So, who is winning?

I was asked to talk with Sally Fallon Morrell on the Kojo Nnamdi show on WAMU Public Radio in D.C. last week in what the host determined to be the “Raw Milk Wars.”  The producer who called me said that she had tried to find someone, anyone, in public health to go on the show, but everyone refused.  So, she was left with me.

Sally, who has become famous for her pronouncement that raw milk is “magic” was pleasant enough, as was the host and the callers – even my friend Harry.  Some the comments on the WAMU were a bit harsh, but after two decades of being a lawyer, I am more than used to that.   I especially warm to the comments by members of the “Teat Party.”

I was struck by a number of things that Sally said during the show.  One assertion she said made me think I need to do the experiment she suggested of putting Campylobacter in raw milk, leaving it in the fridge for two days with the bottle cap off, and like magic, the Campylobacter disappears.

I was not at all surprised that she mentioned that between 1% and 3% of people in the U.S. consume raw milk – recent CDC’s FoodNet data supports that.  This gets me back to “Dead Milk” 23, “Magic Milk” 202 – who is winning?

I have been keeping track of “Outbreaks, Illnesses and Recalls Linked to Raw (Unpasteurized) and Pasteurized Dairy Products, United States since January 1, 2010 – July 30, 2011.”  Here is the breakdown:


  • 18 raw dairy outbreaks with 202 illnesses, 24 hospitalizations, and no deaths (16 fluid raw milk, 2 aged raw milk cheese)
  • 1 pasteurized dairy outbreak with 23 illnesses, 2 hospitalizations, and no deaths
  • 1 queso fresco Mexican-style cheese outbreak with 5 illnesses and hospitalizations, no deaths
  • 3 sporadic illnesses and hospitalizations from illegal Mexican-style cheese, no deaths

Recalls (no illnesses reported)

  • 11 raw dairy (5 fluid raw milk, 6 aged raw milk cheese)
  • 6 queso fresco Mexican-style cheese
  • 1 chocolate milk due to inadequate pasteurization
  • 1 imported Italian cheese made from pasteurized milk

I know, I know David, some of the raw milk outbreaks and recalls are from raw milk that is intended to be pasteurized, but someone simply could not wait and drank it raw.  However, many of the above outbreaks and recalls came from raw milk truly intended to be consumed that way, and the outbreaks and recalls still happened.  Given the amount of pasteurized milk and cheese consumed in the U.S. yearly versus the amount of raw milk and cheese consumed, 23 illnesses (although unacceptable) sure seems like the winning side when then raw milk side is sickening 202.

I am sure that David, Young Bill or Sally might well dispute the numbers above or claim the outbreaks did not happen, or the recalls were not necessary, or there is simply a grand conspiracy to try and pry the glass of raw milk or slice of cheese out of their cold dead hands.  That is a debate public health should be engaged in.

There is one assertion – well, lie – that Sally made that I cannot let pass.  She flatly said that the 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that sickened two of my clients severely, was not linked to Organic Pastures Dairy raw milk – Sally, it was.  Here are the facts – not the “magic:”

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. 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 no raw milk consumption. 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. Two of the children (one that was stool culture negative for E. coli O157:H7) developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome.

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.”  The CDC published this report in 2008.

And, if you want to dig deeper into that outbreak, see this post: “Organic Pastures Dairy E. coli O157:H7 Raw Milk Product Outbreak 2006.”  Download the documents, read them and realize that the defendant had no response – no facts and no experts to support Sally’s contention that the illnesses were caused by spinach.  Given that all of the six consumed Organic Pastures raw milk and not all of the six consumed spinach and none of them consumed Dole spinach, it is time for Sally to stop the big lie.

It is past time for the raw milk industry – yes, you are an industry – to embrace the facts and embrace the truth about raw milk outbreaks.  It is time to put the conspiracy theories away and learn from mistakes.  Learning is the only way to avoid being on the loosing side of outbreaks and that is something we all can agree is worth it.

For more information about raw milk, visit or see our poster we are presenting at IAFP.

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  • Mary

    Good for you for doing the show Bill. But where are the public health folks? They ought to be taking advantage of opportunities like that to get the word out.
    Damn. We really need to get a branch of “Sense about Science” here into the US. One of the things they say they do is connect the appropriate science- and evidence-based folks with media folks who would like to have them discuss things.
    I wish I could figure out how to go about doing that.

  • Minkpuppy

    Mary–my sentiments exactly! Lately, I feel like this country has degenerated into the dark ages with their fear and disbelief about anything remotely related to science.

    One one hand, I understand the public health officials reluctance to participate. I have to stay off the record when I make comments to media types because the agency I work for takes the stance that we are representing them at all times. So, if I express my personal opinion, it could be misconstrued as agency policy in their eyes and I could get in big trouble.

    On the other hand, it’s stupid for them not to engage in these types of discussions. It just reinforces the myth out there that public health officials are conspiring with big AG or big industry or whatever to enslave the American public into eating “fake” food.

    Bah. Its so easy for someone who’s never worked in the food industry or public health to stand and judge something they know nothing about and believe some half-cocked website written by someone who also doesn’t have any experience of which they speak and criticize.

    Makes me want to beat my head against a brick wall.

  • Mary

    @Minkpuppy: I understand the barriers, and the reluctance in some ways too–I really do. I’m a scientist, and we aren’t trained in media. And not everyone needs to be–but we could be connecting the people who are skilled at this with the media and getting the evidence-based side out there. And we could coordinate media training for the ones inclined to do it. And we need institutional support for that.

    I attended a CDC meeting in my city on vaccinations. I knew that it would be filled with anti-vaxxers and alt-med types, and it was. One of the public health people thanked me for showing up. But I was so outnumbered. And this is in a science town (MIT is next door).

    Standing off on the sides did not serve science well in several recent public health situations: vaccination, stem cells, and here raw milk. We’ve been afraid it would affect funding–so what? Did standing aside help us? I don’t think so.

    My frustration is very high on this too. I love science blogging, but that still reaches largely the choir I’m afraid.

  • Minkpuppy

    Mary–I agree totally. I’d say that with the current budget crisis, public health and scientists can no longer afford to stand on the sidelines. We need to get proactive instead of reactive. A very loud and vocal minority is starting to control the public health debate and when there’s no organized and reasoned response to combat the nonsense out there, the nonsense wins.

  • Mary McGonigle-Martin

    I posted this information on David Gumpert’s blog, so I thought I would post it here also.
    I asked a few questions about Ted Beals suggestions for reducing Campylobacter in raw milk and received a number of emails with information as well as some links here on this blog. I finally had a chance to read through all the material.
    I read the 1982 study by Doyle and Roman. It was published in the Applied and Environmental Microbiology journal, so I am making the assumption that the study was conducted my microbiologists, not pathologists; although Doyle and Roman worked in the Food Research Institute within the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
    They start out the research paper stating C.jejuni can be found in cow feces and in the udder of the cow, so these are the two ways it is passed to the milk. Next is a review of previous literature. They site a few studies done with C. jejuni and sterile milk. A study had never been done on C.jejuni and unpasteurized milk, so that is the purpose of this study–What are the long-term survival profiles of DIFFERENT strains of Camplobacter in unpasteurized milk stored at refrigeration temperature?
    Next they discuss the material and methods used. They used 8 different strains of C.jejuni: three human, one pig, one poultry, 2 cow, and one acid resistant thermophilic pig (whatever that is). All were placed in unpasteurized milk. For comparison purposes, three of the strains (two human and one poultry) were also placed in sterile milk and brucella broth. They tested the strains at 1-2 day intervals for 14 days and one for 21 days.
    What did they find? The survival of the eight Campylobacter strains in refrigerated unpasteurized milk VARIED GREATLY. One human strain was not detectable after 7 days and another human strain was still recoverable after 21 days. When looking at the chart they provide, it appears that 2 or 3 strains died (day 7, 8, 12) & 7 strains remained detectable, but 6 of these a low rates. I say appears because these charts are difficult to read.
    I think the most remarkable finding was the COW strain. It barely died off after 14 days. Isn’t the cow strain of C.jejuni going to be the typical strain found in contaminated raw milk? Let me repeat this. THE COW STRAIN OF CAMPYLOBACTER IS THE ONLY STRAIN THAT REMAINED AT HIGH LEVELS AFTER 14 DAYS.
    Nowhere in this study did they mention the levels of oxygen coincided with the death of C.jejuni. They did discuss the possibility that lactoperoxidase played a role in the death Campylobacter in unpasteurized milk, compared to sterile milk. The death rates in sterile milk were lower, but parallel to death rates in unpasteurized milk.
    Based on the findings, the authors concluded that the presence and possible persistence of C jejuni in raw grade A milk REAFFIRMS THE NEED FOR PASTEURIZATION.
    So that is my brief review of the Doyle/Roman study. From this study, certain people came to the conclusion that C.jejuni dies off after a few days, therefore it would be wise to wait a few days before consuming raw milk to give Campylobacter time to die and that this process can be hastened by allowing oxygen to be exposed to the milk.
    I don’t know about the rest of you, but after reading this study, I have to agree with the author’s findings, especially regarding C. jejuni found in cows. It was alive and well after 14 days and if it contaminates raw milk it could make you ill, therefore it is probably wise to pasteurize your milk.

  • Raw Milk Drinker

    Here is a big secret.
    Veterans returning from war can heal their PTSD in about 2 weeks of drinking raw milk, the good kind from artisanal dairymen like Organic Pastures or local small dairies. Don’t use the raw milk in the giant vats that have every kind of quality of wholesale milk. Veterans are forming groups around the country to support each other in healing with raw milk.

    I know this is true because I healed my PTSD with raw milk. I drink a gallon of raw milk a week. It is without a doubt my most important food.

    Lately, I feel like this country has degenerated into the dark ages with their fear and disbelief about anything remotely related to common sense and traditional foods. We are led by the corporate dieticians and corporate scientists whose motto is profit at any expense, administrated by revolving door government officials who look the other way. This corruption does not befit our great country.

    Yet, highly over processed, genetically altered and chemical foods is just fine…but we need swat teams to attack small conscientious raw dairy farmers. Wasn’t this country built on raw milk? Didn’t every pioneer family do better when they had a family cow. Isn’t that we are seeing around the world with the Heifer Project? Improvement of health and wellbeing.

    And what about freedom of choice: can not a mother nurse her baby with raw mother’s milk, and then graduate the baby on to raw cow or goat’s milk so that baby will continue to thrive?

    My family comes from a very very long line of raw dairy farmers. We are an especially healthy family.

    It is time to use unbiased science to support health for all, rather than just for corporate interests.

  • Jeeeez, raw milk cures PTSD? Does stupidity know no bounds?

  • Minkpuppy


    If PTSD was cured by raw milk, I’d be tying my husband down and pouring it down his throat against his will. What insanity! I seriously doubt raw milk will stop his nightmares about witnessing people getting sucked up into jet engines while stationed on an aircraft carrier. Or getting shot at, or witnessing any number of horrible things while he served. We finally found him a treatment program with some promise and it doesn’t involve risking his health with raw milk. Give me a break. What an insult!

    As to the claim that pioneer people were better off because they all had family cows, bull puckey! The average life span back then wasn’t even close to what it is today.

    I come from a long line of dairy farmers also and we’re pretty damn healthy but we drank PASTEURIZED MILK so don’t give me that crap that pastuerized milk is the cause of all disease.

    Raw milk built this country???? Now I really have heard everything.

  • Theresa Kentner

    Although they did not call it PTSD, it has been around long before pasteurized milk.
    Shell shock, combat fatigue, soldiers heart, war malaise, gross stress reaction, the 1000 yard stare.
    And PTSD isn’t restricted to battle weary soldiers, first responders to the Twin Towers got PSTD, hostages, rape victims, and you want to give them raw milk?

  • Sam

    And the sun circles the flat earth. I had no idea that raw milk was a cure for PTSD though.

  • Mary

    Sigh. What else can you say…..

  • comeback

    I’ve been reading FSN and Marler Blog for a while now and really appreciate the discussions about raw milk (and the lively comments!) I really appreciate the work Bill Marler takes on to help protect the consumer.
    I’ve posted some of the info below at FSN and Marler Blog recently, and would like to post here, because I know it represents the thoughts and feelings of MANY raw milk people.
    Living milk (RAW) heals, and promotes life and healing. It contains contains naturally ocurring PROBIOTICS (beneficial bacteria which destroy harmful bacteria). Dead (non-probiotic), diseased milk (PASTEURIZED) sickens, and promotes disease and physical degeneration. The important key is that to be safe, raw milk must come from properly pasture raised, grassfed (NOT GRAIN as this makes cows sick-with sick milk!)cows who are carefully taken care of. Naturaly, this costs a fair amount of money to produce. Greed must be kept out of the equation. This is usually a small farm whose main goals are safety, cleanliness and care of animal and milk and happy customers willing to pay what these things are and really worth (more money to fairly compensate the farmer for his time and energy). Big, greedy agricorporation CAFOs and mega-dairys cheat and skip on through safety, cleanliness, true care and even use controversial(disease causing) groth hormones (rBGH) in relentless pursuit of more,ill-gotten, easier dollars. This is GREED plain and simple, it is cheating by compromising quality for dollars. The only “milk” this system can produce is DISEASED, DEAD milk and it also creates the need to pasteurize this foul, diseased fluid which is the natural result of of this GREED. Like produces like.
    Many of us will not stand for this kind of wrong any longer. We are willing to educate people about truth. We are willing to stand up to the institutions who actively try to hide this truth and put dollars before health. Many of us are willing to fight the ignorance, deciet and greed. If you care about health, truth, helping people, animals and the environment, please join us!
    I don’t know or have any connection to the other commenters. I have no financial interest at stake (I don’t produce any dairy products). It’s just that I (and a LARGE group of area locals here) have to drink black market raw milk right now (because my State is confused about the truth- thank $big agra dollar$) and will fight for the RIGHT to legally access what I believe is the healthiest RAW MILK choice for my family without having to be made to feel like a criminal. And yes, I am slightly upset that our rights are being trampled by big dollar intere$ts, aren’t you? There are millions of us. *Industry insiders- please follow your conscience, do the right thing and stand with those trying to help.
    The simple truth is that properly handled (safe protocol) Raw, live milk is PROBIOTIC (contains LIVING beneficial bacteria which destroy harmful bacteria) Pastuerized milk is DEAD and unhealthy.
    Freedom to pay extra money for extra quality: Nobody is forcing us all to buy raw, organic, high quality, healthy milk. But plenty of powerful intere$ts are trying to force us to buy pasteurized, diseased milk while trying to demonize and outlaw living, raw milk. Who is being decietful? Who is greedy? Who is pushing in a warlike fasion? Is it the big agricorporations and those who allow them (and help them) to continue thier fraudulent, greedy practices, while poisoning the public. Is it the conscientious small organic farmer providing raw, healthy milk to the knowledgeble consumer? Is it the regulatory folks who are supposed to be protecting the public? Is it the knowledgeble and healthful consumer demanding a safe, traditional, raw, living food/drink?
    *Industry insiders- please follow your conscience, do the right thing and stand with those trying to help. Look around, there is a food revolution happening.

  • comeback

    This video is simply stunning. This is America, I can’t believe this is happening here! Guns drawn, 5 governmental agencies, people terrorized. And it happenned again yesterday. I hope you please watch this and then offer comments on how you feel.

  • Doc Mudd

    You can’t be too careful when dealing with ‘alternative farming’ whackadoodles. Check with the Norwegians if you have any doubt of it.
    A big, heartfelt THANK YOU to all the agencies and officers who take on these whacked-out scofflaws.

  • Greg

    Comeback, please enlighten me about these good probiotic super bacteria (genus, species)which destroy the harmful bacteria (genus, species). How do they do it? What is the mode of action? Why does grain make cows sick but not beef cattle sick? Raw milk from a non-diseased cow is naturally pathogen free but so is their urine and blood. It is the after-the fact environmental contamination of the raw milk from biofilms in lines, tanks, buckets, or from insects or gross contamination from cow feces which cause the problem. The milking parlor is not a sterile environment so you cannot guarantee safety. The probiotic bacteria will not provide the (false) safety net you claim.

  • David

    I find it really interesting how so many raw milk enthusiasts are so consistently against government oversight of food production. There would be an awful of them dead or diseased from TB and/or brucellosis if it hadn’t been for government programs that have nearly eradicated these diseases from the US cattle herd.

  • comeback

    Doc Mudslinger-

    To attempt to tie extremist whackos to to raw milk and organic farming in the way you do is obviously an attempt to stir emotions by making wild connections. Its easy to see that its quite immature too. But that is your style…Some people always need more drama.

    We all know that, unfortunately, there can be extremist nut jobs in any sector of society. Look what the Nazi genetic scientists did. Does that mean that the study of genetic science is evil? Or that scientists are Nazis? Of course not. Chill out and lets stick to a civilized discussion about scientific and political facts so we can all learn something from each other.

  • comeback

    David and others-

    As a raw milk drinker, I agree with you on the need for oversight and safety standardization in the raw milk sector. I and just about every other raw milk drinker I know would welcome helpful government oversight! If it tested and ensured small raw dairies were practicing safe raw milk handling, proper raw milk proceedures and helped support those small dairies to offer clean, high quality raw milk to the market by advising, testing, research and giving other support. Now that would be a great relationship! I know that kind of governmental support would indeed be welcomed by the raw milk community. To paint “Raw Milkies” as whackos who dont believe in bacteria, cleanliness, proper protocol, and that raw milk is somhow mysteriously “magic” is just wrong. Yeah, there might be some weirdos who actually fit that description- but cleanliness and proper raw milk protocol are of the utmost importance to every raw milk drinker I know! Pleasedon’t let an extremist represent our entire group! A position can be taken to an extreme on either side-but that shouldn’t represent any entire group. So please, lets have some rational discussion and we’ll see that we can each learn something important from the other.