Last updated on: 8/31/2009 1:16:00 PM PST
Is There Pus in Milk?
General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provided the following response to the question "Would it be correct to say that the FDA states that there is no pus in milk?" in a Jan. 3, 2008 email to ProCon.org:
"[T]he types of somatic cells [cells that are present in pus but do not constitute pus in and of themselves] in milk are of several different types, including epithelial. Pasteurized milk produced under the requirements of the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance is safe to consume. The agency has no evidence that supports milk in US commerce is inherently unsafe, dirty or not sanitary. If you wish to offer safety data, risk analyses, or material information to the agency, please do. If you have additional concerns, please let us know. We will make every effort to address them."
[Editor's Note: ProCon.org responded on Jan. 4, 2008 to the above FDA e-mail. We asked the FDA to please provide a direct response to our question: Would it be correct to say that the FDA states that there is no pus in milk? ProCon.org contacted the FDA again with the same question on Feb. 25, 2008 and again on Aug. 30, 2009. We have not received a response.]
Jan. 3, 2008 - US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an animal rights organization, wrote in its article "Got Pus?," published on the Milk Sucks website (accessed Dec. 27, 2007):
"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!"
[Editor's Note: In November of 2007 the California Milk Processors Board threatened suit against PETA for its "Got Pus?" parody. The lawsuit did not get filed and PETA did not stop its "Got Pus?" campaign.]
Dec. 27, 2007 - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
Charles Knouse, DO, general practice physician, stated in a Aug. 18, 2009 e-mail to ProCon.org:
"While the use of the word 'pus' is admittedly pejorative, it is nonetheless an appropriate word. To say 'white blood cells' would not convey the emotional - nor the holistic - totality of the real situation. In reality, hormone treated cows, in confined spaces, over-bred for production, denied fresh grass and over-milked, are going to be stressed and are going to have far higher rates of mastitis [infected teats] than well-cared for cows (and goats) at an organic dairy devoted to raw milk - and this WILL mean far higher counts of inflammatory cells and inflammation products in the milk - 'pus'...
I have no trust at all in arguments from the pasteurized milk side of the debate; defending their side on the basis that all milk contains 'some' white blood cells and therefore the word 'pus' should not be used... Modest amounts of white blood cells normally found in clean, healthy milk (which are there because the faithful little helpers get EVERYWHERE looking for germs), is not the same as inflammatory cells and inflammatory products from inflamed teats and udders."
Apr. 18, 2009 - Charles A. Knouse, DO
Robert M. Kradjian, MD, Surgeon at Seton Medical Centre, wrote in his article titled "The Milk Letter: A Message to My Patients," published on the AFPA Fitness website (accessed Jan. 30, 2008):
"You may be horrified to learn that the USDA allows milk to contain from one to one and a half million white blood cells per milliliter (That's only 1/30 of an ounce). If you don't already know this, I'm sorry to tell you that another way to describe white cells where they don't belong would be to call them pus cells."
[Editor's Note: The 2003 FDA Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) PDF (3.5MB) sets the maximum level of somatic cells allowed in Grade A milk at 750,000 cells per. milliliter - a level that has been in effect since at least 1999.]
Jan. 30, 2008 - Robert M. Kradjian, MD
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
The National Dairy Council wrote in a Dec. 21, 2007 email to ProCon.org:
"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)
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
Jeffrey W. Hull, MD, FAAP, practicing pediatrician, provided the following response to the question "Do you feel that it is accurate to state that there is indeed pus in milk?" in a Jan. 4, 2008 email to ProCon.org:
"No. Pus contains much more than simply white cells. There are dead neutrophils present, live nutrophils, dead tissue cells, blood proteins, dead and sometimes live bacteria...Pus is a pejorative and prejudicial term in this context, especially for material aimed at the scientifically naive. White cells - both neutrophils but also immunity bearing lymphocytes - are present in all mammalian milks. They have no bearing on the health of the beverage. Only bacterial or mycobacterial contamination of milk is of any relevance in my view."
Jan. 4, 2008 - Jeffrey W. Hull, MD, FAAP