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According to some family accounts, Augustus “Gus” Buttram, a
star running back at Mortimer Jordan High School, was yards away from scoring a
touchdown when paralysis struck him.
It marked the beginning of a year and a half of wrenching
uncertainty as he lay flat on his back, wondering if he would ever walk again.
The incident occurred long ago in the midst of the Great
Depression, when medical diagnoses often lacked the certainty of 21st
century diagnoses. But today, some 80
years later, Buttram’s children are all but certain that their father’s paralysis
stemmed from spinal tuberculosis.
A diseased cow apparently was the culprit.
Buttram’s father, Mack, a circuit-riding Methodist minister,
had a penchant for trading horses and cows with parishioners and others along
his circuit, according to Gus’s daughter, Mary Young of Sheffield.
At some point, the elder Buttram unwittingly ended up with a
tubercular cow. The disease was subsequently passed along to Gus after he
consumed some of the cow’s raw milk.
Gus, the elder brother of famed character actor Pat Buttram
of “Green Acres” fame, ultimately recovered, but not before withering away to 85
pounds. Using bone extracted from Buttram’s
femur, a surgeon was able to raise the diseased vertebra causing spinal compression
enough to relieve part of the paralysis.
With the aid of a cane, Gus walked into what, by all
accounts, was an unusually productive life: He earned a college degree,
married, followed his dad into the ministry, and lived to 92. He also founded Camp Maxwell, a haven for
physically challenged people, according to his son, Mac Buttram of Cullman, a
retired minister and state representative who serves Alabama’s 12th District.
Story Not Uncommon
In one respect, Gus Buttram’s story is not uncommon. Countless families can relate similar
accounts of older relatives who were sickened or maimed or even died from
consuming raw milk products.
Such stories explain why Dr. Jean Weese, a food scientist
who heads the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s food safety team, frequently
expresses bewilderment over the dogged passion some consumers still have for
“People should understand that milk comes from cows’ udders
that are, well, utterly contaminated,” Weese says. “These udders not only are sometimes dragged
along the ground and other unclean surfaces but are also located close to the
animal’s sewage system. Consequently, Ecoli
or salmonella or whatever is in the cow’s feces can get onto the udders very
No Guarantee without Pasteurization
“Without pasteurization, there is no way that we can
guarantee the milk will be safe.”
Weese, who grew up in a Kentucky dairy family, counts her
family fortunate for having been introduced to the merits of pasteurization by
their county Extension educator.
“I’m a dairy farmer from way back, and I’m still surprised
by how many people are against pasteurization despite all the good that has
come from it within the last century,” she says.
Even so, a growing number of Americans are touting raw milk
as a safe, viable alternative — and in a growing number of cases, state
governments are buying into it.
In November, Arkansas became the latest state to legalize
the sale of raw milk. Meanwhile, legislators
in America’s second leading dairy-producing state, Wisconsin, are also
contemplating raw milk legalization. The
Wisconsin Senate passed a bill that would allow dairy farmers to sell
unpasteurized milk directly to consumers from a farm. The state would only be required to inspect
these sites once every two years.
The Growing Public Fascination with Raw Milk
To date, 30 states permit the sale of raw milk in some
form. Alabama is one of 20 states that prohibit
sales of the product.
The growing demand for raw milk products in recent years has
been accompanied by a spike in disease outbreaks, particularly bacterial
infections stemming from exposure to Campylobacter (pictured right) and other pathogens. In fact, bacteria tend to be the most common
source of outbreaks associated with raw milk, according to Dr. Barbara Mahon,
deputy chief of the Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch of the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
“We have seen dramatic increases in outbreaks associated with
raw milk from 2006 to 2012,” says Mahon, adding that Campylobacter is an especially
serious bacterial infection that can lead to temporary paralysis.
Another pathogen linked to raw milk consumption, E.coli
O157:H7, can lead to especially tragic consequences, including kidney and neurological problems, Mahon
Illnesses stemming from other causes, such as brucella bacteria
and tuberculosis, have also been detected in recent years, she says.
Children Often Unwitting Victims
In a growing number of instances, children are being
introduced to raw milk consumption by friends, parents and other relatives who
are convinced that raw milk offers significant nutritional advantaged over
pasteurized milk, according to G.M. Gallaspy, director of the Milk and Food
Processing Branch of the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Along with seniors and immune-compromised people, children tend
to the most susceptible to these risks.
The consequences sometimes turn out to be horrific and
“The costs of treating a kidney ailment associated with the
consumption of raw milk can run as high as a half-million dollars — a calamity
for people who lack health insurance and a tremendous liability on state
governments in cases where they end up covering treatment costs,” Gallaspy
There is more than a little irony to this, Weese says,
considering that raw milk appears to offer no discernible nutritional
advantages over pasteurized products.
No Loss of Nutritional Content with Pasteurization
“The method used to treat raw milk is a very quick form of pasteurization
in which the milk is heated to a very high temperature for a short time,” she
says, adding that few nutrients are lost in the course of pasteurization.
This is corroborated by the CDC. In a series of questions and answers about
raw milk posted on its website, the CDC states that pasteurization does not change
the nutritional value of milk and dairy products and that these values are
secured without the risks associated with raw milk.
For her part, Weese regards the growing public fascination
with raw milk with a measure of fatalism.
She recalls a widely reported Ecoli outbreak associated with
unpasteurized fruit juice in the mid-1990s that led to a brief public
reaffirmation of the benefits of pasteurization. Weese fears that an outbreak associated with
raw milk will lead to a need for a similar reaffirmation of milk pasteurization
sometime in the future.
“There is as much
reason to pasteurize milk as there is to cook raw meat because the same type of
contaminates associated with raw meat — Ecoli and salmonella, for example — can
be present in raw milk and can make you very sick,” she says.
Information about Raw Milk and Pasteurization
milk get contaminated?
Milk contamination may occur from:
What is Pasteurization and Why Is It
Pasteurization is the only way to kill many of the bacteria
in milk that can make people sick.
Pasteurization is a process that kills harmful bacteria by
heating milk to a specific temperature for a set period of time. First
developed by Louis Pasteur in 1864, pasteurization kills harmful organisms
responsible for such diseases as
The Dangers of Raw Milk: Unpasteurized Milk Can Pose aSerious Health Risk (Food and Drug Administration)
Raw Milk Questions and Answers (Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention)
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