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Raw Milk Myth Buster #1

Welcome to the first installment of "Raw Milk Myth Busters", inspired by "FDA Shows Its True Colors".  Be sure to catch the "Nanny of the Month" Award video salute to FDA's attorney Stephanie Rose.  In honor of National Dairy Month (and National Dairy Alternative Month), let's ponder:  Will an outbreak from raw milk consumption hurt all dairies?

As we ponder this question, let’s consider the recent statement made by Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle in his letter attempting to justify his veto of the raw milk bill, SB 434, which passed the Wisconsin Legislature by large margins—25 to 8 in the Senate and 60 to 35 in the General Assembly (with 4 not voting).  [What’s with these Governors?  Arnold Schwartznegger of California did the same thing in vetoing SB 201 in 2008.]

Governor Doyle’s May 19 letter states:
“An outbreak of disease from consumption of unpasteurized milk could damage the state’s reputation for providing good, healthy dairy products, and hurt sales of pasteurized milk and other dairy products, resulting in significant financial loss for the entire dairy industry at a time when dairy farmers are already suffering.”

Please excuse my snickering.  On the face, this might seem like a reasonable concern but let’s take a reality check: 

  1. When an outbreak from raw milk occurs, state and county health departments are quick to publicize the incident (and vilify raw milk), making it clear that the milk was NOT pasteurized;
  2. Raw milk consumers are NOT pasteurized milk drinkers;
  3. Raw milk differs significantly from pasteurized milk—two different products; and
  4. The safety record of milk compared to other foods is excellent—raw milk is even better.  Health officials who hastily and incorrectly blame raw milk should be accused of ‘public health malpractice’.  ‘Witch hunts’ after raw milk leave people vulnerable to the real cause, just as happened when tomatoes were blamed when the real culprit was jalapeno peppers from Mexico.

While I have your attention, one word of caution: 

If you suspect illness (e.g., bloody diarrhea) from E. coli O157:H7 (Escherichia coli), do not take any antibiotics!  Antibiotics are contraindicated because this particular type of bacteria when it dies releases shiga-toxin that can overwhelm the kidneys and result in HUS (hemolytic-uremic syndrome) particularly in children, causing acute kidney failure and possible death.  This type of bacteria has been found in meat, dairy, fresh vegetables, water, juices; get a stool culture to confirm or rule out E. coli.  The key is maintaining hydration; a blood transfusion and kidney dialysis may be necessary.  Without complications, symptoms likely subside in five to ten days.

Not to slight those who produce raw goat milk, sheep milk, and even camel milk for human consumption, the heat of the raw milk controversy is focused on cow milk. Aside from nutritional differences (which will be discussed in the future), pasteurized (conventional or commodity) milk and raw milk (also known as farm-fresh unprocessed milk) actually have little in common—more about that in a moment.

Raw Milk Consumption Is Legal
 The consumption of raw milk is legal in all fifty States and yet the challenge to gain access to farm-fresh dairy foods varies from State to State [see the Raw Milk Nation Map].  A few States allow raw milk to be sold in retail stores but almost invariably the regulations are so burdensome on the producers that alternate means of distribution are sought by farmers.  Even consumers have resorted to becoming dairy livestock owners just to have access to raw milk and raw milk products like cream, butter, yogurt, cheese, kefir, and even ice cream; folks do this by investing in dairy herds (herdshares). 

Some States allow raw milk to be sold as pet food; but don’t let the bureaucrats catch you swiping your cat’s milk.  The producer could be charged with misbranding if he has knowledge of it.  Ask Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy Company (OPDC) in California; FDA convinced the U.S. Attorney in Fresno to threaten prosecution for “misbranding”.

As a matter of food freedom, there are many alternatives to conventional dairy products.  Instead of purchasing pasteurized and ultra-pasteurized milk in grocery stores nationwide, many consumers are choosing to buy alternative beverages like soy milk, rice milk, and almond milk (to name those most commonly seen on store shelves).  Unfortunately, as much as soy is tauted as a wonderful health food, folks develop serious problems after prolonged consumption of it in various forms; take a peek at the petition filed with FDA by the Weston A. Price Foundation and its lawsuit against the Illinois prison system for ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ because of the soy-based diet foisted upon the inmates.  Maybe we’ll get a chance in a future post to discuss Kaayla Daniel’s book, The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food.

So why do some consumers choose the raw stuff?  Various answers will come in a flurry:  nutrition, taste, health, knowing the source (Who’s Your Farmer?), concern for the treatment of domesticated animals, supporting the local food movement, letting the farmer have a fair share in the revenues, etc.  All are great reasons but neither time nor space will permit us to delve into these particulars here. 

Commodity Milk vs. Farm-Fresh Milk
 Although both milks come out of the udders of cows, the handling and distribution chain and even the husbandry of the cows differ significantly.  Devoted raw milk producers will attest that quality milk production begins not in the udder of the cow but in the soil of pastures that feed the cow; whereas, conventional dairies typically focus on quantity of production and lean toward grain-based feed and often antibiotic use to mitigate the stress of confinement.  Even worse are the mega dairies with absolutely horrid dwellings for cows—muddy feedlots and bedding with only ornamental grass (if any).  Here’s a “four-letter word” for you: CAFO, confined/concentrated animal feeding operation—see the difference in McAfee’s fly-by video.  I challenge you to understand the difference between predominantly grass-fed and grain-fed dairy cows.

There are two raw milks: ‘raw milk for humans’ and ‘raw milk for pasteurization’—take a look at Tim Wightman’s video set, Chore Time, for a view of farm-fresh milk from udder to bottle.  The Raw Milk Production Handbook also provides an excellent tutorial and is a great guide for consumers to use in seeking out raw dairy sources.  On the other hand, commodity milk is commingled from multiple sources, whether small family farms or CAFOs; since the milk is destined for pasteurization, producers can be less meticulous in handling the milk, believing that the pasteurization process will remedy shortcomings. 

Most raw milk consumers are conscientious in the way they handle their precious farm-fresh milk; it’s not uncommon to see them with coolers to maintain the ‘cool chain’ as advocated in Safe Handling – Consumers’ Guide: Preserving the Quality of Fresh Unprocessed Whole Milk by Peggy Beals, RN. 

Whether acquired from a retail store (Whole Foods used to carry raw milk in States that allowed it) or obtained direct from the farmer or through a buying club, the lion share of the raw milk revenue goes to the producer—as it should; those who feed us and keep us healthy have historically been paid the least in America.  Farmers can easily get $5 to $10 per gallon (camel milk can go for that much and more per quart!).

Commodity milk is a far different story: small family farms across America are pressured to expand their dairy operations to spread costs over larger volume only to reap less than two dollars per gallon.  The real profits go to the dairy processors, like Dean Foods Co., Kraft Foods Co., Land O’Lakes Inc., The Kroger Co., HP Hood LLC, Dairy Farmers of America Inc. (DFA)—see the rankings posted on the internet.  Recognize any of these guys?  Having a degree in Industrial Engineering, I can appreciate the manufacturing feat accomplished by these companies; but as a student of Ayurveda, I’m not impressed (we’ll touch on that in the future).

‘Raw milk for humans’ has provided many small family farms with a supplemental income stream to bear the pricing slump of the past year.  Much could be written about the shenanigans that go on in the dairy industry; but I decline to go into that now since most raw milk producers are still financially dependent on earning their milk checks.  Suffice it say that farm-fresh milk providers can receive three to four times the income that they get from supplying raw milk for the commodity market.  

This opportunity to ‘loosen the noose’ holds promise for the next generation of small, diversified, sustainable farms supplying the local food movement.  Is that why the dairy industry and bureaucrats get so uptight?  Loss of control over the little guys?  A huge advantage of raw milk over commodity milk is that in a legitimate foodborne illness outbreak, raw milk is far more easily traceable because of the short distribution chain and, so, problems can be more quickly resolved.

FDA:  The New Ministry of Propaganda?
Fact is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates dairy products even though the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates the livestock; I’d get into the details of which agency handles what, but neither you nor I need to cultivate that headache.  USDA even keeps track of the amount of raw milk consumed by farm households—how’s that for a governmental ‘forked tongue’?

When you hear statements like,

Drinking raw milk or eating raw milk products is like playing Russian roulette with your health

and

Raw milk should not be consumed by anyone, at any time, for any reason

then you’ll know that you are hearing the ‘party line’ straight for the horse’s…at FDA or, more specifically, John Sheehan, Director of the Division of Plant and Dairy Food Safety for FDA in the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). 

So, what do you do with an agency that boldly claims:

There is no absolute right to consume or feed children any particular food.”
[Lawsuit reply, p. 25]

I suggest we do like many raw milk consumers have done when press releases are issued by State and County health departments in the wake of alleged outbreaks from the consumption of raw milk:  Ignore Them!!!  Okay, that may, perhaps, be a bit irresponsible. 

There are instances when people get sick by consuming raw milk and raw milk products, like any other food.  Oddly enough, compared to the annual 76 million cases of foodborne illness as reported by Mead et al (and repeated throughout the media), only a miniscule amount is attributed to raw milk.  We could quibble over the authenticity of the epidemiology, but the numbers are just too relatively small to bother.  A certified copy of a CDC report shows that between 1973 and 2005, there were a total of 21,352 cases of foodborne illness attributed to all dairy (including pasteurized, pasteurization failures and raw milk)—a thirty-two year span!  Unfortunately, there were two huge outbreaks attributed to pasteurized milk that skew the numbers; otherwise, the annual incidence from both milks is low.  Likewise, the number of deaths is so low as not to register when compared to other foods.

Now, remember that FDA is the agency that gave us Vioxx by Merck for arthritis including rheumatoid (which I have had since age 19) and it was taken by about 20 million Americans among whom an estimated 27,785 deaths occurred; moreover, this same agency gave us Avandia by GlaxoSmithKline for diabetes (which runs rampant in my extended family)—reportedly, an estimated “500 heart attacks and 300 cases of heart failure would be averted each month” by switching from Avandia. 

Given this magnitude of human destruction on the “Drug” side, the Siamese twin “Food” seems to be groping for similar playing time; but the ‘Food-DA’ just can ‘measure up’ to its truly evil twin the ‘F-Drug-A’.  So, I figure, in an obsessed manner, FDA is going after small raw milk farmers and pressuring States to tighten up the restrictions on raw milk distribution simply because it can—not because it is in the best interest of public health.  Truly, there are ‘bigger fish to fry’ but FDA seems too lazy to go ‘deep sea fishing’ with the big boys.

Someone, please tell me how the head of FDA could let its attorney unabashedly say:

Plaintiffs’ assertion of a ‘fundamental right to their own bodily and physical health, which includes what foods they do and do not choose to consume for themselves and their families’ is similarly unavailing because plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to obtain any food they wish.” [Lawsuit reply, p. 26]

Well, back to my real point as I close:  Will an outbreak from raw milk consumption hurt all dairies?

When an outbreak from raw milk occurs, state and county health departments are quick to publicize the incident (and vilify raw milk), making it clear that the milk was NOT pasteurized; they blitz the media, sometimes even before they are absolutely sure that raw milk is the cause.  Funny thing is, that just like a controversial movie that no one knew about until the hubbub rose which then stirs far more interest than if the antagonist had left things to its course, more people perk up and become curious and eager to learn more about raw milk.  They then discover for themselves that indeed farm-fresh milk and commodity milk are two totally different ‘animals’.  They seek out raw milk consumers (who almost religiously refuse to touch pasteurized milk no matter what) who then help these newbies to find a wholesome source of farm-fresh milk. 

So, I guess it is reasonable to conclude that “an outbreak from raw milk” could hurt the conventional dairy industry, but certainly not hurt ALL dairies.  One caveat, there was a peculiar incident involving a Massachusetts dairy that pasteurized and bottled its own milk.  Four people were affected by a pathogenic strain of Listeria monocytogenes and three of the people died from consuming the pasteurized milk.  Ultimately, not only did that pasteurizing dairy shut down its milk operation, but I recall that a nearby raw milk dairy was impacted by the Whittier outbreak and felt compelled to cease its operation as well.  So, here is an instance of the reverse assertion:  an outbreak from pasteurized milk could hurt the raw dairy industry!

Myth Busted and Flipped!!

Thanks for reading this installment of

"Raw Milk Myth Busters"!

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Gené Walls, LMT

Gene' Walls currently serves as administrative staff for both the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and the Farm-to-Consumer Foundation.  Gené (pronounced like Renee with a "J"), is committed to the holistic approach to optimize health and well-being. 

Applying her training as an Industrial Engineer in the design and maintenance of quality processes, she brings a fresh perspective to treating body, mind and spirit as a divinely created system.

Eager to serve clients seeking recovery from disorders as well as those seeking to maximize well-being, Gené has embarked on a journey of discovery including scientific research, professional collaborations and innovative
cooperative efforts.   

Her genuine interest in harmonizing science and spirituality has inspired her to cooperate with practitioners of western and eastern medical systems. 

  • Licensed to practice massage in Florida (# MA47820) 
  • Certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB)
  • Graduate of the Sarasota School of Massage Therapy (SSMT) in Florida 
  • Studied Ayurveda with Drs. Light and Bryan Miller and briefly served on the Education Committee for NAMA (National Ayurvedic Medical Association) 
  • B.S. and M.S. in Industrial Engineering, Tennessee Technological University

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