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Understanding and Reducing the Risks of Disease Associated with Consumption of Raw Milk and Raw Milk Cheese


The output of this grant is a conference and subsequent follow-up. The proposed conference will consist of a multidisciplinary dialogue with a primary North American focus, to explore the consumer demand and production practices for raw milk and raw milk cheese, and how various jurisdictions manage, if at all, their sales to minimize the risks of disease. It also aims to address any gap in knowledge by seeing if there are more recent studies on the knowledge, attitudes, and practices of raw milk producers and consumers, and potential on-farm hygienic improvements and decontamination procedures besides pasteurization. <P>Topic areas to be discussed include the existing surveillance mechanism to detect diseases arising from these products and determine the risk of infection by consumers; the regulations, standards and enforcement actions to limit the sale of these products; analyzing the arguments by proponents for having the choice to consume these products; and risk communication and education approaches to limit disease occurrence.

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Non-Technical Summary: Although many diseases have been documented from consumption of raw (unpasteurized) milk and raw milk cheeses, the risk of consuming these products compared with other foods including those made from pasteurized milk, has not been fully explored. The proponents of these products quote sources supporting their healthfulness and nutritional quality, including being a barrier to enteric disease infections and allergenic reactions. These are usually refuted by public health personnel as unfounded, but little in the way of dialog takes place in a public forum on the science of both positions. Since there will always be a small proportion of any population who will avidly seek sources of raw milk or raw milk cheese, it is important to understand the main reasons for these choices, and minimize the practices with the highest risk. There are three groups of people that wish to have the choice of obtaining these products: 1) farming families where the source is readily available; 2) nationalities where these products are associated with their culture, and also especially migrants when they move away from that culture; 3) "yuppies" or young urban professionals, who also may be members of the organic and natural foods movement and identify with small rural dairy producers. The prime aim of this conference is to share the science that relate to these products, what more has to be researched to reduce the risk of illness, and to broadcast the presentations and discussion widely for consumers so that they can make wise choices. <P> Approach: The conference will bring together speakers and audience with an interest in raw milk and raw milk cheese but these interests may be at cross purposes. The proponents want ready access to these products and the regulatory agencies want to limit the risk of disease by banning or otherwise controlling sales. The expected dialog should generate information that will help people make decisions, but the intended information will be offered on a broader scale by using electronic media such as web pages, i-pods, or other means of delivery with ways of measuring response by this larger audience. A steering committee will help with conference agenda.

Todd, Ewen
Michigan State University
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