Unpasteurized milk—often referred to as raw milk—is at the center of a rally and court appearance today in Viroqua, Wisconsin. The controversial product can contain bacteria, like E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter, which can severely sicken those who consume it—bacteria removed by the pasteurization process. Advocates believe the pasteurization process also removes healthy aspects of the milk, and want the right to produce, sell, and consume it without regulation. One of those advocates has organized a rally and workshop around his court appearance, featuring supporters from around the country. What is not being discussed is the very dark down side of raw milk.

“The virulence of the bacteria in the modern food supply has made even the most careful producers unable to eliminate it completely, and it only takes a microscopic amount to put someone in a wheelchair, on a respirator, or with damaged kidneys for life. In my opinion, drinking raw milk is like playing Russian roulette. I have the sad task of representing those who sought out raw milk to improve their health, but found themselves with the loaded chamber. Their lives have never been the same, and will never be the same,” said Bill Marler, food safety advocate and foodborne illness attorney.

“Do you wear a seat belt?” ask Marler. “Most of us do, but some wouldn’t unless it was required by law. Seat belts have saved many, many lives, and that is what food regulation is trying to do—save lives. Some see the requirement to wear seatbelts as an assault on their personal choices, but as a society, we see the greater benefit—especially for those who can’t make their own choices, like children. Children are also most vulnerable to the bacteria in unpasteurized milk, as their immune systems are not fully formed and cannot fight it.”

Consumer Resource: Comparing the food safety record of pasteurized and raw milk products