Last updated on: 1/23/2008 7:50:00 AM PST

Is there pus in milk?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Food Production Daily, an online food producer's news service, wrote in its Mar. 10, 2002 article "PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] launches 'Got Pus?' campaign," published on

"Somatic cells are white cells [leukocytes] that are present in both humans and cows, said David Reid, a dairy veterinarian in Hazel Green. While white blood cells are present in pus, they do not constitute pus in and of themselves. At proper levels, somatic cells prevent cows from getting mastitis, Reid said. High levels of somatic cells in milk indicate that a cow is sick and should not be milked until it is treated, he added.

National debate has raged in the industry over the past years on whether the United States should lower its maximum somatic cell count from the current level of 750,000 per milliliter to 400,000 per milliliter, the standard in Europe."

Mar. 10, 2002 - Food Production Daily 

Jeffrey W. Hull, MD, FAAP, practicing pediatrician, provided the following definition of pus in his online resource "Parents' Common Sense Encyclopedia," posted on (accessed Dec. 19, 2007):

"Pus is formed by the collection of large numbers of white cells [leukocytes] called polymorphonuclear cells in a localized area of the body in response to the presence of bacterial infection.

These cells break down and release chemicals that kill the bacteria as well as cause enlargement of the blood vessels (inflammation) and attract more white cells to the 'fight.'...

Polymorphonuclear cells are of three types: neutrophils, eosinophils, and basophils. Neutrophils fight bacterial infection. They form pus and are the chief ingredient of an abscess..."

Somatic Cells in Milk =
leukocytes (white blood cells) +
epithelial cells from the lining of the mamary gland
Types of White Blood Cells:
Pus = Dead Neutrophils Cells
   Chart Sources:
  • Jeffrey W. Hull "Parents' Common Sense Encyclopedia," (accessed Dec. 19, 2007
  • National Mastitis Council "Guidelines on Normal and Abnormal Raw Milk Based on Somatic Cell Counts and Signs of Clinical Mastitis,", 2001

Dec. 19, 2007 - Jeffrey W. Hull, MD, FAAP 

The National Mastitis Council, a mastitis control and milk quality organization, wrote in its 2001 "Guidelines on Normal and Abnormal Raw Milk Based on Somatic Cell Counts and Signs of Clinical Mastitis," published on its website:

"The following is a discussion of normal and abnormal cow's milk from the perspective of udder health as evaluated by somatic cell count (SCC) and clinical signs of mastitis...

Mastitis is defined as an inflammation of the mammary gland. Milk SCC are universally accepted and applied as a measure of inflammation in lactating mammary glands. Normal milk does contain cells, and the concentration of these cells is almost always less than 100,000 cells/ml in milk from uninfected/uninflamed mammary quarters. This is based on twice daily milking at regular intervals. Milk somatic cells are primarily leukocytes (white blood cells) and some epithelial cells shed from the lining of the mammary gland. The leukocytes are derived from blood and consist of macrophages, lymphocytes, and polymorphonuclear cells, primarily neutrophils (PMN)...

Clinical mastitis is, by definition, abnormal milk, and no reference to SCC is required. However, clinical mammary quarters will almost always have SCC greater than 200,000 cells/ml...

As a broad guide, at a BTSCC [bulk tank somatic cell count] of 200,000 cells/ml, up to 15% of cows will be infected in one or more quarters. Each additional increase in BTSCC of 100,000 cells/ml indicates a further increase in infection rate of 8 to 10%. At 400,000 cells/ml, perhaps one-third of cows contributing milk to the supply will be infected, and at 700,000 cells/ml, some two-thirds of the cows will be infected and contributing abnormal milk to the supply."

Somatic Cell Count per milliliter
(1 cup = 237 ml)
Infection Rate
100,000 or below 0%
(Rhode Island, Lowest level in US, 2001)
(United States Average, 2001)
(Maximum level allowed in Europe)
(Florida, Highest level in US, 2001)
(Maximum level allowed in United States)
    Chart Sources:
  • National Mastitis Council "Guidelines on Normal and Abnormal Raw Milk Based on Somatic Cell Counts and Signs of Clinical Mastitis,", 2001
  • PETA "Got Pus?,", Dec. 27, 2007
  • Food Production Daily "PETA launches 'Got Pus?' campaign,", Mar. 10, 2002

2001 - National Mastitis Council 

PRO (yes)

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an animal rights organization, wrote in its article "Got Pus?," published on (accessed Dec. 27, 2007):

"Have some … pus with your cookies? If you down a glass of cow’s milk, you will. It may be white, but researchers say that every cupful contains somatic cells, i.e., pus.

The dairy industry knows that there is a problem with pus in milk. Accordingly, it has developed a system known as the 'somatic cell count' to measure the amount of pus in milk. The somatic cell count is the standard used to gauge milk quality. The higher the somatic cell count, the more pus in the milk...

Dairy farmers don’t tell consumers that every glass of milk is contaminated with pus, bacteria, and perhaps with paratuberculosis [a bacterium that causes Johne's disease (a chronic intestinal disease) in cows]. The only way to avoid drinking pus is to avoid cow’s milk.

PETA is calling on the USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] to lower the legal limit of allowable pus cells in milk to the limit used by the rest of the industrialized world. Presently, our limit is nearly twice that. Seventeen states are producing milk that would be illegal to sell in Europe!"

Dec. 27, 2007 - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) 

Samuel S. Epstein, MD, Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, wrote in a Mar. 20, 1994 article "A Needless New Risk of Breast Cancer," published in the Los Angeles Times:

"The FDA [United States Department of Agriculture] - approved label insert for Posilac [Monsanto brand Artificial Bovine Growth Hormone], a pamphlet that only dairy farmers see, admits that its 'use is associated with increased frequency of use of medication in cows for mastitis and other health problems.' Monsanto's own data further show up to an 80% incidence of mastitis, an udder infection, in hormone-treated cattle and resulting contamination of milk with statistically significant levels of pus…"

Mar. 20, 1994 - Samuel S. Epstein, MD 

CON (no)

Kim Polzin, Consumer Media Representative at the Midwest Dairy Association, wrote in a Spring 2003 article "Milk Quality Is Key to Consumer Confidence," published in the Dairy Initiatives Newsletter:

"On the surface, somatic cell counts seem like a topic that would interest only dairy farmers, veterinarians, and dairy processors. The impact of somatic cell counts on protein levels and cheese making seems far removed from things a consumer might think about while visiting the grocery store.

Enter People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and its 'Got Pus?' campaign, which attempts to 'alert consumers to impurities in the U.S. milk supply, particularly the high levels of bacteria-harboring pus.' Their so-called proof? Somatic cell counts...

[PETA] goes on to discuss the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance and even uses a state-by-state list of average SC [somatic cell] counts published by Hoard's Dairyman as 'evidence.' These activists are asking the public to abandon milk - one of the most tested, wholesome, and nutritious foods available.

The dairy checkoff is working to make sure consumers are not swayed by PETA's ridiculous and incorrect claims. There is no pus in milk."

Spring 2003 - Kim Polzin 

The National Dairy Council wrote in a Dec. 21, 2007 e-mail to

"Statement by The National Dairy Council®, founded in 1915, which conducts nutrition education and nutrition research programs through national, state and regional Dairy Council organizations, on behalf of America’s dairy farmers...

There is no pus in milk. All milk - including human breast milk - naturally contains somatic (white) cells, which are critical in fighting infection and ensuring good health.

People should get their family's nutrition advice from reputable, accredited health professionals, not animal rights groups like PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals]."

Dec. 21, 2007 - National Dairy Council (NDC) 

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