It continues to amaze me how controversial and provocative a topic raw milk is. Every few weeks, it seems, more media outlets are writing and broadcasting about it. In media lingo, raw milk “has legs.”

Most recently, a Washington, DC, NPR station promoted a debate between Sally Fallon of the Weston A. Price Foundation, and Bill Marler, the product liability lawyer. The two debaters threw brickbats at each other, including not a few exaggerations and half-truths.

For instance, they traded jabs about the illness outbreak affecting six children attributed to Organic Pastures Dairy Co. five years ago, in 2006. Fallon continued to say, as she has on a number of occasions, that the two children who became most seriously ill had eaten spinach (the outbreak occurred in the midst of an outbreak of illness from raw spinach) even though the genetic imprint of the E.coli 0157:H7 isolated from several of the children was different from that of the spinach oubreak. I’m not sure why she dwells on that particular inaccuracy, which upsets the families involved no end.

And Marler? He argued as if it’s a simple fact of law that the Amish farmer Daniel Allgyer (the target of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration suit last April seeking a permanent injunction against the shipping of his milk to Maryland) was guilty of “the sale of raw milk across state lines, which is illegal and has been since the late ’80s…” Never mind that the private distribution that occurred wasn’t necessarily “interstate commerce,” and hasn’t been decided by a court–details, details.

And he repeated his cute little quarter-truth about “the reality of the science that raw milk, you know, is a product because of the location of the cow’s teets to the cow’s anus, the likelihood of getting it contaminated is high…”, ignoring the reality that most dairies use automated milking machines that prevent milk from ever coming close “to the cow’s anus,” and that the likelihood of contamination is in fact quite low.

But debates about raw milk attract consumers, and get them riled up. Just look at the comments following the Fallon-Marler debate. (Yes, I’m part of this media obsession, though like to think I’m different because I’m not partaking on a one-shot or sometime basis.)

The anti-raw milk Web site Real Raw Milk Facts has just come out with documentation of its success in attracting visitors, in an academic “poster” being presented at a conference next week.

The media competitiveness is rubbing off on lawyers, more of whom are angling for business representing individuals allegedly sickened by raw milk. Ron Simon (“My Food Poisoning Lawyer”), has been bragging about his new client in Texas*, growing out of allegedly contaminated raw milk there a few months back.

Link here to Simon’s post:

And as I reported last week, a Minneapolis law firm is handling a case involving Michael Hartmann, the Minnesota farmer being blamed for selling raw milk tainted with E.coli 0157:H7.

Certainly a big part of the reason raw milk is such a provocative discussion topic is that the public health people have used it to deflect attention from truly serious public health problems that the professionals seem unwilling or unable to deal with. As the discussion following my previous post makes clear, there is much disagreement in the scientific community about how campylobacter acts as a food pathogen.

Several of the links highlight the issue. One scientific publication says campylobacter can’t survive with oxygen, yet adapts by creating a biofilm.

Another says it survives in meat by attaching to pseudomomas. And there is much disagreement about how long it survives in any event.

Yet the public health community acts as if it knows everything it needs to know, as if it has ownership of “truth.” Never mind that it can’t figure out a to keep campylobacter (and salmonella) out of two-thirds of our chicken supply. Do public health officials worry about that? No, they just ignore it, and the many thousands of illnesses a year that result, and obsess instead about raw milk.