E. Coli outbreak renews raw milk fight in Oregon

E. Coli outbreak renews raw milk fight in Oregon
photo courtesy of Flickr user Andrea_44

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Dairy Farmers Association is calling for tighter restrictions on the sale of unpasteurized milk following an E. coli outbreak that sickened nearly 20 people last month.

Oregon bans store sales of raw milk but allows small farms to sell on-site with no regulatory oversight.

Jim Krahn, the dairy association's executive director, said a stronger ban is needed, and the group plans to convene a meeting of legislators, dairy farmers and possibly state agricultural officials this summer. Consumers and producers of raw milk won't be on the guest list.

"We feel that something needs to be done," Krahn said. "We've been saying this for a long time."

The recent E. Coli outbreak was traced to a farm in Wilsonville, south of Portland. Four children were hospitalized with acute kidney failure, and at least two of them could face long-term complications.

Pasteurization of milk, heating it to kill harmful organisms, didn't become prevalent in the United States until after World War II. Now, less than 3 percent of Oregon residents drink unpasteurized milk, according to a state survey.

Despite decades of warnings that raw milk is unsafe, fans of the product are not ready to switch. Shannon Trayhorn, a Troutdale mother of seven, told The Oregonian (http://is.gd/auTD3C ) that she grew up drinking raw milk in Idaho, but her family switched to pasteurized milk when she was 15. After repeated visits to the emergency room a decade ago, she returned to raw milk.

"My kids are definitely healthier," she said. "They'll get constipated, runny noses, stuff like that if I use store-bought milk."

Dr. Gary Oxman, health officer of Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties, said a ban on all sales in Oregon would foster a black market. As it stands now, consumers who want to buy raw milk generally have to go to great lengths to track it down.

"I think the Oregon law does a good job of preventing uninformed consumers from getting the product," Oxman said.

But Dr. Barbara Mahon, co-author of a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there are twice as many outbreaks in states that allow sales than in the 20 states that have complete bans.

"When it's legal, more people drink it, and when more people drink it, more get sick," Mahon said. "I feel like people have lost sight of how dangerous it really is."

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.