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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Raw Milk Turns Up the Heat

I love a lawsuit……  The AP reported yesterday, “Dairies sue to stop enforcement of raw milk standard."  This one will be fun to watch.  The raw milk folks (who sell their product for $10.00 per gallon – pasteurized milk sells for about $4.00) better watch what they are stepping into.  You really have to wonder if charging $6.00 more a gallon has anything to with the lawsuit?  Or, is it really true that these multi-million dollar companies really care about raw milk for some other reason?  See YouTube interview of Organic Pastures owner.

For those of us that believe in the civil justice system, I expect "Raw Milk on Trial" to uncover the truth.  As the AP reported:

Claravale Farm, of Paicines, and Organic Pastures of Fresno that produce unpasteurized milk are suing to stop the state from enforcing strict new standards. The dairies hope to stop a law that would require raw milk to meet the same bacterial standards as pasteurized milk starting January 1. They say it’s not technically possible to meet those standards and keep milk raw. Agriculture department officials haven’t seen the suit. But they say raw milk producers in other states with similar standards have been able to comply.

We are also investigating a Fall 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that has implicated one of the plaintiffs in the recent lawsuit, Organic Pastures.  

Many of these families whose kids were sickened in these outbreaks thought they were doing something healthful (one of the children unknowingly drank raw milk at a friend’s house), but the products (colostrum or raw milk) were reported  to contain a fecal pathogen (E. coli O157:H7) that nearly took the kids’ lives.

I actually spoke on the topic of “Issues Regarding Raw Milk Sales and Consumption” at the IAFP conference in 2006, and recently one of my law partners wrote “A Legal History of Raw Milk in the United States” published in The Journal of Environmental Health.  One thing milk producers (raw or pasteurized) need to remember, what they produce is a product, and if that product contains a deadly pathogen and it sickens or kills someone, you have no defenses and you will get sued.

Cheryl Clark of the San Diego Union-Tribune interviewed the owner of Organic Pastures, the largest supplier of organic raw milk in California, with $6 million in annual sales, for her story E. coli suspected from Fresno dairy” on September 23, 2006:

Mark McAfee, owner of Organic Pastures, insisted during a phone interview yesterday that he does not believe his dairy farm produced contaminated products. “They don’t know what it is,” he said, referring to the state officials. He added that he was told some of the children also ate poorly cooked hamburger or spinach and could have ingested the bacteria that way. “The state has told us this is a precautionary recall,” McAfee said. “They have to shoot first and ask questions later, and you can’t blame the guys. And although we test our milk like nobody tests it for every pathogen, (the raw milk products industry has) a long history of people becoming sick.”

 Organic Pastures was glowingly profiled in 2003 in www.newfarm.org

The milk is a perfect metaphor: by keeping it raw, Mark encourages the beneficial bacteria that keep pathogens in check. Each batch of milk is tested for bad guys like salmonella and E. coli, and not once have they been found. He has even had researchers introduce such bacteria to test samples, and the pathogens have been unable to reproduce. In conventional milk they would be the dominant organisms and proliferate, but in the varied ecosystem within Mark’s milk, the competition stifles them.

I guess the metaphor is not always apt.  As part of our research into the sale and consumption of raw milk, I hope to do several posts in the next few months – stay tuned.  The folks at Barfblog have already done quite a bit of research already.  Originally, the last photo was of a nice picture of Organic Pastures milk.  However, the photo caught the ire of my friends at www.ethicurean.com.  I did find another photo.

  • Diane Reifschneider

    Bill Marler, Esq. wrote:
    “We are also investigating an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that has implicated one of the plaintiffs in the recent lawsuit, Organic Pastures. All of these families whose kids were sickened thought they were doing something healthful, but the product contained a fecal pathogen that nearly took the kids’ lives.”
    Questions for Bill Marler, Esq.:
    1. Please exactly name the “fecal pathogen” you are personally claiming was contained in an Organic Pastures Dairy Company product that “nearly took the kids’ lives.”
    2. When exactly did this happen?
    3. What specific Organic Pastures “product” are you accusing of having nearly taken the kids’ lives?
    I look forward to your response.

  • Bill Marler

    I appreciate the questions and I edited my post to reflect your questions.
    According to press reports where Organic Pasture’s owner was quoted, the answers to your questions are 1) E. coli O157:H7, 2) September 2006, and 3) Cow colostrum and raw milk. Here is the article:
    Raw milk products recalled; 4 sick
    There was also this recent article:
    Raw Milk Fans Oppose New Calif. Rules
    California officials say some children fell ill last year after consuming Organic Pastures products. Five children reportedly were sickened, and officials discovered a possible sixth case.
    However, testing at Organic Pastures did not detect the strain of E. coli that sickened some of the children, McAfee said.
    He said there was no connection between the sick kids and his products and that state officials admitted that and signed a settlement agreement this summer.
    Dr. Kevin Reilly, deputy director of the California Department of Public Health, said health officials still believe there is a compelling argument for an epidemiological link because all the children had consumed raw milk products.
    I hope that helps. Please also see my recent post on the problems with pasteurized milk. I see that you are a frequent comment poster on blogs – I’m honored that you would read mine.

  • mac

    “Dr. Kevin Reilly, deputy director of the California Department of Public Health, said health officials still believe there is a compelling argument for an epidemiological link because all the children had consumed raw milk products.”
    This type of statement is no different than racial profiling.
    This is like the police arresting the 2 black guys seen in the all white neighborhood for stealing a car but not finding any evidence that they were ever in the car. It must be them because they are black and were in an all white neighborhood.

  • Hmmm, Mac, that does sound a bit paranoid, don’t you think? What Dr. Reilly is saying is that the only common link found between all of the children from the Fall 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak was consuming Organic Pastures raw milk products. It is rather straight-forward epidemiology work. Work that appears confirmed by state and country investigators.
    I see the same arguments that you are raising being raised by the mega-producers (Cargill, ConAgra, etc)of food when they poison and kill children too.
    As I said in my post, we are investigating two cases tied to the Fall outbreak that appear to be linked to Organic Pastures. Once we complete our investigation, there will either be enough evidence or not – keep posted.

  • Bix

    I don’t know why Organic Pastures is getting all squirmy about this. If they’re already testing for pathogens, as they claim, and if “not once have [pathogens] been found”, then they should have no problem meeting standards.
    Why would anyone not want to comply, or even not want to give the appearance of complying, with a regulation that only serves to ensure a safe food product?

  • Bill,
    We need to start being PROACTIVE to reduce risk instead of ignoring common sense and waiting until there is irrefutable proof of a HAZARD along with dozens documented deaths and degradations to living standards. This is the core reason the US has lost it lead in standards development to the EC. We are SO damn focused on short term profits and quarterly objectives together with PROOF before we will consider REASONABLE precautions, that as a NATION we have lost our grip on leadership.
    Those of you that want to make a buck duping consumers into thinking raw milk is every bit as safe as pasteurized milks products will not survive the GREEN revolution, as the rule makers are in Brussels, NOT California, Maryland or Washington DC, and they are using science and statistics, not PACS and pork barrel lobby groups.

  • REB

    How are the children?

  • So, what’s the Beef with the New California Raw Milk Safety Rules?

    I posted a fee days ago that Claravale Farm of Paicines and Organic Pastures of Fresno have sued the State of California for setting standards for the quality of raw milk. I was curious what the “beef” was really all…

  • Melissa

    REB, If you are asking about the children linked to the Fall 06 outbreak, I can speak for one of them. My daughter. She was one of the 6 children. She is still on medication to keep her kidneys from deteriorating if that gives you any indication of how serious E-coli and HUS are to young children. This happened over a year ago. The nightmare of that horrible illness stays with us to this day. The only common food consumed by all of the children was Raw Milk from the same dairy.
    Bill, I too do not understand why these dairy owners would not want to comply with the new Standards or why consumers would want anything less.

  • Trial Court Backs Standards For Raw Milk

    Robert Rodriguez of The Fresno Bee reported from the courtroom Friday in Hollister that the Superior Court judge ruled that the state had a rational basis for creating legislation that imposes a higher safety standard for Organic Pastures and Claravale…

  • Steve

    Raw milk is being targeted soley because it is a part of the ” Organic Movement”, and is a huge threat to the corporate controlled food industry. Living in a ” Free” country comes with risks that many people seem to forget, however, instead of being responsible for themselves, they turn to government to ” protect them” and assure their safety, which will eventually lead to serfdom. This country, which at one time, grew to historical success, and power, in record time, and did it all while consuming RAW MILK! Now all of a sudden, it’s some farmers fault that someone got sick. Sorry, that’s part of life, “stuff” happens. The same government people rely on to ” protect” us allows UNREGULATED GMO foods to fill our grocery stores everywhere. These foods are dangerous to say the least! Now, people turn to the very government that approves of contaminated foods and water ( flouride, a TOXIC WASTE from ALCOA, the worlds largest aluminum manufacturer), to be put in their childrens water supply and hormones to be injected into chickens and cows.. Oh the irony!