I find myself wondering…

The suits against Organic Pastures Dairy Co. aren’t asking for huge damages. They seem to be based on weak and contradictory evidence. They come at a time when Organic Pastures is at the center of a political dispute to reverse highly restrictive standards on raw milk.

And I wonder, is another script being played out here?

It’s tempting to get caught up in and continually replay the minutae, as I’ve done in the past and as Amanda Rose does following my previous post—was it five children who had E.coli 0157:H7 or six children? Did six children drink raw milk or only five? Did one of the children consume colostrum and, if so, was it a boy or a girl? Was the E.coli 0157:H7 found in Organic Pastures’ cows in heffers or milkers?

At one point Amanda says, “The bacteria wasn’t isolated in the Martin case but if there is anything this case should be teaching us it is that it is difficult to identify the pathogen…this is not all that easy.” Absolutely correct, and that’s why so many people have a problem with this case. It’s very difficult to isolate the cause of most food-borne illness and explains why very few of the 76 million annual cases of food-borne illness the Centers for Disease Control estimates are ever proven or resolved.

Yet Amanda concludes: “The story the report tells me is that there was a raw milk outbreak.” If judges and juries think this way–it’s lousy evidence, but, what the hell, we all know how these kids got sick without conclusive evidence–they will hang Organic Pastures.

The fact that getting the proof is difficult doesn’t mean we should accept inconclusive evidence. Amanda concludes, “I just happen to know that raw milk may have a pathogen in it and yet I still drink it.” That “I still drink it” may no longer be a choice when these cases are finished.

If this was a clear-cut situation, as the case with pasteurized milk in Massachusetts seems to be, with the offending listeria monocytogenes found in the victims also being found at the dairy, then I could well understand the victims seeking some legal resolution.

But that’s not the case here. It’s in that fuzzy area, like so many food-borne illnesses in this country, based on the fact that scientists don’t fully understand the dynamics of what happens and how to capture all the evidence.

So I find myself wondering about the underlying political agenda associated with this case. Or, to put it another way, how could the California legislature possibly un-do AB1735 so long as this case is pending, so long as a potential political opponent down the road could say, “And Assemblyman Smith voted to repeal raw-milk safety legislation that was enacted to protect our kids, and he did so after the parents of children made nearly killed by raw milk filed a suit against the producer.”

You know California’s health and agriculture regulators have to be thrilled about this suit. Now that the case is public record, they can repeat its charges ad nauseum. Did they encourage it? You have to wonder.

But in all this negativity, I really wonder if things will play out exactly the way the anti-raw-milk crowd anticipates. From one of Sylvia’s great links—this one to The Wall Street Journal article about the Marler law firm—it seems clear the firm much prefers to settle suits and extract some cash than go to court. Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures may not be as cooperative as the corporate types he usually goes after, which don’t mind paying a few million dollars to make a troublesome court case go away. If this case went to trial, well, it could be interesting.

The number of raw milk consumers is increasing rapidly, as people are becoming more educated about food and nutrition. The dire warnings issued by the FDA and CDC and state agriculture agencies increasingly fall on deaf ears, and even have the opposite of the intended effect.

Maybe a trial of this case would similarly have the opposite effect. By revealing how little the medical and public health communities know about food-borne illness, a trial could serve as a platform to educate more people about the tiny but inevitable risks of all foods (Marler seems to have gone after many of them), versus the nutritional benefits of raw milk and other fresh natural foods. Maybe it’s time to turn the tables on the public health and medical establishments.