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Less Than Half of American Adults Know Dangers of Raw Milk
  • Posted July 10, 2024

Less Than Half of American Adults Know Dangers of Raw Milk

Few Americans understand the health risks of drinking raw milk, a new survey shows, so experts are redoubling efforts to get the word out on its dangers.

The push dovetails with the discovery this spring of bird flu virus in milk from infected cows. The H5N1 virus is widespread in wild birds worldwide and causing outbreaks in poultry and U.S. dairy cows. As of June 21, four human cases of the H5N1 flu had been reported in the United States.

"It is important that anyone planning to consume raw milk be aware that doing so can make you sick and that pasteurization reduces the risk of milk-borne illnesses," said Patrick Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Health and Risk Communication Institute at the University of Pennsylvania.

Milk from cows, sheep, goats and other animals that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful germs is called raw or unpasteurized. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says consuming unpasteurized milk and products made from it can expose people to germs such as E. coli, listeria and salmonella.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says the commercial milk supply -- which is pasteurized -- is safe from the H5N1 virus, raw milk is another story.

In June, before the four human cases of bird flu were reported, the Annenberg Institute surveyed 1,031 American adults online and by phone to gauge their knowledge about the risks associated with unpasteurized milk.

While 47% of respondents knew that raw milk is less safe to drink, 24% either wrongly believed that pasteurizing milk does not effectively kill bacteria and viruses or were unsure whether it does.

Respondents who were 65 or older, college-educated or who lean Democrat were more likely to understand the benefits of pasteurization and to believe that it does not destroy nutrients in milk. City dwellers were more likely to consider raw milk less safe, compared to rural counterparts (49% versus 32%).

Meanwhile, only 4 in 10 Republicans (37%) said they believe raw milk is less safe than pasteurized. 

"The difference in views of raw milk that we see between Democrats and Republicans is difficult to disentangle from the difference between rural and urban dwellers," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, said in a center news release. "Those in rural areas are both more likely to identify as Republicans and to consume raw milk."

A separate analysis showed that where one lives does not predict beliefs about pasteurization. Still, many Americans have misguided notions about it.

Fewer than half (43%) knew that pasteurization "does not destroy nutrients" in milk; 16% think it does and 41% were unsure. 

Interestingly, 18- to 29-year-olds were more likely than seniors to believe pasteurizing milk destroys nutrients (25% versus 5%), and Republicans were much more likely to believe that than Democrats (23% versus 8%).

The survey was conducted June 7-10 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

More information

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has more about raw milk misconceptions

SOURCE: Annenberg Public Policy Center/University of Pennsylvania, news release, July 9, 2024

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