure, urine, or milk. As a result, farm workers are usually at risk for contracting the disease.
The spread of Q fever through the consumption of raw milk has reignited debates over the safety of some farm products. Unpasteurized milk, colloquially referred to as raw milk, can spread bacteria and illnesses common in farm animals. The pasteurization process kills nearly all bacteria and foreign bodies in dairy products, rendering them safe for human consumption. However, supporters of raw milk argue that this process can also destroy important nutrients and kill helpful, as well as harmful, bacteria.
Currently, many states prohibit the retail sale of raw milk. In Michigan, where three women contracted Q fever due to consumption of raw milk, its sale is banned, but many consumers and farmers avoid these laws by participating in herd shares, where customers will buy shares of a particular cow or goat, which include dairy products made from these animals (essentially allowing them to purchase raw milk without directly buying it).
In Michigan, these herd shares are not regulated, and the milk from these farms is not tested. Many raw milk advocates argue that legalizing the sale of unpasteurized dairy products will increase the safety of these products by mandating regulation and forcing untested products out of the market. Opponents of raw milk, however, argue that the product itself is fundamentally unsafe and should not be sold at all.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer