As he reports in a comment following my previous  blog post,  Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy Co. sent a letter to Pat Kennelly, food safety chief at the California Department of Public Health, expressing upset about the agency’s press release related to possible raw milk illnesses. According to the letter, “When Claravale was shut down two weeks ago, CA DPH published a Press Release that warned consumers against consumption of any raw milk. It went so far as to claim and say that ‘raw milk is inherently unsafe regardless of how it is produced.’ Please consider this letter to be a formal complaint regarding that official CA DPH Press Release and the official links imbedded in that Press Release.” McAfee’s letter went on to describe the successes of the Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI) in improving raw milk safety. Today, McAfee told me he has since spoken with Kennelly, and has been invited to meet with the official in the next few weeks to update him on RAWMI and provide information on raw milk’s health benefits.

The challenge of correcting inaccuracies and propaganda from both the media and public health officials also grabs the attention of John Moody, in this guest blog post. Moody is interim executive director of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. He also owns a farm, and helps manage a private food club in Kentucky.

by John MoodyJohn Moody

America’s media have a real hard time reporting accurately about raw milk. A great example comes from a recent Today Health post.

You would think, given that raw milk hasn’t caused a single death in more than 25 years, while pasteurized milk claimed at least three lives last week (from tainted ice cream), and two deaths from pasteurized milk cheese last year, and three deaths from fluid milk in 2007 (plus a still-birth), we would be treated to a more balanced and even-handed approach to the complex issues relating to food safety in general and raw milk in particular.

I guess I set my hopes too high.

“Bioethicist Arthur Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics, at New York University, tells Today Health, ‘Adults drive, cliff dive and smoke, but they have to be informed about risks. The ethical considerations become much more difficult when kids are involved.’”

Too bad riding in a car is riskier than drinking raw milk, statistically speaking, especially for kids who, last I checked, don’t have much choice when it comes to their driver or their dinner, whether it be raw milk or refined pseudo foods that sicken thousands each year and do far more damage with degenerative diseases and deformed body structures from lack of adequate nutrition.

But, anyway, it’s all for the kids. You know, the vending machines in public schools full of processed, highly adulterated, FDA-approved diabetes- and other disease-causing junk food. The school lunches that would barely sustain an amoeba’s nutritional needs, let alone those of growing children (who are rebelling against the school lunches en mass as we speak). The endless fast food feasts and poison pizzas kids shovel down across our nation, made artificially cheap by the USDA-approved billions in tax dollars doled out each year in subsidies. Yep, this is all for the kids. Like those highly processed, hardly-cheese-containing Kraft cheese singles that bear the “Kids Eat Right” seal that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics claims isn’t really a seal of approval.

“The dairy industry worries that illnesses from raw milk sales could damage public confidence in the safety of dairy products.”

This line of reasoning always cracks me up. You would think it was a line from a Jim Gaffigan stand-up routine, it is such a good shtick. Do people buying real Rolexes harm the sales of the cheap imitation Rolexes hocked at world monuments (and vice versa)?

If anything, the damage done by pasteurized dairy and the bad rap modern real, raw milk gets from its industrial processed knock-off counterpart (see Andy Rooney’s entertaining segment) does far more harm to raw milk farmers than any raw milk outbreak has ever done to industrial milk. But the anti-raw-milk propaganda machine has never had a knack for clear and accurate thinking or data on these issues, which would get in the way of agendas, control of the dairy industry, and the steady stream of fear-mongering those agencies foist upon the unsuspecting populace. And the media never seem to have the inclination to challenge such illogical assertions. 

 “‘I grew up on a dairy farm and anytime you start milking a cow I will tell you they start defecating, and it can get everywhere,’ says Dr. Faith Critzer, a food microbiologist with the University of Tennessee and a food safety extension specialist for the state of Tennessee. ‘There are just too many points of contamination and pasteurization will get rid of contamination. It will save your life.’”

Food safety is a complex issue. All food producers, raw milk and otherwise, should be striving to ensure safe food for their patrons. But all food systems, just like all of life, have risks, and while we can work to minimize those risks, even the best efforts of our alphabet-soup government agencies and the most advanced technologies can’t eliminate them. Indeed, sometimes they actually increase them. As much as the food police think pasteurization is some magical cure all, it isn’t.

Just ask those affected by the Blue Bell Creameries listeria outbreak. Unfortunately, it didn’t save the lives of those consuming pasteurized dairy last month, nor did it in dozens of other outbreaks over the past three decades.

Indeed, between 1998 and 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported:

  • 79 percent of reported food-borne illnesses were due to raw milk or cheese. 

This data is completely false (and it’s not clear where it originated). In reality, food-borne illnesses caused by raw milk are about 1% or less of total reported food-borne illnesses (about 100-150 out of a total of about 15,000 illnesses). But the CDC and FDA serve up data intended to confuse—for example, it’s rarely annualized and compared from one year to the next.  The media assume that because they are dealing with the most august scientists on the planet, there is no need to challenge or question the data. If they did question, they might be surprised at the silence and throat-clearing that would indicate the manipulation behind the information. 

It’s about time the media began asking the same tough questions of government and industry scientists that it asks of small-farm producers.