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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Organic Pastures Dairy E. coli O157:H7 Raw Milk Product Outbreak 2006

I learned a long time ago to “try” and not argue politics (people still think Obama is a Muslim) or religion (people still think the earth is 5,000 years old) with people.  Regardless of the facts, folks tend to dig in their heels and can not hear another side’s perspective.  However, after listening to the religion and politics of the “Raw Milk Folks” denying the facts of this outbreaks for nearly three years, I have had enough.  Here are the facts:

Click above to download PDF.  Here are Exhibit 1 and Exhibit 2.  Here is a Pro and Con Paper that I wrote.  Here is the Weston Price Foundation’s Response.  One of my “fans” asked me what the above-document was prepared for and by whom?  The answer is that it was prepared by me and given to counsel for Organic Pastures and the grocery stores so they would better understand our position in the litigation.  We have nothing to hide.  I also told him with respect to his version of the facts – “Obama could be a Muslim and the earth could be 5,000 years old.  All possible, but very, very unlikely.”

And, yes, I do understand that pasteurized milk – more specifically – improperly pasteurized milk or milk that becomes contaminated AFTER pasteurization – has caused a lot of human illnesses – see link.  I am suing them too.  By the way, here are two links, 1 and 2, to what happened to two of the children who drank Organic Pastures Raw Milk.

  • Bill, you are fighting an up-hill battle. No one trusts anyone or anything. The core issue here is: How do you communicate this message in a way that it is accessible and credible to the public, as well as policy leaders.

  • This is a counterculture issue. To deal effectively with it, counterculture strategies and tactics are needed. At the top of the list of those is Performance Art. Yes, Theatre in the Streets, both real and virtual.
    To demonstrate the risk involved in raw milk there can be simulations of bacteria making the journey from cow to container to human – and the various possible scenarios.
    I would stage versions of this through flash crowds in real life and through video animations downloaded on YouTube. We are in a post-word society and arguing this matter ain’t going to work.
    Recommendations: Like Doritos and Chevy, provide the tools and the reward for a user-generated contest for this kind of performance art. Give them the tools and they will put the message out there.

  • The unquestioning approach of “journalists” is part of the problem. See:
    I sent a link to my blog piece to the food columnist who wrote about her conversion to raw milk. She never gave me the courtesy of a response.
    Comment – and link to my “Risky Eating” post on raw dairy – posted.
    The public health community is NOT the problem. Organizations such as Weston Price approach raw milk with religious fervor. I’ve experienced the same kind of emotional attitude in the raw dog food community. These groups do not want their opinions confused by the introduction of facts.

  • As an alumni from the 1970s Counterculture, I have experience with the power of Performance Art versus policy arguments.
    The power of Performance Art is even stronger today as we migrate to a post-word society. Show, don’t tell.
    My advice to those concerned about raw milk: A la the Obama campaign provide the tools online for mothers, healthcare providers, and government leaders to create their kinds of Performance Art. That might be organizing a Flash Crowd outside a dairy or retail establishment selling raw milk. Or it could be an animated feature about bacteria traveling from cow to container to child – and the probably of risk involved.
    Hamlet put it best, centuries ago: “Words, words, words.” Bill, as a leader in this movement, follow the people and the people are post-word. Incidentally, words didn’t set off the revolution the first time around, did it.

  • The hazards of drinking raw milk are well known and apparent and need no other proof. FDA’s prohibition against interstate sales of this product should logically extend to sales within states. Sales of raw milk and the economic benefit to some small diary farmers in an economic crisis is overriding common sense. Weston-Price and other promoters of raw milk are simply advertising for these desperate farmers. They have led consumers to believe raw milk is good for them with very scanty science.
    You say about the early debate on banning raw milk before pasteurization laws, “the ability to sell and purchase raw milk was thus determined more by the social and political nature of the individual jurisdiction than by scientific knowledge”. The socio-economics and politics in this country have changed dramatically since the introduction of pasteurization, but the essential problem of science versus politics and economics has not gone away. If you want pasteurized milk, it is readily available, now it is become a matter of choice. Social pressure and consumer demand have set in, changing the economic model. There is a demand for raw milk for the same reasons there is a demand for organically grown foods, free-range chicken, and hormone free milk. As long as states allow the sale of raw milk within their borders and customers demand it, there will be production.
    As mentioned in comments here, consumers are making up their own collective minds about what to eat and do not trust government implicitly about food safety messages. Consumers for example are now demanding rBST free (hormone free milk) even after FDA’s assurance that bovine growth hormone is “safe”. What is the difference in the mind of the consumer? The difference is that “artificial” growth hormone is something man has conjured up through biotechnology to increase the milk supply. The dairy industry did not adopt this to make milk better tasting better for you or more nutritious. They did this to make the dairy industry more profitable (in fact, many small farmers use rBST). But in this case, consumers are not buying this and point to early onset puberty as the negative consequence, even when there is no real science to back that up. E coli and Salmonella and other pathogens are just part of the natural environment and the negative consequences of infection are accepted regardless of how strong the science. Healthy farmers raising healthy cows together, mistrust of government, and the plight of small farmers are compelling images to consumers. Add to this the perceived health benefits of the product and we have a very dilute public health message. The media is full of quotes from reputable people (including healthy farming folk who drink it everyday with no ill effects) praising raw milk.
    The obvious reaction from public health advocates such as I is to ban raw milk sales, period. Make it illegal to sell. Should we also make illegal the sale of other legal high-risk foods such as raw shellfish and sprouts? Do you remember when the New Jersey Health Department banned sunny-side–up eggs?
    You wrote, “the highest levels of the Department of Health and Human Services have
    concluded that certified raw milk poses a serious threat to the public health”. At some point, I think we are going to have to be pragmatic about the safety of raw milk. Just like the other hazardous commodities I mentioned, the public health community, food scientists and agriculture experts together with FDA need to be sitting down and determining “best practices” and how to achieve the least harmful raw dairy product. FDA then should closely monitor the outcomes. We will gain credibility and present a much better picture to the media and public this way. Wagging our fingers in the face of farmers and consumers who are not convinced we are right and trying to force the issue is not working, obviously.
    It does not help safety advocates to have the major dairy industry players appear in collusion with FDA; the ‚Äúbig dairy” perception is part of the problem. Change in public perception is not likely unless there are dynamic changes in the position of the dairy industry as regard the economic issues that are driving the raw milk debate.
    FDA needs to bring all parties to the table, do the science, and through an open and inclusive process determine the best possible microbiological quality for raw milk and best practices for obtaining it for states that will not outlaw it.

  • Roy Costa

    Hi Alan:
    I totally agree with you that the increasing consumption and acceptance of the commercial production of raw milk for consumption is a threat to public health. I differ from your stance in that I don’t think we are making progress, and I don’t think your current approach to the problem is the best. We will fall further behind if we just keep on doing what we have done so far, and I am trying my best to explain why I feel it is so.
    The media blitz by raw milk advocates aside, the facts remain that consumers want this product, the media is soft on the issue, many prominent people believe consumers deserve a choice and that small dairy farmers who face the threat of losing their livelihood deserve an opportunity to sell this product as a means to stay afloat. I don’t believe this, but many other people do.
    Until these underlying issues are addressed and the consumption stops, public health experts need to be thinking about the best way to improve the safety of this product, and that is what I am talking about now. You seem to feel that somehow we will have the political muscle to make FDA stop all raw milk consumption in the US, but that is quite unlikely.
    When I speak on this list I speak for myself. I am not affiliated with any association or group or any employer, agency or client that stands to gain or lose from what I say. The members of this list generally recognize this. What I say, I say with conviction because it is what I believe. What I believe is a result of 30 years of hard fought experience in the frontlines of public health, where I lifted myself up by the bootstraps through education and a lot of hard work. Whether that qualifies me as an expert or not, I will let others judge. Public health people do not make value judgments as to which life is more important to protect; a child dying from E coli in a hamburger or listeria in queso blanco, or an elderly person dying from vibriosis is all wasted human life and this is what we are supposed to be preventing, if we can.
    In a way, the dairy industry and public health advocates may also be making assumptions and stating them as fact. Where is the scientific evidence that proves raw milk cannot be made safe by any means other than pasteurization? Just citing the epidemiology of outbreaks and the failure of current certification schemes does not address this point. Where is the scientific evidence that says folks who drink raw milk (and do not get sick or die) are not healthier as many claim?
    I am fully convinced that raw milk is a dangerous product and should not be offered for sale, but the dairy industry is not making a good case for this, and neither is the public health community. This failure can be easily seen by the positive commentary given by raw milk advocates published in the media, this is a symptom of our problem. My point is, until the economic and social drivers behind this trend are recognized and dealt with in a socially just way, raw milk production and consumption will continue to grow. It is our unwillingness to address why this trend has taken hold that is the real threat to undoing the public health progress made by pasteurization.
    Whether interstate shipments of raw milk will be loosened or not, there is strong pressure for states not only to allow production, but for it to expand. We can have all the meetings we want and some good may come from them, but I don’t think the public is hearing the message we want them to hear no matter how steamed up we get about it or how loud we ring the alarm bells. I believe it will take a radical approach to change the dynamics of this issue and consumer perception, which of course is at the root of it.
    Roy E Costa, R.S., M.S./M.B.A. Public Health Sanitarian Consultant Environ Health Associates, Inc 1.386.734.5187 http://www.haccptraining.org http://www.safefoods.tv rcosta1@cfl.rr.com

  • Richard Webman

    Testimony of
    John F. Sheehan, B.Sc. (Dy.), J.D., Director, Division of Plant and Dairy Food Safety
    Office of Food Safety
    Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
    U.S. Food and Drug Administration
    before the
    Health and Government Operations Committee
    Maryland House of Delegates
    March 15, 2007

  • Raw Justice

    Raw Justice for Bernard “Uncle Bernie” Madoff would be for the guards to serve him a nice cold glass of raw milk. The odds are if it’s not lethal, it will still make him plenty sick.

  • Slow/Local/Natural Food Movement

    There are those neo-romantics featured in today’s THE NEW YORK TIMES. They are seeking Paradise Regained through Slow/Local/Natural Food. Well, everyone needs a hobby.
    The problem is that the cult of raw milk came from that movement. Back-to-the-land mothers are risking their children’s lives by trying to bypass “artifical” treatment of the milk through pasteurization. Sad. Maybe crazy, too.

  • Why?

    Why, Bill, do you seem like the only voice in the wilderness on this issue of raw milk? I don’t read much about the problem. But it could become as serious as the peanut contamination one. Do we need nine deaths from raw milk for the powers-that-be locally, regionally, and nationally to pay enough attention?

  • Congratulations to Roy Costa for prodding the public health community to ask pertinent questions about raw milk: “Where is the scientific evidence that proves raw milk cannot be made safe by any means other than pasteurization? Just citing the epidemiology of outbreaks and the failure of current certification schemes does not address this point. Where is the scientific evidence that says folks who drink raw milk (and do not get sick or die) are not healthier as many claim?” These are the sorts of questions growing legions of raw milk drinkers are answering for themselves.
    His suggestion that “FDA needs to bring all parties to the table, do the science, and through an open and inclusive process determine the best possible microbiological quality for raw milk…” is one I know many in the community of raw milk drinkers would welcome with open arms. Up until now, FDA has pronounced raw milk “not a debatable issue,” and treated with arrogance those asking the kinds of logical questions Costa raises. There is a middle road here.

  • Bix

    If raw milk is more nutritious, and at least as safe as, pasteurized milk, should all milk not be pasteurized?
    Is there ever a case for pasteurization?