I’m beginning to understand why the dairy group at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration usually declines to comment publicly about controversies over raw milk. Because on the few occasions when it has commented, it’s come up looking either totally repressive, totally ignorant or, most recently, totally delusional.

In the Humboldt County raw milk situation, the FDA submitted a 28-page document at the tail end of the consideration process, with the catchy title, “Raw Milk Misconceptions and the Danger of Raw Milk Consumption”. All I can say is that I’m worried about whether these people are playing with a full deck.

As Mark McAfee laments in a comment following my previous post, the document is notable for an almost religious fervor against raw milk. In that vein, it’s not dissimilar from the legal brief submitted last April seeking to refute the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund suit against the agency. That was the brief in which the agency declared, we have “no absolute right to…any particular food.”

But most notably in the submission to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, the FDA makes a number of amazingly outrageous statements that suggest people out of touch with any semblance of their own version of scientific thinking or rational analysis. As a prime example, the FDA states that a number of dairy illnesses attributed by various scientific studies and by the Centers for Disease Control to pasteurized milk were, indeed, the fault of raw milk. Yes, you read that right. “In The Verbal Argument by Mark McAfee, the author cited various foodborne outbreaks where pasteurized milk was implicated. For these cited outbreaks, FDA was able to find scientific literature describing these outbreaks. In most cases, the implicated milk was contaminated post-pasteurization. Ironically, in many cases, the actual source of contamination was raw milk.”

As one example, a 1983 outbreak of illness from listeria monocytogenes in pasteurized milk in Massachusetts, the FDA explains, “The likely cause of this outbreak was the high levels of L. monocytogenes contamination in the starting raw milk. During the outbreak period, raw milk was sourced from farms that had dairy cows infected with listeriosis. In addition, multiple serotypes of L. monocytogenes were isolated from raw milk obtained from these farms after the outbreak.”

As another example, outbreaks of illness from salmonella in pasteurized milk in 1984 and 1985, “The 2% pasteurized milk was likely contaminated by raw milk post-pasteurization. Both the FDA lab and a private lab confirmed that the outbreak strain of Salmonella was heat sensitive and would not survive pasteurization. The implicated plant had an unusual setup of its processing line: pasteurization was an early step followed by separation and fat standardization. Investigation at the implicated plant revealed a potential cross-connection between tanks that contained raw milk and pasteurized skim milk.”

As a third example, of its logic, it points to a 2006 outbreak of illness from pasteurized milk that sickened 1,300 prison inmates in California. “During investigation, it was noted that pasteurized milk produced before the outbreak had high bacteria counts. In addition, about 100 different C. jejuni strains were isolated on the dairy farm with 3 isolates matching the human illness strain. These observations suggested that either the starting raw milk had very high levels of pathogen contamination from the dairy environment or the milk was contaminated post pasteurization.”

So you have that straight now? If you start with raw milk that’s dirty and contaminatyed because the farmers know it will be zapped in the pasteurization process, and the milk is so filthy it isn’t or can’t be completely zapped, or the processors don’t handle the milk correctly, the problem is raw milk…and therefore raw milk is mortally dangerous. 

The filth of conventional raw milk is well known in the dairy industry, and I addressed it in my book, The Raw Milk Revolution, as follows: “A study published in a 2004 issue of the Journal of Dairy Science found that in milk samples taken from 861 bulk tanks in twenty-one states around the country, 2.6 percent contained salmonella and 6.5 percent tested positive for listeria monocytogenes…the reality is that the farmers whose milk contained the pathogens could rest assured that the milk wasn’t a public health hazard because it would be pasteurized.”

I think Mark McAfee hit the nail on the head: “It is a religion mindset….there is no data that will convince a person that believes something religiously.”
I worry about these people.  Or else they’re beginning to worry about the fact that ever increasing numbers of people are rushing to consume raw dairy, and not only not getting sick, but in many cases improving their health in the process. Watch out for the fanatic who sees his version of reality crumbling around him.