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 Media inquiries about Miller’s should be directed to Liz Reitzig,