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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

So, what is it about raw milk that makes some people crazy?

I received this email bright and early this morning:

Hey you scum bag lier and thief (lawyer). Obviously you are funded by the commercial milk industry. You are clueless about raw milk! How many cases of contaminated commercially prepared milk vs raw milk are there? All your "wins" are from commercially prepared food companies. Oh, how do you sleep at night you amoral, unethical low life? I hope you get a food borne illness and die so we can be rid of another dirt bag lawyer!

My guess is that my friend above was reading a few of the below articles and my quotes this morning:

Raw milk’s popularity spurs debate over safety, health

"What is happening nationwide as advocates push for raw milk and it becomes more mainstream, you are going to see more outbreaks and more illnesses and you will see more sick or dead kids, and that will create a pushback effect on raw milk," says Bill Marler, a food-safety attorney who represents food-poisoning victims and helped form the website realrawmilkfacts.com. "Governors and legislators are going to be facing more difficult choices with raw milk, addressing issues of personal freedom versus science."

Wis. legalization of raw milk seen as benchmark

The fight over raw milk usually comes down to health risks. Supporters say pasteurization — the process that kills harmful bacteria and extends shelf life — also destroys beneficial nutrients and enzymes. Public health officials and epidemiologists say unpasteurized milk can contain bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella, that causes sickness and even death.

Seattle attorney Bill Marler has represented children and families all over the country sickened by E. coli and other food contaminants. As raw milk sales become more common, an inevitable outbreak if illness will make legislators regret liberalizing the laws, he said.

"I’ve just seen too much illness and death due to bacterial contamination, and I frankly just think we ought to minimize it to the extent possible," Marler said. "When legislation is passed that unwinds 60 years of public health, you’re going to have to deal with the consequences."

Both Marler and raw milk advocates agree that the more states like Wisconsin allow sales, the more likely it is that others will follow.

I am afraid this "debate" will continue.

  • Peter

    Bill, I think you focus on the fact that raw milk is unpasteurized too much. People dont drink raw milk because its unpasteurized. They drink it for other reasons. There is something reassuring about the fact that a farm that you get your milk from is open and proud of the quality of its cows. Many raw milk farms allow you to see the cows, take tours of the farm, etc. You contrast that with these CAFOs where (like we saw in food, inc.) they wont even let you see whats going on inside. And when they do, it is the most horrible living environment ever. Not to mention those cows are getting subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics, they never see sunlight, they are fed corn, and they live in their own feces. People drink raw milk because the cows are of high quality, and if that means that the milk doesn’t need to be pasteurized, then even better. You may ask why people dont just pasteurize milk from these high quality cows to benefit everyone. The answer is that selling raw milk benefits the farms because they can sell the raw milk for 2-3 times the price. And it benefits the consumer because tere are definately harmful side effects of pasteurization, such as oxidation of the cholesterol.

  • Fred B

    I believe in freedom: if you want to own a cow and drink it’s milk, that’s 100% your right. If you want to own a share of a cow with friends or neighbors, go for it. Your rights should never be in question – but your right to sue is also eliminated, and you can’t blame your medical bills on anyone but yourself: I’m not paying for your hospitalization. If I have to pay for it (Obamacare, anyone?) I’m damn well going to have a say in what risky activities you can perform.
    The wall between private consumption and sale should remain sacred: as soon as COMMERCE happens, then regulations to protect the public (frankly from its own stupidity most of the time) must be in place, and must be applied EQUALLY to EVERYONE.
    If there is to be education on the benefits of raw milk, there should also be education on the risks. You can tour the farm all you want, there is no way you’ll ever see one single E-Coli bacterium. You’ll never know that an infected deer took a poop in the grass eaten by the cow, that the contaminated cow poo touched the final product until it’s too late and you’re infected, unless you spend many dollars to test it yourself – and we can’t afford that.
    With personal FREEDOM comes personal RESPONSIBILITY, and until that comes back (ha!) there is no personal freedom, just a bunch of lawyers.

  • Janice

    Bill, I am sorry that you have been subjected to this abuse. Speaking as one of those proud persons who raises cows in the most wholesome environment that any animal could ever hope for, this person is misguided. No matter how proud one might be of their cows, a trip to the farm would show why cows and barns can never be sanitary environments. Bluntly, the cow plumbing that produces milk is near the cow plumbing that produces poop. Cow utters are near the ground where poop splashes can get on milking equipment, adjacent surfaces, including cow utters. Dairies take steps to control the contamination, but poop cannot be prevented (there are other words for this that I will not use) from contaminating these environments. Dairy workers, being human, make mistakes in executing the sanitation steps. For these reasons and the evidence of numerous outbreaks, people understand the hazards of eating raw meat. Raw milk needs to again be appreciated as a hazard and pasteurization as a life saver. My advice, if offered a snack of raw milk and cookies, just go for the cookies. I hope the rest of your day is more friendly.

  • Sam Grubb

    Thank you Fred B. for putting this into context. I believe that one should be able to ingest anything, anytime they desire. HOWEVER, those people should not expect the rest of us to pick up the tab when they become a victime of behavior that has been scientifically proven to be risky or dangerous. Peter, if you wish to engage in the practice of drinking unpasteurized milk, then you have every right to produce it yourself. You should never (in my opinion) be allowed to introduce a potentially adulterated product like raw milk into the commerce stream.

  • John

    I am sorry you continued to be attacked by the religious zealots who defend and promote raw milk. The issue for public health professionals, since I no longer work for a public health agency, I am not an official. We are concerned about the presence of harmful bacteria, and other organisms in untreated raw milk. As Janice pointed out no matter how careful some one is on a farm there is a potential for contamination of the milk. Which is why the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance has two safety steps one is that all animals are tested for Brucella and Tuberculosis and the milk is pasteurized to increase the safety of the milk to the public.
    Having done farm investigations for regulatory agencies for over a decade, I have never meet a farmer who meant to make a person sick, sometimes they didn’t think about their actions and the product like spreading manure on a field, hey it is fertilizer, oops I forgot there may be pathogens in it. The result is an outbreak of human disease. In other cases, the farmer did not know there was a town upstream dumping raw sewage in the river they were using to process and irrigate their crops. In over 60 investigations, we were only able to recover the organism in about 5 cases, otherwise the linkage was made through epidemiology and in that time, I never did a raw milk dairy, it was all produce so the regulatory agencies are not targeting raw milk dairies only facilities that make people sick.
    An issue that has not come up yet from the cow share issue is some one having an allergic reaction to the presence of antibiotics in these cow share programs since many of these people don’t have an animal science degree or are aware that antibiotics given to cow to treat illness can be transmitted in the milk which is why are milk entering a dairy is tested, also there are withdrawals times that have to fallowed before milk from treated cows. From treating cows, they do get sick even in small, pastured herds and they are treated.
    For folks who want to make a personal choice issue that is fine as long as you know the risk. We don’t keep people from bungee jumping, drinking alcohol, sky diving, or smoking but we do require you to put your child in a child safety seat. For those that claim miracles from raw milk I suggest an article in scientific America about the Placebo Effect (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=placebo-effect-a-cure-in-the-mind)
    I find several things interesting about raw milk advocate blogs and web sites. They will site shaky evidence from 18th and 19th century dentists who were discredited by their peers but reject sound science published in peer reviewed journals. They will discredit food borne investigations which if it was spinach or chicken pot pies could be used in court. The final thing is that when some one does become ill and they can not dismiss raw milk as the source, a certain dairy farmer in California will blog they were not worthy of the benefits of raw milk or they were too weak or they will find some other reason to attack the person.
    Unlike you Mr. Marler, where you take comments from all sources, you have to register with most of the raw milk sites to even be considered for comments on their pages
    As to people that vilify you, I for one are thankful for your efforts to improve food safety and support you have given to the effort. For those that don’t believe that you and others out side the government protected us during the Bush the years read the FDA report at http://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-02-08-00080.pdf which outlines what happened to FDA food safety efforts during the Bush years.
    The finding include:
    1) On average, FDA inspects less than a quarter of food facilities each year, and the number of facilities inspected has declined over time.
    2) Fifty-six percent of food facilities have gone 5 or more years without an FDA inspection.
    3) The number of facilities that received OAI classifications has declined over time.
    4) FDA took regulatory action against 46 percent of the facilities with initial OAI classifications; for the remainder, FDA either lowered the classification or took no regulatory action.
    5) For 36 percent of the facilities with OAI classifications in FY 2007, FDA took no additional steps to ensure that the violations were corrected.
    Again Mr. Marler thank you for your efforts and efforts of others who help hold companies accountable for their actions. To the person that you e-mailed, I know of many that wish you Bill, a long and healthy life.

  • Bill,
    Thanks for the textbook example of how to use PR to promote your law firm. Very well done (seriously). You are a model for other lawyers.
    You’ve also used another PR trick very well–taken a comment by one crackpot and used it to defame an entire movement of people. There are crackpots in every movement, and you know that well.
    Here’s some info on how serious people are viewing the struggle over raw milk, and how it relates to the bigger picture of food rights:
    And as long as we’re promoting things here, I’ve included the title of my new book following my name. Thanks.
    David Gumpert
    author: The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Struggle Over Food Rights

  • Bix

    Wow. Was that a threat? Not nice.

  • Dear David – that is why I used the word “some” to limit the number of people who I think have taken raw milk to an extreme. And, to further your PR campaign:

  • Bill, I too receive feedback, both positive and negative, for my writings on raw milk. I have been a practising food microbiologist and food industry consultant for 33 years. The last time I wrote an entirely factual commentary, I received the following:
    “Perhaps John D. Brooks should do a bit more research of his own and not be so alarmist about this matter. Firstly he doesn’t differentiate different types of farming methods – industrialised vs organic/biodynamic, and his comments are equally irresponsible as the tv presenter he criticises! Go here for a more balanced view:”
    There followed a link to a website, which I followed up. The “balanced view” turned out to be a self confessed raw milk activism site – anything but balanced in its views.

  • John Gear

    As someone who avoids cow’s milk entirely, I can truly claim to be fairly objective here. From my perspective, the problem is applying the tools developed to constrain and limit the harm that large-scale processors and sellers can cause against the small-scale farmers who obviously have no market power to force people to choose their product. Just as I support legalization of pot while not smoking it, I support legalization — with full disclosure — of raw milk sold person-to-person. In other words, no raw milk in stores being sold with no connection between buyer and seller. But if families wish to drink raw milk and give it to their kids, and can find a family farmer who will sell it to them directly or through a food buying coop, great. It’s probably not a choice I would make, but fighting the war on these people only hurts our efforts to combat the real problem, which is the industrial phood system represented by gargantuan CAFOs and ruthless agribiz processors who can sicken thousands with a single profit-motivated corner cut.
    In short, we should make room for raw milk just as we make room for letting the Amish pull their kids out of school after grade 8 — it’s not everyone’s choice, but we’re a better country with a lot less heartache for allowing this sort of diversity. The penalties for being wrong about raw milk are in the right place, with the users. The safe food movement has more than a lifetime’s worth of work left to do in combatting the real, high-risk dangers; let’s quick terrorizing the raw milk folks.

  • Philip Brown

    Just a little reminder to those who say “it is their responsibilty and their risk”. The cost of treatment for some food borne illnesses can be catastophic. If a person is admitted to a hospital with a food borne illness and can not pay the bill, where does the money come from? This money comes from my pocket, and yours, through higher health care and insurance costs.
    The producers of raw milk are generally small buisnesses with little assets. Go ahead and try to sue these people, there is nothing to get.
    I beleive in individual freedoms but, I also believe that common sense must be used on occassion. Should someone be able to raise cows and drink there own milk? (yes). Should others be able to use legal loopholes to sell a potentially deadly product? (I think not)

  • Bill, I am sorry you have to put up with abuse for your opinions. I don’t agree with your opinions, but you shouldn’t have to take abuse. I don’t think small dairy farmers should have to take abuse from a status quo system using nefarious tactics either. I’m for justice and fairness all the way around. (Watch someone take me to task for that position!)
    I think it’s funny (not ha-ha funny but ironic funny) how many people here are posting complaints that they might have to pay the medical expenses for someone who drank raw milk. Can we get a refund for getting sick less often that you do?! As if we all have not been paying the medical expenses for people who eat factory food and for the environmental damage factory food waste causes all along. As they say, Puh–lease.