The “narrative” on raw milk from the public health community has been heavily negative, going something like this: Raw milk producers skimp on safety. They are just in it for the money, selling raw milk at high prices to line their pockets. The raw milk community is insensitive when people get sick. Raw milk advocates are in denial about the riskiness of raw milk. 

Yes, four children became very sick in Kentucky, likely from raw milk (per my previous post about epidemiological evidence), and that is truly unfortunate. But sometimes out of sad and discouraging events, positive trends take shape, as people shift their big-picture view, based on unexpected developments from the unfortunate event. 

Here are key items of conventional wisdom in the public health community that possibly shifted as a result of the Kentucky illnesses:  


  1. Producers of raw milk don’t care about safety. It turns out the Kentucky dairy that produced the milk that seems to have sickened the children has long been a big believer in producing the safest possible product, and has in recent months, before the illnesses, become more concerned. Derek Morris had been moving to change bottling from re-using jars to using plastic jugs. He had delayed because members were concerned about environmental impact, but he has since decided that clearly takes second place. He has implemented a testing program as well.A refrigerated truck has replaced the coolers. 
  2. Raw milk producers just care about making lots of money. It turns out that Morris has been in debt since he launched the dairy in 2008. He has taken on even more to upgrade his operation since the illnesses. He’s not unlike other raw dairy producers I have met. The business model for selling raw milk directly to shareholders and food club members is far more attractive financially compared with the commodity model that exists for conventional milk, but overall it’s still a tough living to make for the small producer. 
  3. The raw milk community has contempt for public health professionals, and vice versa. From all accounts, the Kentucky public health people did fine with both the dairy farmer, and the food club people they interacted with. There came a time when the Kentucky Department of Public Health wanted to return for a second thorough inspection of the dairy, and Derek Morris okayed it, without requiring a search warrant. There are indications of surprise on both sides—the public health people were surprised the dairy was as clean as it was, and Morris was surprised the inspectors were as knowledgeable and accommodating and fair as they were. Yes, the Kentucky Department of Public Health issued a fairly negative press release (see my previous post), but some of that had to be old-time politics and trying to satisfy constituencies in Washington. 
  4. Drinkers of raw milk turn the other way when one of their own gets sick. The food club members in Kentucky, from all accounts, have tried to be sensitive and supportive to the parents of the sick children. Morris, as i pointed out in my previous post, considered shutting his dairy down had there been evidence is dairy was somehow responsible for producing tainted milk. 
  5. Raw milk is inherently unsafe. If raw milk opponents were correct, the number of illnesses should be skyrocketing based on growing consumption. That seems not to be happening, and possibly the opposite is taking place. Preliminary indications suggest the number of illnesses may be declining, from 100 to 200 illnesses annually over the previous decade. According to data compiled by the Real Raw Milk Facts web site, in 2011, there were about 60 illnesses. In 2012, the number was slightly over 200, but one outbreak of campylobacter at Family Cow in Pennsylvania accounted for three-fourths of the illnesses. (The Family Cow has since upgraded its safety approach further, and qualified for membership in the Raw Milk Institute.)  In 2013, there were about 85 illnesses, according to the same site. 


As part of the changing narrative, we are also seeing state agricultural schools in two states–Pennsylvania and Maine–beginning to offer instruction in raw milk safety as part of extension programs, after decades of nothing. It’s not a simple matter to change a well ingrained narrative like that involving raw milk, since there are so many mammoth and influential institutions opposing it. Many obstacles remai. But an important shift may have begun because people of good will didn’t simply act according to conditioning and expectations.