How Right Wing Commentators Are Pushing Raw Milk Misinformation

Health officials are warning Americans not to drink raw milk as bird flu spreads through American cows. But some media figures and influencers are misleadingly suggesting that the product is safe or even healthier than traditional milk. And sales are growing.

Commentators on sites like Infowars, Gab and Rumble have grown increasingly vocal about raw milk in recent weeks. They see the government’s heightened concerns about the dangers as overreach.

“They say: ‘Bird flu in milk! Bird flu in milk! Oh, it’s the scariest thing!’” Owen Shroyer said on the April 29 episode of his “War Room” podcast from Infowars. He added: “They’ll just make raw milk illegal. That’s what this is all about.”

Public health officials have long warned Americans of the severe health risks that can come with drinking raw milk instead of pasteurized milk, which is heated to kill bacteria, viruses and other germs. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found more than 200 disease outbreaks linked to unpasteurized milk from 1998 to 2018, leading to 2,645 illnesses, 228 hospitalizations and three deaths.

In the United States, there have been only three reported human cases of this avian flu virus, which has led to the death of 90 million of the nation’s farmed birds and recently spread to cows. None of these human cases have yet been tied to drinking milk, but a study published on Friday found that milk contaminated with the virus was rapidly making mice sick.

Contrary to claims, there’s little or no evidence that drinking raw milk provides health benefits, including protection from certain infectious diseases, said Dr. Megin Nichols, the deputy director of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases at the C.D.C. The Food and Drug Administration says pasteurizing milk kills the virus.

The F.D.A. said in a statement that there are no scientifically proven benefits to drinking raw milk and that “the health risks are clear.”

The sale of raw milk is illegal or heavily restricted in around two dozen states, and the F.D.A. bans the interstate sale of raw milk. But a growing number of states allow producers to sell raw milk directly to consumers.

Sales of raw milk at grocery stores and other retailers in early May rose more than 20 percent from a year earlier, though they remain a tiny share of overall milk consumption, according to NielsenIQ, a market research firm.

Right-wing commentators aren’t the only proponents of raw milk. For years, wellness influencers have promoted raw milk as a healthier alternative to pasteurized milk, misleadingly claiming that drinking it will confer immunity to diseases like E. coli and salmonella.

Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters, a left-leaning watchdog that looked at the trend this month, said raw milk promotion had been intensifying on the right since the start of the bird flu outbreak.

What you have is a bunch of right-wing influencers who know that they can build substantial audiences and retain their audiences and excite their audiences by telling them that what medical authorities are saying about raw milk, about bird flu, is not credible,” Mr. Gertz said.

Eviane Leidig, a postdoctoral researcher at Tilburg University in the Netherlands who researches extremist movements, said the consumption of raw or unprocessed foods had emerged as a rallying cry on parts of the political right. Pasteurized milk, which these groups falsely claim is injected with dangerous chemicals, is referred to as “state-approved milk.”

“The consumption of raw milk, raw meat and raw eggs is a right-wing subculture that has been growing in popularity over the last few years,” Dr. Leidig said.

Todd Callaway, a professor in the department of animal and dairy science at the University of Georgia, said that modern dairy farms had made raw milk safer to drink than it once was, but that “it’s still not a great idea” to drink raw milk, which may still contain dangerous germs. Nearly all store-bought milk is pasteurized.

“I don’t know that a lot of people understand what pasteurization is,” Dr. Callaway said. “It’s just heat treatment. There are no chemicals being pumped in.”

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