Behind CDC’s Raw Milk Probe: More Doubts About CA Illness


National Guard troops shooting at unarmed demonstrators at Kent State University in May 1970. (Photo from Kent State archives)

As Amos Miller goes anxiously about his work, awaiting the inevitable harsh government action against his Pennsylvania farm, he is at long last learning more about the mysterious illness in California that the CDC blamed on his milk.

In a March 18 report posted online, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control blamed Miller’s Organic Farm for having provided tainted milk that caused two people to contract listeriosis—one in Florida and one in California. In a March 23 post, this blog described how the Florida “victim” was actually a 73-year-old woman who was being treated for a serious advanced cancer of the blood.

Despite inquiries by Miller and members of his private food association to learn more about the California “victim,” no one has been able to identify an individual there who might have become sick from Miller’s milk…..until now. The only clue from the CDC was that the individual was 81 years old; the CDC had refused, on grounds of “privacy,” to even indicate if the individual was a man or a woman, or where in the huge state the person lived.

But when Pasadena chiropractor David Lewandowski went recently to pick up food at a drop site, he overheard several other food club members talking about how the CDC was blaming Miller’s for having sickened an elderly California raw milk drinker. He realized that the person in question was probably the father of his ex-wife, whom I’ll identify with his initials, W.E., since the man hasn’t approved disclosure of his name.

Back in 2014, W.E. had asked Lewandowski to provide him with buttermilk, so the chiropractor gave him a quart from Miller’s when they met at church one Sunday. The older man was quite excited since “he grew up drinking it” and it had been many years since he had raw buttermilk.

However, the day was hot, and Lewandowski in retrospect had no idea how W.E. stored the drink. Complicating the situation further, the man is diabetic, blind, and has a pacemaker, according to Lewandowski. And he had a cold or flu around the time Lewandowski handed over the buttermilk.

“I told him to just have two or three ounces each day. But instead, he drank it all at once. He said it was so good,” says Lewandowski.

W.E. had diarrhea for the next three weeks. His doctor had stool samples tested, and at least one came back positive for listeria. But neither Lewandowski nor anyone else in W.E.’s family suspected that the buttermilk was the culprit. After all, Lewandowski had consumed buttermilk from the same batch, and not experienced any issues.

“I doubt that listeria had anything to do with” the illness of his former father-in-law, says Lewandowski. “If that was the problem, others would have gotten sick,” and no one became ill.

Early this year, more than a year after W.E.’s illness, and his full recovery, Lewandowski heard from his son that a CDC investigator was calling to talk about the illness. Lewandowski, who is very skeptical about the CDC in general, figured the agency was on a witchhunt of some sort. “I told him he didn’t have to talk to them.”

As far as Lewandowski knows, no one in his family spoke with the CDC; he says the CDC apparently obtained its information from W.E.’s physician, who quizzed the man about what foods he had consumed immediately prior to getting sick, and learned about the raw buttermilk.

Lewandowski, who relies on the food from Miller’s Organic Farm as part of his diet, says he has been upset to learn about the CDC report and all the media and other attention it has received, “It is extremely disgusting that the government will vilify someone who only wants to share a life-enhancing product that brings value to the world. It is disgusting that the CDC and FDA would try to prey on that and shut that down when we want a good, healthful product and Miller’s Organic Farm is delivering it—the highest quality product that is available.”

So here is what we now know about what the CDC described as a “multistate outbreak of listeriosis linked to raw milk produced by Miller’s Organic Farm in Pennsylvania”:

  • While the CDC, with its description of a “multistate outbreak,” suggests many people became ill across a number of states, this was an “outbreak” in only the narrowest technical sense at worst; an outbreak involves at least two people getting sick from having ingested a common food. The family of the Florida woman who died after treatment for advanced cancer wasn’t aware that she even consumed raw milk, so it’s not at all certain two people had raw dairy.
  • Even if the two sick individuals actually consumed raw milk, it’s clear that both were seriously immune compromised, and not accustomed to drinking raw milk. Even raw milk advocates encourage new drinkers to begin slowly in their consumption of raw milk—not because it might cause illness, but because it changes the body’s composition of probiotics, which could lead to responses such as loose stools.
  • Though the CDC warned in its report “that contaminated raw milk and other raw dairy products from this company could still be on the market and make people sick,” it has refused to provide information to Miller or anyone else concerning the illnesses that might help in reducing any risk. It’s been up to Miller and others to track down the alleged illnesses and try to rectify any safety problems that might exist at his dairy.
  • This case puts to rest the idea encouraged by public health people that raw milk producers don’t care about individuals becoming ill from raw dairy products. Miller has been trying hard to identify anyone who might have become ill, so he could rectify any possible safety issue. He has been consulting with numerous other farmers about ways to improve production and testing with the hopes of implementing something. Indeed, he informed me about David Lewandowski, and encouraged me to write about the situation, so long as Lewandowski approved, which he did. Miller could have simply kept Lewandowski’s information to himself, and helped further spread doubt as to whether a California victim of illness even existed.
  • The CDC’s primary purpose in conducting this investigation wasn’t “saving lives, protecting people” (per its motto) who might be exposed to danger from Miller’s raw dairy, since there clearly wasn’t any such danger. Instead, the CDC has been working in tandem with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and possibly others, with the sole mission of sabotaging and possibly destroying Miller’s Organic Farm. If the CDC had been concerned about safety, CDC investigators and scientists wouldn’t have stooped to turn the feeble evidence they had of contamination into a published study rushed onto the Internet, to be used as the basis of heavy-handed enforcement actions.
  • As this situation unfolds, it is turning into a classic case of “disproportionate response,” where a relatively small offense becomes the basis for a huge show of government-initiated force in retaliation. Governments are expert in using disproportionate response in international conflicts as well as domestic disputes, as a number of well-known cases attest. The U.S. used disproportionate force back in 1964, in response to the alleged Gulf of Tonkin attack by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on an American destroyer, using the questionable episode as the basis for launching carpet bombing and napalming of Vietnam and eventually sending more than half a million soldiers to fight there. The murder of four demonstrators at Kent State University in 1970,  by National Guard troops, is another such example. And now we get to watch the phenomenon unfold right before our eyes in 2016 America at Miller’s Organic Farm, per warnings from the agencies to Miller.
  • It’s important to remember that the real government concern here isn’t the people who got sick, but rather the official disdain for private distribution of food. Because such private distribution is in a gray area legally, the government has been afraid to challenge it head on, for fear of losing in court. What it has done instead in the Miller case is mount an end-run, using highly questionable illnesses as the basis of a disproportionate response to shut down a small farm.

The discovery of the California raw milk “illness” isn’t the end of this sordid affair, by any means. There’s more to come.

(Miller’s Organic Farm is collecting testimonials about members’ health benefits; send them to [email protected] Media inquiries about Miller’s should be directed to Liz Reitzig, [email protected])

21 comments to Behind CDC’s Raw Milk Probe: More Doubts About CA Illness

  • Sharon Intilli

    I wish Mr. Lewandowski himself would tell the CDC that he too consumed the same batch of buttermilk so that it would further dispel their “results” that it contained listeria (or that it was the listeria that killed the woman). The CDC needs real push back from individuals as often as possible. It is only through push back that we keep the government at bay when we show them real facts that support our positions and not theirs.

    • David Gumpert David Gumpert

      Sharon, your suggestion is well taken, and perhaps Mr. Lewandowski will consider it. However, I doubt it would make any difference if he explains what happened with the buttermilk, since the CDC clearly isn’t interested in the facts of the case, or adjusting their “results” according to reality. This isn’t about the risks of raw dairy, or anything else, it is about making the case for “disproportionate response.” That is a three-part process:

      1. You identify a goal, whether it is to discourage political protests, start a war, or sharply curtail the distribution of raw dairy.

      2. You accumulate evidence, any evidence, of wrongdoing by your enemy. What we have learned about the CDC investigation into Miller’s Organic Farm is that the agency has sought out any evidence, the flimsiest of evidence, to make a case of safety problems at Miller’s.

      3. You lower the hammer of overwhelming force on your target, and you use your “evidence” as justification. When the various federal agencies come down on Miller’s, they will cite the “serious safety concerns,” or some such verbiage, they have about Miller’s to justify their action.

      There’s no room in this scheme for rational discussion.

  • Gary

    That’s right, they need pushback like wolves howling at the door. RFK, Jr. is correct when he says that the CDC (which I call the Centers for Disease Creation and Promotion) is a cesspool of corruption. Same is true of the FDA (Food and Drug Adulterators, Inc.). Vaxxed has turned the tide in the conversation about poisoning children; we can do the same with the government crooks who are trying to destroy producers of real food, one farm at a time. The reason Bernie and Trump have done so well is that many Americans are mad as hell. And if they come in with guns drawn to an Amish farm, there will be a hell of an outcry, a hell of a pushback. CDC and FDA, I know your thugs are reading this. Take heed: We will not tolerate a fascist government any longer. You may have the full power and majesty of history’s largest and most sophisticated empire backing your nefarious deeds, but we have right on our side, we have millions of thoroughly pissed off people, and we have pitchforks. Are you prepared to shoot in cold blood pitchfork-wielding farmers defending their families and livelihoods?

    • Gordon S Watson

      and how did that style of rhetoric play out in Oregon, Gary? If you want to channel Leroy Finicum, you”ll get the same result he did.. The CDC and all the alphabet agencies would love you and your pals, to show up with that attitude … the media needs characters wearing white hats in its perpetual soap opera. Seared in my mind is the image of the Stars and Stripes, fluttering in the smoke over Waco as 70 innocent people were incinerated, broadcast live, in the ultimate “reality tv” …. by the same agencies against which you’re tossing your half-baked outrage.
      … “Who can make war with the Beast?”

    • California Girl

      Thank you for your correct summation of the CDC and FDA. Very sinister groups.

  • Shana Milkie

    Thank you, David, for continuing to share the facts of this case as you learn them. It’s simply awful that multiple government agencies are persecuting a farmer who simply provides nourishing food to people who *want* it and are aware of potential risks. As you and others have noted many times, when health departments prematurely zero in on raw dairy in their food illness investigations, they risk missing the real culprit. That practice does not serve public health.

  • D. Smith D. Smith

    If Lewandowski lives in Pasadena, CA, how was he able to pick up Miller’s products from a drop off point?

  • Cat Berge

    Fantastic use of tax money! …. sad.

    • Shawna Barr

      Imagine if the funds spent on this investigation were instead designated for research.

      • Ingvar Ingvar

        @Shawna Barr

        Not that I disagree with your point.

        Let’s go one step further:
        Imagine if the funds were still in everyone’s pockets, where they belong.

        Mr. J. Ingvar Odegaard

  • Teresa Hartley

    My family has consumed products from Miller’s Organic Farm since 2010, In fact, I currently have an order in to them and look forward to enjoying the delicious nutritious food that Amos Miller works so hard to produce. This kind of reprehensible behavior on the part of these agencies is nothing new and I certainly hope that Miller’s Farm can withstand the assault. I will continue to support him. And to enjoy good health because of his products.

  • Joseph Heckman

    Question: Why would a safety study (reference below) in 2012 limit its timeframe to 1993-2006 (When in 2007 there were deaths due to Listeria linked to pasteurized milk)?
    Langer, A.J., T. Ayers, J.Grass, M. Lynch, F.J. Angulo, and B.E. Mahon. 2012. Nonpasteurized Dairy Products, Disease Outbreaks, and State Laws-United States, 1993-2006. Emerg. Infect. Dis. 18:385-391.
    Centers for Disease Control, 2008. Outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes Infections Associated with Pasteurized Milk from a Local Dairy — Massachusetts, 2007. (Last viewed: 4 March 4, 2016)

    • David Gumpert David Gumpert

      Good question, Joseph. The CDC does this all the time–manipulates data to slam raw milk. Moreover, you will never see it refer to “pasteurized milk” as the cause of any disease illnesses/deaths. It will only refer to “cheese” or “milk” or “ice cream.” So when the 2007 pasteurized-milk deaths do come up, they aren’t ever ID’s as such. It’s all part of the political agenda for CDC, which is supposed to be a scientific agency, not a political one.

  • Marilyn Brown

    I find it very interesting that the CDC had to search so hard for anything they could spin to make Miller look bad. They couldn’t find anything legitimate, and had to go back 2 years to two instances of people whose families are mad that the CDC is using them for this attack, and are impossible to check up on. Besides the fact that one of them probably didn’t even drink raw milk!! It is, to me, real proof that Miller’s farm is doing a great job!!

  • JHeckman

    An interesting book to read:
    Missing Microbes by Martin J. Blaser

    It is about the human microbiome.

  • Cathie Moeller

    Why doesn’t our government research the dramatic increase in lactose intolerance likely contributed to or caused by killing any useful (read, live) organisms from the milk they force on the public, making it indigestible. I’m quite sure the answer is because the dairy industry lobbies and can make more money buying milk raised in unsanitary conditions and then killing everything in it, good and bad.

    My allergic reactions have been dramatically reduced by consuming raw milk, I’m just tired of jumping through all the hoops our government and big business make necessary to protect me from myself when they are what I need protection from. Let me choose what to put in my body!

    • Dairy Duchess Dairy Duchess

      Cathie, I’m not sure what to make of your comment which includes this: “milk raised in unsanitary conditions”. I’m sorry, but that really bothers me. I am a dairy farmer (small herd), and anybody with a dairy permit producing milk in ‘unsanitary conditions’ won’t be shipping–selling to processors anymore. There are regulations/laws that need to be followed, no matter who the person is (yes, there will be some who’ll try to get away with things, but that’s what the milk testing is for). Read up on the PMO sometime (Pasteurized Milk Ordinance).

      I’ve dairied in two different states, and it’s the same it has been for the 25 years I’ve been involved in the dairy industry–actually, more strict that it was back then.

      • Pete

        You are hopelessly naive. Inspections are not frequent and many look the other way on issues. Not to mention the fact that there are a whole host of problems not covered by PMO requirements that make milk deleterious to health.

        The cow in your typical non-grazing dairy (and even them in winter too often) lives in and environment dominated by two things: concrete and manure. All the more so if they are pushed for production or have Johnes (which is many if not most of them).

        I would not recommend drinking raw the milk from your average PMO dairy.

  • Dairy Duchess Dairy Duchess

    Pete, YOU AGAIN??? I’m not hopelessly naive, and yes, I DO KNOW about inspections. H-E-L-L-O, anybody home? I didn’t reference them to begin with, I mentioned milk samples. The person I addressed made it sound like dairy farmers can do whatever they want, whenever they want, and no one will find out what they did, because gee, that milk is NEVER, ever tested (I’m not milking very many, but the milk is still tested, and those results are sent to the state health department). I did say that there are those who will try to get away with certain things, and it is a ‘conflict of interest’–I won’t say how, but I’m not going to say anymore about that situation, because I’m not one of them.

    So I have to ask, why do you continue to paint EVERY ‘dairy’ farm with the same broad brush? What I mean is, those of us who have a dairy permit to sell (God forbid in your book, because it isn’t for RAW consumption) milk for further processing (regardless of its use), as though ALL of us are somehow inherently evil? I work very hard to produce quality milk for my buyer (I don’t care what your definition of ‘quality’ is, because you don’t matter to me, you are not my customer), and because of the laws and regulations in my state, there are things I need to follow if I want to be a dairy producer. I’ve seen how some people handle milk from their cows (non-dairy farmers, these are people who have a cow or so), and no thank you, I wouldn’t drink it, but if you’d want to, hey, knock yourself out, I won’t stand in the way.

    I’m really curious. Have you ever been a dairy farmer, or even set foot on one of those farms that don’t have their cows on concrete? Another question: What do you consider an “average PMO dairy”? In my state, it doesn’t matter if a person has a Grade A, or Manufacturing Grade (Grade B) dairy permit, we have to follow the PMO! Are you trying to say that those who don’t have a dairy permit are somehow superior? That’s how it reads to me. Here’s another thing for you to consider. Regulations have become such a hindrance, it’s hard for smaller farms to successfully jump through all the hoops, and it’s getting expensive to boot (thanks to all of the control freaks). I already looked into what it would take to setup a processing facility on my farm. I’m talking six figures just to get started!

    You just seem to be one of those internet “know-it-alls”, so it doesn’t matter what I say, you’ll find something to nit-pick. I think you enjoy sparring with me, even though I don’t comment much anymore.

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