Travellers warned to avoid dangerous 'health drink' trend after worrying disease detected

Visitors to the United States are being warned not to drink raw milk after a 65 per cent spike in consumption was recorded due to very dubious claims.

A traveller in line at a US airport.
Travellers to the United States are being told to avoid drinking raw milk. Source: Getty

Travellers to the United States who may be tempted to drink a health food delicacy are being warned doing so poses a serious disease risk.

Raw milk has been embraced by celebrities including Manchester City striker Erling Haaland and actor Gwyneth Paltrow and converts have raved about its purported health benefits. But experts have largely debunked these claims and warned consuming it is “dangerous”.

Worryingly this advice appears to have been ignored and consumption has actually been on the rise since a high-pathogenic strain of avian influenza, known as HPAI, was detected in US dairy herds. There has been a trend in some wrongly believing that drinking raw milk that contains the virus will give them immunity.

Data provided to Yahoo from NielsenIQ, the world's largest database of consumer buying behaviour, found that in the first week of May, the amount spent on raw milk was 22.5 per cent higher than the same period last year. Looking back to when HPAI was first detected in US cows on March 25, the consumption rate shot up even higher, with sales booming in some weeks to over 65 per cent on 2023 numbers.

In the US, milk prices are only up 1.5 per cent on the previous year, so NielsenIQ believes the change in expenditure is likely due to more units being sold. But, luckily for health authorities the amount being spent on raw milk remains low – between US $52,000 ($77,000) and US $60,000 ($89,000) a year compared to hundreds of millions in pasteurised sales.

The figures include purchases at supermarkets and drug stores, and do not include direct from farm sales.

Related: Are KFC, eggs and dairy safe from the spread of bird flu?

Pasteurised milk pictured on a supermarket shelf in the US as authorities warn about consuming the raw version.
While drinking pasteurised milk is believed to be safe, raw varieties can transmit the HPAI virus. Source: Getty (File)

The International Dairy Foods Association’s senior vice president of consumer affairs Matt Herrick advised against consuming raw milk, but has played down concerns about the rise in consumption.

“Raw milk consumption has always been a recipe for disaster,” he told Yahoo News.

“The [US Food and Drug Administration] has been clear for decades that unpasteurised milk is dangerous and should not be consumed by anyone. At the same time, we’re talking about a product that is less than 1 per cent of total milk sales on any given day, so it’s receiving outsized media attention.”

Some customers are buying raw milk under the misguided belief that consuming it will provide immunity from avian influenza. Enthusiasts told the LA Times they believe warnings that doing so is dangerous are "fearmongering".

The California-based Raw Milk Institute told the publication its customers are "asking for H5N1 milk because they want immunity from it.”

Professor Peter Collignon an infectious diseases expert at Australian National University and Canberra Hospital told Yahoo in May that it is unlikely cattle in Australia will contract HPAI. Oceania is the only region which remains free of the virus, and animal husbandry regulations prevent one suspected lines of transmission — feeding poultry waste to cattle.

Over the last 20 years, around 900 people have become infected with the H5N1 strain of avian influenza and 460 have died. Although the virus devastated populations of other mammals including sea lions and minks, the human infection rate remains lower than some experts first feared.

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