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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Raw Milk Outbreaks do happen despite what the Weston A. Price Foundation and The Complete Patient (a.k.a. David Gumpert) say

Raw milk related bacterial outbreaks have been an unfortunate and expanding part of business at Marler Clark.  What now seems to be at least a yearly occurrence (we do not get retained in all outbreaks) raw milk illnesses are on the rise. And, because the proponents of the consumption of raw milks spend most of their time rejecting that the outbreaks – and illnesses related to them – even occurred, we expect continued business growth. 

Until the proponents admit that the outbreaks are more than FDA conspiracies against them and learn something, they can never take the high moral ground that they desire.  The fact is that Raw Milk produced by your favorite local farmer or hamburger or cookie dough made by some faceless mega-corporation, can sicken or kill your child if it is contaminated with a food borne pathogen like E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter, Listeria or Salmonella.  In this instance – size does not matter.

Below is a summary of the Raw Milk Outbreaks that we have been directly involved in representing victims. In each of the outbreaks, many of the victims, primarily children, were severely injured by the consumption of raw milk containing either E. coli O157:H7 or Campylobacter.  Yes, Weston A. Price Foundation and The Complete Patient (a.k.a. David Gumpert), these outbreaks happened and people got sick, some horribly so.

DEE CREEK FARM E. COLI OUTBREAK WASHINGTON & OREGON 2005

On December 12, 2005, the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) Food Safety Program (FSP) was notified that the Washington Department of Health had received a report of a positive E. coli O157:H7 test in a patient from the Vancouver, Washington, area. WSDA FSP was further notified that the Clark County Health Department had determined that several E. coli cases had been caused by the consumption of raw milk produced by Dee Creek Farm in Woodland, Washington.

Prior to the December outbreak, WSDA had learned of Dee Creek Farm’s cow-share program, and had ordered the farm to cease the dispensing, giving, trading, or selling of milk or to meet requirements for selling milk that had been laid out by WSDA. The letter was sent in August 2005, and WSDA received a response from Dee Creek Farm in September 2005, stating that the farm was not selling milk but that the farm’s owners intended to meet requirements for a milk producer and retail raw milk processor in the future.

During the December investigation into the E. coli outbreak, WSDA noted several milk processing violations that would have been addressed during the licensing process had Dee Creek applied for the license. Among the violations were the following:

• No animal health testing documentation for brucellosis and tuberculosis or health permits
• Beef cattle contact with wild elk
• No water or waste water system available at milk barn for milking operations or cleaning
• No hand washing sinks available for cleaning and sanitizing
• No bacteriological test results available for the farm’s well-water system
• Mud/manure with standing water at the entrance to the milk barn parlor
• Milking bucket in direct contact with unclean surfaces during milk production
• Multiple instances providing for the opportunity for cross-contamination
• No separate milk processing area from domestic kitchen
• No raw milk warning label provided on containers

In addition, sample testing confirmed the presence of E. coli O157:H7 in two milk samples provided by Dee Creek Farm and in five environmental samples taken from Dee Creek Farm milk-barn areas by investigators. See WSDOH Report.

When its investigation was completed, WSDA had identified eighteen people who had consumed raw milk purchased from Dee Creek Farm through the cow-share program and developed symptoms consistent with E. coli infection. Five Clark County, Washington, children were hospitalized, with two developing hemolytic uremic syndrome and requiring critical care and life support for kidney failure as a result of their E. coli infections.

ORGANIC PASTURES E. COLI O157:H7 OUTBREAK CALIFORNIA 2006

On September 18, 2006, the California Department of Health Services (CDHS) opened an investigation of a possible outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections after receiving reports of two patients who had been hospitalized with HUS. See CDHS and CDC Reports. One was culture confirmed as infected with E. coli O157:H7. Interviews revealed that both patients had consumed unpasteurized cow milk sold by Organic Pastures in the week prior to the onset of illness.

In the following days, four additional cases of E. coli O157:H7 were identified. All of the additional cases had consumed raw milk or raw cow product sold by Organic Pastures. Isolates of the E. coli O157:H7 cultured from the five culture-positive patients had indistinguishable “genetic fingerprints” as determined by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) testing. These PFGE patterns were new to the national PulseNet database. In other words, the pattern associated with all of these children was unique, and had not been seen before in conjunction with any other outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7. In addition, the PFGE pattern differed markedly from the patterns associated with the outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 associated with Dole fresh-bagged baby spinach that had peaked a few weeks prior to these illnesses.

CDHS conducted an epidemiological and environmental investigation of the cluster of illnesses. A review of 50 consecutive E. coli O157:H7 cases reported to CDHS from October 2004 to June 2006 revealed that 46 of 47 cases asked about raw milk consumption reported consuming no raw milk. In contrast, five of the six patients in the cluster being investigated reported definite consumption of Organic Pastures raw dairy products. The sixth denied consuming the raw milk, but his family routinely consumed Organic Pastures raw milk during the suspected time frame.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture conducted an environmental investigation. As part of the investigation, fecal samples were collected from dairy cows at Organic Pastures. E. coli O157:H7 was isolated from five of the samples, although the PFGE patterns differed from the pattern associated with the outbreak. Testing of Organic Pastures product revealed abnormally high aerobic plate counts and fecal coliform counts. CDHS ultimately concluded: “the source of infection for these children was likely raw milk products produced by the dairy.”

GRACE HARBOR FARMS E. COLI O157:H7 WASHINGTON 2006

On September 25, 2006 “Patty” at Children’s Hospital notified Public Health Seattle and King County (“PHSKC”) epidemiology staff of a presumptive positive laboratory result for E. coli O157:H7 (belonging to Maxwell Sherman) and sent his isolate to the PHSKC public health laboratory for confirmatory testing and subtyping. Epidemiologists Misha Williams and Jennie Koepsell spoke with Laura and Nathan Sherman that same day and questioned them about Maxwell’s potential risk factors for infection with E. coli O157:H7. During their conversations, Maxwell’s consumption of Grace Harbor Farm raw milk was noted. Mrs. Sherman said that Maxwell and his younger brother, Willis, drank mostly raw milk from cows although the family also purchased raw goat milk produced at Grace Harbor Farm. The boys consumed raw milk approximately two times a day. Ms. Koepsell telephoned Dr. Kathryn MacDonald, epidemiologist at the Washington State Department of Health (“WDOH”), and reported her findings.

The report to Dr. MacDonald coincided with a report of an E. coli O157:H7 infection in a 5-year-old child residing in Snohomish County. Prior to symptom onset on September 19 the child had also consumed raw milk produced by Grace Harbor Farm. Suspecting that the link between illness in Maxwell Sherman and the Snohomish County resident was more than just coincidental, Dr. MacDonald alerted Claudia Coles at the Washington State Department of Agriculture (“WSDA”) that an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 associated with consuming raw milk produced by Grace Harbor Farm might be underway. She also notified Dr. Greg Stern, health officer in Whatcom County, where Grace Harbor Farm is located. Public health investigators waited for results of molecular analysis of isolates obtained from the two children to determine if they were infected with the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 and if they were part of a larger outbreak.

On Tuesday, September 26, 2006 Maxwell Sherman was laboratory confirmed to be infected with E. coli O157:H7. Investigators collected an assortment of food and milk products for testing from the Sherman home for laboratory testing. WSDA environmental staff visited Grace Harbor Farm and collected numerous environmental samples for testing. Food and environmental specimens were sent to the WSDA laboratory in Olympia for analysis. The first report that E. coli O157:H7 had been found in goat milk collected at the farm was issued on the afternoon of September 27. That same day public health investigators learned that the strain of E. coli O157:H7 that caused Maxwell Sherman’s infection was indistinguishable to the strain that had infected the 5-year-old Snohomish County child as determined by pulsed field gel electrophoresis (“PFGE”) analysis. The strain was different from other strains that had been seen recently in Washington or nationally.

On September 28, 2006 the WDOH issued a news release informing the public of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak connected to Grace Harbor Farm milk. See WDOH News Release. PHSKC closed its investigation into Maxwell Sherman’s infection on September 28 and submitted a completed Enterohemorraghic E. coli report form to the WDOH. See PHSKC Report. Multiple environmental specimens collected at Grace Harbor Farm would test positive for E. coli O157:H7. DNA testing would show the strain of E. coli O157:H7 found on the farm was indistinguishable by two enzymes to the strain that infected Maxwell Sherman and the Snohomish County resident. The outbreak was reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) as outbreak number 11466 on October 24, 2006. See WSDOH Report.

ALEXANDRE ECODAIRY CAMPYLOBACTER OUTBREAK CALIFORNIA 2008

On October 2, 2008, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued a report linking an outbreak of Campylobacter illnesses to unpasteurized milk from Alexandre Eco Farms Dairy. See CDPH Report, and Health Department Records, Attachment No. 1. The report was the result of an investigation commenced on July 14, 2008, when Dr. Thomas Martinelli, the County Health Officer for Del Norte County, California reported four cases of laboratory confirmed Campylobacter infections and five additional cases of diarrhea in Del Norte County residents. Eight of the original nine sick individuals were members of the Alexandre Eco Farms “cow-leasing” program. Eight of these individuals had consumed milk produced on the farm. The ninth sick individual worked with cattle on the Alexandre EcoDairy Farms. One of the eight individuals who was sick, Mari Tardiff, had already been hospitalized with GBS, following the onset of acute gastroenteritis after consumption of the milk.

As part of the investigation, health department officials retrieved a refrigerated carton of partially consumed Alexandre EcoDairy Farms milk from Mari Tardiff’s home. Mari had consumed a portion of the milk before her illness. The specimen tested positive for Campylobacter jejuni DNA using a test called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Testing indicated that multiple strains of Campylobacter jejuni were present in the milk. Del Norte County officials eventually identified 16 cases of Campylobacter jejuni associated with the outbreak. Fifteen of those were persons who consumed milk from Alexandre EcoDairy Farms. The 16th case was the farm employee. CDPH and Del Norte county officials concluded that “the available epidemiologic and laboratory data support the conclusion that this cluster of acute diarrheal illness in Del Norte County was an outbreak of C. jejuni infections caused by consumption of unpasteurized milk from [Alexandre EcoDairy Farms.]”

There is the causal link between the Alexandre EcoDairy Farms milk and Mari’s illness. This link cannot be seriously questioned. This causal link was so clear, and Mari’s injuries so remarkable, that the physicians that treated her are publishing a report on her case entitled, “Investigation of the First Case of Guillain-Barre Syndrome Associated with Consumption of Unpasteurized Milk – California, 2008.” Amy K. Earon, T. Martinelli, W. Miller, C. Parker, R. Mandrell, D. Vugia. The authors explained the laboratory methods used in investigating Mari’s illness:

We reviewed the patient’s medical record and interviewed her husband to assess her symptoms and exposures. We used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and multilocus sequence typing (MLST) to test a six-week old unpasteurized milk sample, obtained from the cow leasing-program and partially consumed by the patient, for genes encoding the bacterial membrane component lipooligosaccharide (LOS) in GBS-associated Campylobacter jenuni.

In addition to the DNA testing, the authors also tested Mari’s blood for anti-bodies to GBS. The authors then explained that the PCR and MLST testing of the milk detected Campylobacter jejuni gene. In addition, the blood test was positive for anti-bodies that indicated the presence of GBS. The authors concluded: “Combined laboratory and epidemiologic evidence established the first reported association between GBS and unpasteurized milk consumption.” See Article.

This conclusion echoes the conclusions reached by investigating officials with Del Norte County and the State of California, as noted above: “the available epidemiologic and laboratory data support the conclusion that this cluster of acute diarrheal illness in Del Norte County was an outbreak of C. jejuni infections caused by consumption of unpasteurized milk from [Alexandre EcoDairy Farms.]” See CDPH Report.

HERB DEPOT AND AUTUMN OLIVE FARMS MISSOURI E. COLI O157:H7 2008

On May 12, 2008 the Lawrence County Health Department (LCHD) was notified of a case of HUS in a child with a history of bloody diarrhea. The health care provider reported that the child had consumed unpasteurized goat’s milk obtained from a local store, the Herb Depot, in Barry County, Missouri. The milk had been purchased on April 29, 2008. It was quickly learned that an additional Barry County child that had cultured positive for E. coli O157:H7 had also consumed unpasteurized goat’s milk from the same store. As a result, the LCHD contacted the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) who began a full epidemiological and environmental investigation of the illnesses. The investigation revealed that the milk consumed by both ill children had been produced at Autumn Olive Farms.

At the conclusion of its investigation, the DHSS ultimately announced that there were four cases of E. coli O157:H7 associated with the outbreak. Of these, three were laboratory confirmed, and one was identified as a probable case. Each of these individuals resided in different counties in Southwest Missouri, and were not known to have any relation to each other. Nonetheless, each shared a common exposure to milk from Autumn Olive Farms. In addition, the three culture-confirmed cases shared a common, indistinguishable genetic strain of E. coli O157:H7. The strain was identified as a unique subtype of E. coli O157:H7, never before reported in Missouri. Each of the four cases had consumed milk from Autumn Olive Farms within 3-4 days of onset of illness. The DHSS reported: “no other plausible sources of exposure common to all four cases were identified [other than the milk.]” The final outbreak report ultimately concluded: “the epidemiological findings strongly suggest the unpasteurized goat’s milk from Farm A [Autumn Olive] was the likely source of infection for each of the cases associated with this outbreak.” See MDOH Report.

  • http://www.thecompletepatient.com David E. Gumpert

    Hey Bill, sounds like you may have had a glass of bad pasteurized milk when you wrote this one. Or maybe some of that Toronto Chinese food. For the record, I have acknowledged any number of times that people can become ill from raw milk, most recently in connection with one part of your series on pasteurized vs raw milk. http://bit.ly/Q07MB (which is a pretty good series, much less bombastic than this comment, hence my concern about what you’re eating or drinking).
    And my upcoming book, The Raw Milk Revolution, also explores the realities, and exaggerations, around raw milk illnesses. http://bit.ly/4wzGOL

  • http://www.marlerblog.com Bill Marler

    David, as one of the leaders of the Raw Milk movement, it is good to see that you are finally coming around to the position that Raw Milk does and has caused serious illness. Reading you blog, comments and book, in my view, comes to a differing position – both downplaying that the outbreaks are real and disputing that the illnesses are sufficient to warrant your concern. I think you need to make your position much more clear to those who follow your every word.

  • Jake

    Organic Pastures Dairy Company (OPDC) raw milk products are back on the shelves following a recall in September. The recall occurred during the midst of the spinach contamination scare and seemed to be aimed at deflecting attention from the huge problems of E.coli O157:H7 contamination in produce. The state claimed that five raw milk-drinking children became ill, two of whom were hospitalized, given antibiotics and almost died. (The other three received no antibiotics and recovered quickly.) The mother of one child denied the illness had anything to do with raw milk and the other child had consumed spinach two days before the illness. A team dressed in protective gear tested and retested the cows, the milk and the manure on the farm and found zero pathogens. On September 29th, more than 200 people from around the state showed up at OPDC to show their support for Organic Pastures products, and defend their right to choose what they eat. At the rally/press conference, Mark McAfee signed and victoriously displayed no less than nine CDFA documents releasing the company from quarantine and retracting the recent product recall. Lawsuits against several officials in the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CFDA) are in the works. All the publicity has lead to an increase in sales of about 12 percent.”
    –from realmilk.com

  • http://www.marlerblog.com Bill Marler

    David, Sally, Mark – it is time to step up and tell the truth. As I posted months ago – 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 “real” raw milk facts:
    http://www.marlerblog.com/2009/03/articles/lawyer-oped/organic-pastures-dairy-e-coli-o157h7-raw-milk-product-outbreak-2006/
    You want to move forward in a positive direction? Then admit the truth and explain to Jake and the rest of your followers that Raw Milk outbreaks happen – specifically the OP 2006 one.

  • http://www.marlerblog.com Bill Marler

    Hey David, perhaps you should contact Publishers Weekly too?
    http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6701371.html
    The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights David E. Gumpert. Chelsea Green, $19.95 paper (288p) ISBN 9781603582193
    This thorough, thought-provoking account of the illicit raw milk trade comes from a veteran health and business journalist who has followed the story on his blog (thecompletepatient.com) since 2006. Elaborating his online posts, Gumpert looks at the industry in Michigan, California, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, offering detailed accounts of dairy farmers persecuted and prosecuted for dealing in non-pasteurized milk—thought a cure-all by some, a health hazard by others (including the FDA). Dramatic anecdotes and digressions, including federal agents confiscating milk cartons, the rise of commercial feedlots and the story of pasteurization give context and weight to the book’s first third. When Gumpert turns his attention to the minutiae of food contamination, however, readers’ eyes may glaze over. Testimonials to raw milk’s healing properties (for autism, cancer, asthma, allergies, “virility” and more) are reported but aren’t vetted; stories of foodborne illness, meanwhile, are truly harrowing, despite Gumpert’s assurance that they’ve never originated in raw milk. Those close to the debate will likely find this a helpful snapshot, but anyone with passing interest should simply check out the highlights on Gumpert’s blog. (Nov.)

  • Steve

    I think the WAPF and other raw milk advocacy groups place incorrect information about the safety problems with raw milk on their websites because they are well aware that it can be dangerous; they are also well aware it fetches a high price…over $10 per gallon. They prey on customers that are naive, or sometimes desperately looking for a cure-all for chronic conditions. WAPF and their followers count on finding customers who won’t research the issue deeply. It is the classic snake oil salesman. They also defend unsanitary practices on raw milk dairies. This industry represents probably one of the most unethical examples in food safety, and the reason why some public health advocates opt for banning the product instead of working with the companies to make it safer (or, as safe as possible, like other risky raw foods such as sprouts and oysters).

  • http://www.thecompletepatient.com David E. Gumpert

    Bill,
    I appreciate that Publishers Weekly has such nice things to say about my book, but its statement, “despite Gumpert’s assurance that they’ve (illnesses) never originated in raw milk,” is wrong. I don’t offer any such “assurance,” and I challenge you, PW, or anyone to find it, because it doesn’t exist.
    I can’t speak for the Weston A. Price Foundation, Organic Pastures, or realmilk.com. I had absolutely nothing to do with the excerpt from realmilk.com that Jake quotes (and suggests I am party to). The subject of the outbreak in September 2006 attributed to raw milk is the subject of extensive discussion and analysis in my book, and I can tell you that I don’t come to the same conclusion as the realmilk.com site.
    The larger question here is this: What happens if I (and others who support raw milk) say even more loudly and more tearfully than I already have that raw milk does occasionally lead to illness? What do you want to see result from such acknowledgments? If it’s the creation of more education opportunities by state ag departments and ag extension services on how to improve raw dairy safety, I’m all for it. If it’s to serve as justification to ban raw milk from consumption, then I have a serious problem. So what, really, are you looking to accomplish?

  • http://www.marlerblog.com Bill Marler

    David, the answer to your question:
    What do you want to see result from such acknowledgments? If it’s the creation of more education opportunities by state ag departments and ag extension services on how to improve raw dairy safety, I’m all for it.
    I would agree with that if you also add in the proponents of raw milk too.
    However, you have taken up the crown of a leader in the raw milk movement (and are using it to sell books) – You have the moral obligation to call out Weston A. Price Foundation, Organic Pastures, or http://www.realmilk.com and folks like Jake above.
    The goal here David is to inform people and lessen the chances that I get more clients.

  • http://www.rawmilkwhitepapers.com Amanda Rose

    I think the confusion lies in David hedging on these outbreaks. In the recent WI case, my reading of David was just that there was really strong evidence, so what’s the movement to do? That doesn’t tell me that David believes it was the milk. Basically, I can certainly see why there is confusion.
    On the issue of regulators or others working with raw dairies to improve sanitation, I know there are people in CA who would work to improve sanitation but their view clashes with the OPDC view. I expect one of the key things that would be suggested to raw dairies is some sort of coliform limit, a measure that is controversial in the CA raw dairy community.
    Regardless, no communication will ever move forward if raw dairy advocates continue to educate small producers and their consumers with such notions that outbreaks are always government conspiracies and raw milk kills pathogens. With those two ideas so widespread in the movement, why would producers ever engage in a discussion of cleaning things up? It’s not necessary, right? Outbreaks do not happen. Raw milk kills pathogens.
    Of course, sorry Charlie if you are consumer who gets zapped because then your choices are either to buck up and shut up or get chased around the Internet like Mary McG. Sorry too if you are a small producer who was doing his or her best but believed that raw milk killed pathogens until you ended up with friends whose children developed HUS. You don’t get to buck up and shut up, you get Bill Marler chasing you around the Internet. Those are two ways I really don’t intend to go to school.
    By the way, go to the white papers site, sign up for the email, and I’ll send you an email about my raw milk Halloween costume:
    http://www.rawmilkwhitepapers.com
    Amanda

  • Mary McGonigle-Martin

    Yes Amanda, I have been chased (more like harassed) around the internet because I had the audacity to suggest that my son became ill from OPDC raw milk. They can beat me up and tell their lies about the 2006 outbreak, it only fuels my fire. The settlement was for my son. My compensation is not monetary. It is the hope that someday there will be truthful, balanced information about the pros and cons of raw milk so that raw milk consumers can make a truly informed choice.
    Speaking of the 2006 OPDC outbreak, outsourcing was an issue during that timeframe. I would like to know if Mark McAfee continues with this practice. Over this past year, have any of his raw milk products been outsourced but packaged with the OPDC label?
    Mark, can you please clarify your current practices on this topic. Everyone in the raw milk movement knows how important it is to “trust your farmer”.

  • mark mcafee

    Mary,
    I have said this before…..we have never outsourced any fluid raw milk…ever.
    In the past we did purchase some colostrum from outside organic dairies.
    What about three dead people in MA from Pastuerized milk?????? Why does the subject of dead people from pastuerized milk not become important. Why are the hundred or perhaps thousands of kids that have healed their asthma not discussed. Where is the weighted and balanced discussion of the benefits vs the risks of raw milk?
    5000 kids die each year from asthma yet those that have asthma and drink raw milk heal from the asthma and do very well. Yes….raw milk can make some people sick. This I have never denied. It can also build immunity like no other food on earth and save lives.
    The origins of the superbugs that can be found ( rarely ) in raw milk are not from organic farmers. They come from biotech playing God Move Over ( GMO ) and make very bad bugs in labs or antibiotic resistance( CAFO abuse of feed fed antibiotics. Point your finger at the real criminals and give some credit to the life saving value of raw milk and the associated incredibly small risk of building ones immunity. The most dangerous thing you can do in America is walk arround with a naked weak immune system. Raw milk and fermented raw milks cure and heal immune depression like no other food on earth.
    The epidemic of Crohns is directly associated with Para TB and Johnes in Pastuerized Cows milk…yet no one speaks of the damage that is doing to America.
    The entire subject of balanced fairness in the discussion of raw milk is absent.
    Mark McAfee

  • http://www.marlerblog.com Bill Marler

    Interesting Post at – http://www.ftcldf.org/news/news-19Oct2009.html
    Raw Milk Risks and Benefits Explained
    By Christine Lepisto, Berlin | treehugger.com
    The debate over raw milk is growing according to USA Today. People connected with environmental causes, in particular, are drawn to products like raw milk due to the connection with natural processes and as part of a local or animal-friendly diets. So we thought it worth exploring the facts: is raw milk better for you? Is it better for the animals? And what are the risks of drinking raw milk?
    Our quest to learn more starts at a dairy on the outskirts of Berlin, near where a wall once separated East from West. A piece of that wall now greets visitors to the Milchhof Mendler (Mendler Milk Farm), where a line of people snakes out of the small shop. Visitors can look into the stalls and visit cows ranging freely on the field behind the barn before joining the queue to wait for a portion of raw milk, filled directly to the customer’s container. Each swing of the silver-chromed pump arm delivers a half a liter of creamy milk (4.2% milkfat).
    A framed sign behind the countertop, almost lost among the many framed awards received by the Mendler’s milk and cows, advises consumers that the raw milk must be cooked before drinking. The law requires the warning, but the cartoon of the happy cow above the text almost winks at you while you read it.
    The Taste Test
    Mmmmm. I usually drink organic milk, but raw milk tops it. The cool, smooth nectar coats my mouth; an image of the milk moustache ad campaign springs to mind. This milk is about 0.4% higher in milkfat, which could explain partly why the taste blossoms so on the tongue. But there is something else: more texture, and a richness, a robust spectrum of flavors foreign to my heat-treated ken.
    An interesting result in the next test though: the raw milk is not as good in coffee where the symphony of flavors native to each somehow fails to harmonize. Now I see where the habit of using only the cream in coffee arose!
    Is Raw Milk Better for You?
    It should be mentioned that the greatest benefits from drinking milk derive from calcium, protein, vitamins and other minerals it contains. None of these nutrients is harmed by pasteurization.
    One benefit of the raw milk is that producers willing to supply raw milk usually take a great deal of care with their animals. The use of hormones and chemicals is rare in this niche. But that benefit can be equally achieved by seeking out organic milk from a trusted supplier which pasteurizes their milk. So this must be considered more of a benefit of informed purchasing than of the untreated milk.
    Actually, the only health benefit scientifically substantiated for raw milk is reduced susceptibility to allergies and asthma. The fact that farm children suffer less allergies and asthma has long been anecdotally observed, However, it could not be ruled out that other factors such as exposure to animals, dust and dirt in everyday life on a farm somehow exerts a protective effect, or that farm kids just complain less. That is, not until a study on raw milk and allergies conducted in Shropshire, England, and published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in June 2006.
    After controlling for effects from household pets, breastfeeding history, frequency of barn visits and hereditary influences, Michael R. Perkin, MSc, and David P. Strachan, MD, found that drinking raw milk specifically correlated with reduced positive responses to skin-prick tests for allergies. The finding is consistent with growing evidence that the immune system needs to be challenged by a wide variety of foreign agents — such as the natural community of (mostly harmless) bacteria in raw milk — or it will simply pick everyday agents to attack, resulting in the symptoms we classify as allergies or asthma. However, the effect requires consumption of raw milk as a child, and no one is going so far as to recommend this for young children who are at far higher risk for complications from the illnesses associated with raw milk. Concerned parents should first consider other “pro-biotic” products if they subscribe to this hypothesis for allergy prevention.
    Will Raw Milk Make Me Sick?
    The population of harmless organisms in raw milk usually suffices to competitively suppress growth of harmful strains. (Note: to say that the good fauna in raw milk “kill” the bad bugs is a misinterpretation. They merely complete to multiply more successfully, so the bad bugs do not succeed to reach harmful levels.)
    Nonetheless, a number of pathogens are associated with raw milk. Cases of disease attributed to raw milk can and do occur every year. Because the population drinking raw milk is small, the number of cases remains also below the health-scare radar. The most common ones are described in detail here.
    * Staphylcoccus aureus: Most species of Staphylcoccus aureus are harmless. But some produce toxins which are the source of many cases of food poisoning after staph bugs multiply while infected foods are in storage. According to Medicinenet.com, victims suffer nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration, usually within one to six hours of consuming contaminated food. The illness is not contagious and usually resolves within three days without any treatment.
    * Campylobacter: this bacterium is regarded as the most common source of food poisoning. According to the World Health Organization, campylobacter infections are on the rise in developed countries, for reasons unknown. The bacteria are widespread in livestock, and rarely cause illness in animals. But humans will suffer diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever, headache, nausea, and/or vomiting for three to six days with onset between one and ten days after consuming the contaminated food. Like Staph poisoning, the symptoms will usually go away without treatment.
    * Salmonella: a common cause of food poisoning, Salmonella symptoms and outcomes are much like those of Staphylcoccus aureus and Campylobacter.
    * Escherichia coli: The risk of infection by e coli O157:H7, is one of the main reason raw milk sales are banned or drinking raw milk discouraged. E. coli naturally inhabits everyone’s intestines. But the particularly harmful O157:H7 strain of e coli is behind most of the headlines surrounding outbreaks of e coli related disease from infected lettuce, peanut butter or beaches. Victims take ill three to eight days after exposure, and suffer cramps and diarrhea for up to ten days. Most recover just fine, but according to WHO: “It is estimated that up to 10% of patients with EHEC infection may develop HUS, with a case-fatality rate ranging from 3% to 5%. Overall, HUS is the most common cause of acute renal failure in young children. It can cause neurological complications (such as seizure, stroke and coma) in 25% of HUS patients and chronic renal sequelae, usually mild, in around 50% of survivors.”
    * Listeria: causes miscarriage, premature birth and stillbirth. A terrible case occured in 2000-2001 in North Carolina, when five stillbirths, three premature deliveries and two infected infants resulted from consumption of fresh, soft-style cheese made from locally produced raw milk. In this case, the rule seems clear: pregnant women should not take risks with raw milk or raw milk products.
    * Yersinia: this relatively rare source of standard food poisoning symptoms can occasionally cause joint pain that lasts for months or years after onset of illness.
    * Brucella: only a couple hundred cases occur in the U.S. each year. Characterized by a so-called ‘undulating fever,’ Brucellosis can lead to serious consequences and must be treated.
    * Mycobacterium tuberculosis: can triggering serious lung disease, although the illness is hard to catch. For example, of 42 people identified as drinking raw milk from a tuberculosis infected herd in Pennsylvania, none were found to be TB positive. On the other hand, it can happen: raw milk cheese was found to be the source of a tuberculosis outbreak in New York.
    What About the Laws?
    Here we must be really clear: regardless of the law in your area, raw milk should be sourced only from a trusted supplier. Crowded industrial farming methods and super-bugs due to overuse of antibiotics increases the risk of food contamination, also in the case of milk. Certainly, the production system is not capable of producing enough milk safely to replace pasteurized milk volumes, so ‘safe raw milk’ is by definition a niche product. This could explain the dedication of authorities in fighting any relaxation of laws regarding pasteurized milk. In fact, if it were decided to use ever higher levels of drugs to fight the nearly uncontrollable presence of bacteria associated with livestock, it would be decidedly worse for the environment than the use of pasteurization to control the risks.
    Advocates for Raw Milk see their battle as a fundamental freedom of choice fight. It is hard to find grounds to disagree with that logic. Allowing the sale of raw milk does not force anyone to drink it. Quite the contrary, legalizing the sale of raw milk enables better control of animal health and testing for milk contamination in unpasteurized dairy products offered for human consumption. But like all slippery slopes, it could open the door to unsavory operators, pushing disease-ridden milk on the poorest consumers in the name of saving a few pennies on heat treatment.
    Conclusion
    The health risks are rare but real. The health benefits are unproven, with the only somewhat substantiated advantage requiring that the raw milk be consumed at young ages, when the offsetting health risks are higher. Risk-based analysis supports the continuation of strong warnings from responsible agencies to continue the practice of pasteurization. For populations that are pregnant, or likely to suffer more severely from the dehydration and depletion caused by even an ordinary food poisoning (especially young children or elderly or immune suppressed people), raw milk is a risk not worth taking.
    The environmental benefits of raw milk can all be achieved by animal-friendly practices and minimized drug and chemical use. Pasteurization is certainly preferrable to the use of drugs to suppress disease causing bacteria in livestock populations sufficiently to equate to the protection pasteurization provides.
    But raw milk does taste better. And many believe that there are as-yet unproven health benefits. The existence of a population willing to accept the risks is the only source of data if such benefits are ever to be proven. So viva the raw milk underground. May its heroes and martyrs long protect the freedom to choose.

  • Mary McGonigle-Martin

    Mark,
    Please reread the question. This is what I asked, “Over this past year, have any of his raw milk products been outsourced but packaged with the OPDC label?”
    It is illegal to outsource raw milk to sell as raw milk, but it is not illegal to outsource for raw milk products. It is only unethical. You sell butter, cream, qephor, cheese and colostrum. Over this past year, have you outsourced raw milk and/or colostrum and used it for any of your raw milk products? The answer is simple; it is either yes or no.
    Also, you missed a product that you have outsourced in the past. Remember cream. It was contaminated. I don’t have the report in front of me but I believe the pathogen was listeria. Please correct me if it was a different bacteria.

  • http://www.thecompletepatient.com David E. Gumpert

    Bill,
    I’m not sure I have a “moral obligation to call out” various proponents of raw milk, but I will say that I disagree with at least some of them about a number of issues, such as competitive exclusion (that milk from grass-fed cows can be counted on to overwhelm pathogens), as well as the use of epidemiological evidence to determine outbreaks. I have discussed these issues with various proponents, and given my views on my blog. As you can see from the item you re-posted in this comment section from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, the writer feels pregnant women shouldn’t consume raw milk, a recommendation that is at odds with many raw milk proponents. The message here is that debate about various such issues is ongoing among proponents.
    The bigger issue that proponents are unanimous about is that consumers should have the right to make the decisions about assuming risk, and shouldn’t have to fight their government simply to gain access to a basic product like raw milk. That is the current situation–consumers have to literally fight their government for the right to consume a food product of their choice. Pretty sad when you think about it.
    Amanda,
    I was straightforward in what I said within the last two weeks, responding to press releases from the Weston A. Price Foundation and the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, about the recent Wisconsin illnesses, along with the 2005 Dee Creek illnesses (Washingon): “To argue that because there waren‚Äôt pathogens in the (Wisconsin case) milk nixes the entire case is inappropriate. The same kind of linkages are used by public health authorities to assign blame when illnesses occur in other foods, including pasteurized milk. Raw milk isn‚Äôt being treated differently in that respect.
    “Some previous cases have similarly resulted in outcomes that strongly suggest raw milk was the culprit. In the Dee Creek case in Washington state, for example, not only were matching pathogens between patients found at the farm, but fines were paid and a federal indictment resulted in a plea agreement.”
    http://www.thecompletepatient.com/journal/2009/10/11/how-should-raw-milk-advocates-counter-the-tragic-stories-and.html
    Now, Bill and Amanda and others who want to condemn raw milk proponents, while we’re on the subject of pathogens suspected in raw milk, we should also discuss other cases. For example, how Michigan authorities in 2006 confiscated $8,000 worth of farmer Richard Hebron’s raw milk, executed three search warrants of his home, truck, and dropoff point, and conducted a six-month criminal investigation…only to have the case thrown out by a prosecutor, and learn that the illnesses that launched the whole affair were very likely caused by pasteurized milk. Or how half a dozen raw dairy producers in New York state have been regularly harassed by NY Ag and Markets for the last three years with supposed findings of listeria in their milk, even though not a single consumer has become ill…and independent tests have failed to confirm the findings.
    It’s those kinds of occurrences that make raw milk proponents, shall we say, wary of the regulatory system.

  • Tim

    With all food that has a reputation for being tainted and for causing illness, it seems like we have two effective ways of preventing and/or removing the taint: 1. we can take measures to prevent taint from occuring early on in the production and 2. we can treat the food post-production in some way that destroys taint (whether or not the food is tainted).
    From a workflow / efficiency point of view, option 1 is the way to go. However, as the scale of the food production operation gets larger, managing this prevention effectively gets harder as the number of potential points of failure grow. This is why the addition of option 2 is so important.
    When managing food safety isn’t it all about getting the biggest safety bang for your buck? If most of our food supply is produced in larger operations, it makes total sense to require those operations to use both methods of prevention. Loosening these restrictions on these producers doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.
    That being said, I don’t want my spinach, my oysters or my berries to be sprayed with chemicals or irradiated. I want to have the option to buy these things from smaller producers who put their energy into prevention method 1 and have no need of method 2. I feel that it is my right as a consumer to have this option. I’d like to have this same option with my milk supply.
    I’d like to see some recognition from all sides that this is not a black and white issue. Simplification of ideas is expedient to get people to understand a complex issue and it certainly helps galvanize people to say ‘right’ versus ‘wrong’ but it does a disservice in the long run if we can’t have effective dialogue to find an intelligent solution to a complex problem.
    I think the intelligent solution is to do our best to preserve the consumer’s right to choose while getting the biggest food safety bang for our buck. Recognize the different sources of our food and treat them differently. A legislative, administrative and enforcement nightmare? Come on – we’re better than letting that get in our way.

  • http://www.rawmilkwhitepapers.com Amanda Rise

    David,
    Perhaps I should read your blog more carefully. I still don’t really see your quote as suggesting there was an outbreak, but I can also see not posting “Hey everyone, that WI dairy’s milk had a bunch of campy!”
    I also didn’t realize you don’t agree with the competitive exclusion argument of WAPF, so apparently my speed reading isn’t doing a lot for me.
    Consumers should have access to raw milk, we don’t disagree on that. However, the NY listeria conspiracy theories are a bit strange because I have never seen any raw milk person (besides me) recognize that the farmer tests of the milk don’t use the same assays as the state. If you’re really going to get your knickers in a twist you need a split sample and need to find a lab that performs the same test as the state.
    Ladies — have you ever use one of those cheap, dip-stick pregnancy tests and gotten a negative only to go to a lab and get your blood drawn and have an hcg level of 9? The baby that comes 9 months later is a pretty good indication that the dip-stick test was a false negative.
    On that Michigan case, I am curious to see the evidence you describe in the book. The descriptions on your blog have been brief enough that I can’t make much of them. It seems to rest on evidence that not everyone got sick from the raw milk. Not everyone does get sick from contaminated food. It also sounds like it was one family. I’ve never heard of an outbreak with only one family involved. Perhaps someone can clarify. Is there a state report in that case?
    Amanda

  • http://www.marlerblog.com Bill Marler

    David – you most certainly do have a moral obligation to tell the truth. You, WPA, Mark and other loud proponents of Raw Milk, as leaders of this movement, have an obligation to clearly make the public aware of both the pros and cons of consuming Raw Milk.

  • pete

    What is this a religious argument? Bill, you sound more like you are interested in being right and scoring points than the truth.
    Are you going to publicly affirm that consumers have the right to buy raw milk without government/lawyer interference/harassment?

  • http://www.marlerblog.com Bill Marler

    Pete, I fear you are correct. It is hard to have a reasonable argument from two differing religious positions. I will try to be as rational as I am able.
    First, you have to understand my perspective – I have represented adults and children who have become severely sickened by drinking raw goat or cow milk that they or their parents believed was good for them, and that they believed had no or little risk of bacterial or viral contamination.
    You and I both know that raw milk has been touted as a cure all for asthma to increasing your performance in bed. Both the hucksters and true believers have down played the risks – some to increase sales, others to get converts or to get the government off their backs. Many have denied real outbreaks or downplayed the illnesses. I just want to see a bit more truth.
    My “beef” with raw milk is not raw milk per se. I do believe that a consenting adult should be able to drink as much of the mammary fluid of another beast as they so desire. Clearly, the prohibition against drinking such substances is violated daily and the mish mash of regulations of where you can sell it and drink it are confusing at best.
    My problem, and why I seem so “anti-raw milk,” is that I think we need fairer information out there on the real risks – especially to pregnant women, the elderly and children – children especially, since that is the target consumer.
    So, where is the compromise? I think raw milk if sold, should be sold on farms that are certified by the state and inspected and tested regularly. The farms should be required to have insurance coverage sufficient to cover reasonable damages to their customers. I agree that folks should be able to look the farmer in the eye. I also believe that accurate information on risks should be clearly given and only benefits that are real should be touted.
    I do not think that raw milk should be sold in grocery stores or across State lines – the risks of mass production and transportation are too great, the risk of a casual purchase by someone misunderstanding the risks are too great as well.
    I am sure that my suggestions above are not perfect and are clearly tempered by my experience representing sick people. I do know that there are people so in need of a raw milk fix that they believe a few sick or dead people is just a reality they are willing to live with. I am not.

  • Tim

    Bill it sounds like you just described VT’s new Act 62: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2010/Acts/ACT062.pdf. Perhaps not perfect, but it seems like a good start to achieving the balance some of us are looking for.

  • http://www.marlerblog.com Bill Marler

    I borrowed this Comment from Complete Patient:
    In a previous response to personal injury lawyer William Marler (realmilk.com/documents/ResponsetoMarlerListofStudies.pdf), we reviewed 102 citations from the peer-reviewed literature and concluded that the literature exhibits a “systematic bias” against raw milk and a frequent rush to blame raw milk for an outbreak of foodborne illness without sufficient evidence of causation or often even in the face of contrary evidence.
    Marler recently responded (www.marlerblog.com/2009/10/articles/lawyer-oped/comparing-the-food-safety-record-of-pasteurized-and-raw-milk-products-part-3/), claiming that this bias was a “major misconception” of the Weston A. Price Foundation and concluding that pasteurized milk is much safer to drink than raw milk.
    Marler’s conclusion rests on three flawed assumptions:
    1. No bias against raw milk exists in the literature because health officials investigate illnesses traced to raw milk using the same approaches they use to investigate illnesses traced to any other food.
    2. It is not necessary to demonstrate that raw milk is contaminated with a pathogen in order to demonstrate that it is responsible for an outbreak of foodborne illness.
    3. CDC data shows that raw milk products are responsible for the majority of milk-related outbreaks.
    These arguments miss the basic point. We identified the following as the two most important questions:
    First, is raw milk uniquely dangerous, such that it should be singled out for prohibition or damaging regulation?
    Second, is there a reason why producers and consumers should not have the liberty to engage in voluntary exchanges without lawyers and bureaucrats telling them what to eat and drink?
    In order to show that raw milk is uniquely dangerous, its safety should be compared to that of all foods, including deli meats, hot dogs, spinach, and other foods to which outbreaks of foodborne illness are often attributed but whose rightful place in the free market no one ever questions. Unless raw milk is unique among all foods in the supposed danger it presents, it should not be singled out. Informed consumers, moreover, must have the basic freedom to choose for themselves what foods to consume.
    In addition to ignoring these vital questions, Marler’s three arguments are fundamentally flawed, and we will address each of them below.
    A Question of Bias
    Foodborne illnesses, especially those caused by such organisms as Campylobacter Jejuni, E. coli 0157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella enteritidis, can often result in serious and even permanent harm to victims with underlying illnesses or other conditions predisposing them to these risks. Any food, whether raw or pasteurized, carries some risk of contamination. To protect these victims from such pernicious effects and to protect the general population and our society from wasted time and resources due to milder and more common forms of foodborne illness, we thus consider it imperative that farmers produce raw milk and raw milk products in accordance with the most conscientious standards, from grass-feeding to proper sanitation of bottling equipment. While raw milk contains numerous built in safety mechanisms (most of which are compromised or destroyed by pasteurization), this safety system can be overwhelmed in extreme situations, such as in confinement dairies where cows are fed a diet based or grains, or where large amounts of pathogens from contaminated water or manure inadvertently get into the milk.
    Furthermore, while we believe that raw milk is itself protective against systemic infection, we still have the responsibility as a society to further investigate how individuals can maximize their immunity to foodborne illness.
    The fact that pasteurized milk, deli meats, spinach, and many other commonly consumed foods present as great a risk or perhaps an even greater risk than raw milk does not excuse farmers from bearing responsibility for their own raw milk products. As we have shown in our initial response to Marler, however, one cannot use the commonality of publications in the peer-reviewed literature to make a quantitative claim about how dangerous raw milk is. This is, first of all, because most of these publications lack sufficient evidence to conclude that raw milk in fact caused the outbreak. In cases where an outbreak genuinely points to raw milk, moreover, the investigation is more likely to be published simply because outbreaks due to raw milk are more traceable and containable than outbreaks due to other foods, thus making raw milk a safer and more accountable food.
    Marler acknowledges that not all foodborne illnesses are reported to the CDC and that some outbreaks are investigated more intensively than others at the local level, but claims that since this is true of investigations involving both raw and pasteurized milk, there is “no indication of a ‘systematic bias’ against raw milk.”
    Ironically, the three examples Marler gives of outbreaks not listed in CDC databases are an outbreak sickening over 200,000 people linked to pasteurized ice cream, an outbreak sickening 1,644 people linked to pasteurized milk, and an outbreak sickening eight people linked to raw milk. Had he included these three outbreaks in his analysis, Marler would clearly tip the tables in favor of raw milk.
    Marler also fails to convey just how few foodborne illnesses are actually reported. If most illnesses were reported, we could more reasonably assume that the proportion of outbreaks reported for a given food reflects the proportion of outbreaks actually attributed to that food. According to the CDC estimates cited in our review, however, less than one out of every thousand cases of foodborne illness is reported. This means that over 99.9 percent of foodborne illnesses go unreported.
    To claim that the percentage of reported outbreaks traced to raw milk represents the percentage of actual outbreaks truly caused by raw milk when the reported outbreaks are estimated to represent such a small sample of the total denies all the basic principles of statistics and experimental science. Statisticians consider reported data in a sample of the population to reflect what is actually happening in the true population if and only if the sample is a random sample. Similarly, in order to determine whether a treatment is effective, experimental scientists will randomly assign people to a treatment or to a placebo. The opposite of this random assignment is self-selection. No one gives real credence to the figures generated by internet polls where whoever wants to vote can vote. The voters cannot be trusted to be a random sample of the population. No one would trust a study in which people chose themselves whether to take a treatment or a placebo because the treatment group would not be a random sample of the study population. Likewise, if 0.1 percent of foodborne illnesses are self-reported or physician-reported to the CDC, we cannot trust these figures to be a random sample of all foodborne illnesses.
    In our initial review, we never claimed that investigations of illnesses tied to raw milk are conducted differently than investigations of illnesses tied to other foods. Instead, we pointed out how strong biases can inadvertently be incorporated into investigations because “most investigators are thoroughly convinced that raw milk poses a major threat to public health, and thus they often rush to judgment to implicate raw milk even when the science is not fully supportive.” We gave several examples of how this view could bias both the reporting and investigation of foodborne illness. Since so few illnesses are reported and investigated, the mere potential for bias precludes us from drawing any valid statistical conclusions from CDC databases or the peer-reviewed literature.
    Ironically, some of this reporting bias may actually reflect a level of accountability unique to raw milk, which actually makes it a very safe product. Marler treats the foodborne illness statistics he uses as if they were either complete data for the population or data from a true random sample of the population. They are neither. All we can infer from them is how often some illnesses are reported to involve raw milk or pasteurized milk. In order to determine how often illnesses are truly attributable to raw milk, pasteurized milk, and the many other foods to which illnesses can be attributed, we would need quality scientific data for the other 99.9 percent of foodborne illnesses that the CDC estimates go unreported.
    The Case of the Missing Pathogen
    Marler claims that while isolation of the outbreak strain from a food product provides “The Smoking Gun,” it is “not a requirement to take action to prevent new illnesses.” He notes that it is often not possible to isolate the outbreak strain, either because there is no contaminated food left to test or because the pathogen “already died-off in the leftover milk.”
    One of the examples in which Campylobacter jejuni was claimed to have died off in milk samples before testing was a paper published by Hutchinson and colleagues in 1985. They could not culture C. jejuni under the sterile laboratory conditions usually used to isolate pathogens and could only obtain a positive result if they performed the isolation procedure in the open air on the farm. They claimed that C. jejuni was unable to tolerate the “natural antibacterial effect of fresh milk” for the several hours it took to transport the milk to the lab. Neither these authors nor Marler have been able to explain how C. jejuni can survive long enough in milk to cause human illness if it cannot survive for several hours during transportation to a laboratory.
    It is certainly true that failure to culture the outbreak strain from a food sample does not in and of itself prove that the food did not cause the outbreak. Investigators will blame raw milk, however, even when the milk tests negative and other foods test positive. In 1987, for example, Schmid and colleagues (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3598217? ) blamed an outbreak of C. jejuni on raw milk when all of the raw milk tested negative and 360 samples of locally sold chicken tested positive!
    In many other cases, investigators who fail to find the pathogen responsible for the outbreak in any milk samples will nevertheless blame raw milk for the outbreak without testing any other foods, nor the water on the farm, simply because some of those who became ill drank raw milk. In how many cases would they have found the locally sold chicken or other locally sold foods to be contaminated? We do not know the answer to this question because oftentimes once the investigators generate even the semblance of a connection between the outbreak and raw milk consumption, they stop looking any further. In these cases, not only is raw milk improperly blamed, but the true cause of the outbreak is never identified.
    What, If Anything, Can We Learn From the CDC Data?
    Marler claims that the CDC data show that although only one percent of consumers drink raw milk in the United States, it is responsible for over 50 percent of all milk-associated outbreaks. Marler not only incorrectly treats the small sample of reported statistics as representative of the total number of outbreaks, but makes an additional error by choosing to examine the number of outbreaks rather than the number of people who became ill. Marler claims that outbreaks associated with pasteurized milk will be larger simply due to the greater distribution of that product. He therefore presents a pie chart in which the majority of the area is covered by raw milk-associated outbreaks.
    This represents a further lack of understanding and misuse of statistics. We cannot compare the percentage of individuals who drink raw milk to the percentage of groups who become ill. We must compare the percentage of individuals who drink raw milk to the percentage of individuals who become ill from drinking raw milk. Raw milk, according to the CDC figures, is associated with just over nine percent of all milk-associated foodborne illnesses. These figures still indicate a disproportionate share, but over five times less disproportionate than Marler’s analysis suggests. If Marler presented his pie chart based on the percentage of individual illnesses, over 90 percent of the area in the chart would be covered with illnesses attributed to pasteurized milk.
    There are two basic problems with Marler’s analysis. First, we really do not know how many people drink raw milk. The one-percent figure is derived from estimates by state governments for which the authors of the original publication by Headrick and colleagues in 1998 presented no evidence. This group conducted a more reliable phone survey (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1381950/?) the previous year, concluding that 3.2 percent of Californians drink raw milk, but this study was limited to only one state. Second, as discussed before, 99.9 percent of foodborne illnesses are not reported and those that are reported are not a random sample of the total. We cannot accurately estimate from these figures what percentage of foodborne illnesses are truly caused by any given food. Even among the outbreaks reported, we have demonstrated that most of the outbreaks investigators have attributed to raw milk have lacked sufficient evidence to implicate raw milk.
    The Real Question
    The real question, which Marler has yet to answer, is what scientific evidence can justify the singling out of raw milk from among all other foods for prohibition or damaging regulation when nearly all observers including Marler himself agree that foods other than milk (raw or pasteurized) cause in excess of 99 percent of the CDC-estimated 76 million cases of foodborne illness that occur in the US every year. Our conclusion from our initial review, then, still stands:
    According to the founding documents of the United States, personal liberties are self-evident and inalienable rights, not privileges endowed by state health departments, federal bureaucracies, or personal injury lawyers. There is no scientific evidence to justify the singling out of raw milk from among other foods for prohibition or damaging regulation, and there is no legitimate constitutional or philosophical basis on which Americans or anyone else should be deprived of the basic human right to determine what to eat and drink.
    Sally Fallon Morell
    Weston A. Price Foundation

  • http://www.marlerblog.com Bill Marler

    Sally’s post above was in response to this post I did a few weeks ago:
    http://www.marlerblog.com/2009/10/articles/lawyer-oped/comparing-the-food-safety-record-of-pasteurized-and-raw-milk-products-part-3/
    I am finishing up the final part 4 – I wished Sally would have waited. I hope to post it here in the next few days.

  • http://www.managenaturally.com Dan Strongin

    What is missing from this discussion is process. In all cases I have seen the germs got in the milk because of bad process. While this can have a more immediate effect if consumed raw, the dependence on pasteurization has led to a weakening in the oversight of dairy farms in some states, from personal experience, as well as an overall lack of knowledge on the part of some farmers as to what is AAA standard, why it exists, and how they may not be in compliance.
    Foodborne illness can be mitigated by process, but never eliminated. The scary thing is that bugs have been showing up in milk in the last few years that can survive pasteurization, so far none of them disease producing. But, as we have seen with eColi and Mad Cow’s, bad practice opens the door up for nature to create superbugs.
    I know of one farmer who had not cleaned their cooling plate or their bulk tank valve in over 5 years, but were passing all inspections with flying colors.
    The real problem is not pasteurization vs. raw, but process. Pasteurization, for all of its benefits in wide scale food distribution, has become a crutch to avoid improving the process.
    We don’t measure the relative risks against, say, getting hit by a car on the freeway, or getting the flu, and we should. Context is everything. Nor do we talk enough about how we process, or don’t, our food.
    To have an outbreak, as you are aware, I am sure, you need the germ, the medium and either a large enough initial load or time and temperature to lend a hand.
    Raising fear, and offering pasteurization as the magic pill, does nothing to solve the underlying problem. Created for wine, pasteurizatioin was first applied to milk only when the authorities gave up on trying to deal with substandard farm conditions.
    Talking about the dangers of raw milk on one side, and the miracle of raw milk on the other does nothing to focus on the root cause: dirty farms, bad practice and dirty parlors. With good process, there is absolutely no reason Raw Milk couldn’t be used safely in aged cheese, or distributed the same day within a small radius of distance.
    When we start to play with process to get a perishable to travel abnormally long distances, we open the door to these kinds of problems.

  • Will

    Has anyone researched historical raw milk diseases? It would be interesting to see death rates by disease of peoples that were consuming large amounts of milk prior to pasteurisation. Whatever the case, it could not have been of epidemic proportions otherwise it would be emblazened upon the cross-cultural consciousness (i.e. the black plague).

    My boyfriend is from the Polish countryside and the pheasants exclusively drink raw milk – although it is not a political movement, it’s simply that they are following the ways of the ancestors. Many people have a cow and those who don’t consume milk from their neighbours cows – they are not even particularly hygienic, I have to say. He does not know of a particularly high or unusual death/disease toll amongst the villagers (or surround villages) but he will ask just to see if it was happening but had escaped his notice.

    I think anytime that food is mass-produced the risk of contamination increases – no matter what food we are talking about. We need to take measures such as adding nitrates or pasteurising various foods because our foods are changing so many hands. I am sure if local, sustainable farming was practised – en masse – that we would find a significant decrease in food born diseases.

    I dislike scare mongering, from both camps on this sight, which on the whole seems fairly imbalanced. I am not a scientist, so I approach this from a philosophical standpoint. One of the first things a person learns in philosophy is to weed-out rhetoric from logic, and rhetoric seems rife in many of the postings. Arguments should be reasoned and dispassionate, as emotions contaminate a balanced point-of-view. As far as I can tell, raw milk proponents do not wish to demand that every single person on the face of the planet be forcefed raw milk. It seems to me that they are arguing for the right to make up their own minds on the matter. What is the problem here? If they have a strong message then it is an individual’s duty to research both sides of an issue – or has individual responsibility been thrown out the window these days? Raw milk is bad, but I don’t see droves of people speaking out against those silly “detox foot baths,” which many people are using to treat serious illnesses and getting sicker due to not receiving a proper treatment. Yet, even the quickest perusal of the internet would reveal that they are a load of ol’ s**t. The raw milk debate is more nuanced because there are many healthy peoples (world wide) who thrive off of raw milk. If we could see a sickeness rate of 95%, 90% – or even 50% then it would be a cause for alarm. Let’s look at another illness, as an example:

    My sister’s friend was scratched by her cat and then developed septicemia – a cat or dog scratch is a well known cause of septicemia. Therefore, should cats and dogs be banned as household pets? To me, this seems veritably ridiculous as we have lived with these animals for a very, very long time (ref. Egypt, ancient Greece, Roman Empire, etc.). I have asked everyone I know to ask everyone they know to ask everyone they know if they knew of instances of someone contracting septicemia from a cat (or dog, or at all). The answer came back negative – only my sister’s friend. I realise this is a poor stand-in for a large scientific study, but I use it merely to exemplify a point: children enjoy pets, and they should be able to enjoy pets, and, yes, we should be aware of the risks and the signs of illnesses so that we can get them to emergency treatment in the unfortunate event of contracting septicemia. We should not abandon the practice of buying pets for our children.

    In terms of raw milk – a detailed study by an independent group would need to be carried out, showing the percentage of raw milk drinkers who become sick as compared with the percentage of pasteurised milk drinkers who become ill. People should also look at the overall health of both groups and health on all levels should be assessed to determine exactly what the negative impact is on society. Furthermore, it would be advisable to then do a comparison of food born ailments in general, to assess where raw milk falls on the list. The study should (ideally) be carried out cross-culturally. (An interesting cross-analysis could include how many people get sick from prescription drugs, and used a comparison; just to give people a full view of the risk factors of living in modern society, since food and medicinal drugs are cornerstones of modern living).

    In the UK, the lans banning raw milk dissipated when a local paper released an article mentioning that the queen has only ever, exclusively consumed raw milk. Whether they test her milk before she consumes it, I do not know; but I do know that she has some damn fine physicians who would do nothing to put her at risk.

    Thus, this debate seems a bit futile and silly until a study – as suggested above – is carried out (apologies, if such a study has been; but I have not come across it, if so). People should be made aware the risks for taking any products – raw milk is neither special nor different. Years ago a friend of mine had horrible food poisoning which landed her in the hospital for a week…from eating salami; and (also) years ago, I contracted giardia when I was canoeing – she has not stopped eating salami, I have not avoided canoeing/kayaking, and neither of us have fallen prey to either of those unfortunate experiences again.
    Hence, people should have easy-access to information in order to make up their minds, but scare-mongering people into making what another group considers to be the ‘right opinion’ is a very black-and-white view of reality, and thus lacks a more nuanced perspective which is more reflective of life’s complexity.

  • Greg Bell

    In case anybody tries that link to the testimony for the FDA, it has moved and is available here:
    http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/MilkSafety/ConsumerInformationAboutMilkSafety/UCM185696.pdf
    It is mandatory reading before you drink raw milk, or even comment intelligently on the issue.

  • http://www.jacobscure.org dcrockett

    I think raw milk is just fine as a consumer product. One problem in my opinion, is that many consumers don’t do their homework on the products that they consume. Education always makes for a better decision.