It’s becoming clear that the Wisconsin campylobacter outbreak a few weeks back, triggered by tainted unpasteurized milk from a commercial dairy, has created a dilemma for the food safety ideologues.

These are the people in the regulatory, health, and legal communities who argue that raw milk is inherently unsafe.  These ideologues don’t want to acknowledge that there are two raw milks in America–the raw milk turned out by the CAFOs, usually under terribly unsanitary conditions and at significant risk for containing pathogens, and the raw milk turned out by dairies committed to producing safe unpasteurized milk sold directly to consumers.

A herd producing certified milk in New Jersey at the Walker-Gordon Farm in Plainsboro (1948). The barn is a simple, sanitary, well-lit building kept immaculately clean. (From NJ Dept of Agriculture archives. Thanks to Joseph Heckman.)So now the ideologues need to somehow figure out a way to categorize the milk from that outbreak as typical of raw milk served up by dairies that regularly distribute raw milk.

The story is back in the news because the publication Food Safety News, published by the Marler-Clark law firm, requested the investigative files in the case and learned something I had learned and reported two weeks ago–that the dairy whose milk sickened 18 people was one devoted to providing milk for commercial purposes. While it informally makes raw milk available to dairy family members, employees, and a few friends, this practice is an afterthought, not at all part of its distribution model. 

But Food Safety News didn’t want to deal with the subject of two raw milks, so it developed another spin:

“It may actually be an example of the sort of conventional dairy identified last year by author David Gumpert, who said some farms operate dual systems, one supplying milk for pasteurization and the other for raw milk.  (Gumpert wrote The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights in 2009.)

“A year ago last May, in the online publication Grist, Gumpert reported on the dispute within the Organic Valley cooperative over its board’s decision to prohibit members from selling raw milk, which an estimated 10 percent were doing.”

A few readers who sent me links to the Food Safety News item were upset about its interpretation.

“More of the public needs to know, also, that raw milk, from responsible dairies, has been cunningly slandered by (this depiction of) the WI case,” said one.

“Cunningly slandered”–that’s an excellent way to describe it. The Grist piece I wrote about Organic Valley was about its decision to crack down on dairies that are primarily raw milk producers, which sell their leftover milk to Organic Valley. This practice infuriated many Organic Valley producers which, like the Wisconsin dairy that caused the campylobacter outbreak, choose to send all their milk to the processor…at much lower prices than selling raw milk. Moreover, as demand for raw milk has soared, Organic Valley found itself getting less and less milk from the raw dairies.  

The problem with commercial dairies even giving away raw milk is that such milk truly is a high risk, though probably more risky to friends that rarely drink raw milk than to family and employees who have built up immunity to the frequently occurring pathogens.

The key point is that the food safety zealots must hold onto their ideology that says all raw milk is inherently unsafe. So they twist the reality to suit their fantasy world.


A good number of the herdshares springing up in California appear to be producing goat’s milk. Is that a sign of growing interest in non-cow raw dairy? No one knows for sure, but Pat Walling wants to make the case for raw milk afficionados expanding their horizons. She’s a blogger. >Cow’s milk is by far the most popular milk in the country, but there are several other raw milks deserving of consideration. While they may not be as popular because of their unusual taste or the rarity of the animals used to produce the milk, it has important benefits.

My first encounter with raw milk at all was actually on a trip to Mongolia last summer, where every herder I met in the Gobi desert presented me with hot milk or milk tea, called suu te tsai. This was made either with sheep, goat or camel milk. Another drink I would enjoy if I became friends with the herders was khoomis, which is made from fermented horse mare’s milk. While at first the flavors were shocking to a cow-milk-fed girl from the States, I found myself coming to really enjoy them, and even missing them upon my return home.

Raw horse milk is not consumed “straight” because the lactose content is significantly higher than cow’s milk, and even med students going for their medical billing certification can tell you that that would make it a laxative. However, when it’s fermented, the bacteria in raw milk break down the lactose into alcohol and other sugars, so it becomes drinkable even by people who don’t produce any lactase.

The other milks I mentioned, thankfully, have a much lower lactose content, so they can be drunk straight from the goat so to speak.  Goat milk has a similar lactose content to cows (4.1 percent as opposed to 4.7 percent), but is more digestible thanks to having fewer allergenic proteins. Sheep’s milk has a higher lactose content, but the nutritional value is very high and it has more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which may help to prevent cancer. Camel milk tastes heavy and salty, but not only can it be drunk by lactose intolerants, it has tons of CLA and has been proven to help relieve a whole slough of medical issues from Autism to Diabetes.

Pasteurization of these milks may destroy a great deal of the positive effects of these milks, which is a terrible shame. Besides the health benefits, though, these milks are really quite delicious and should not be missed out on, even if at first they may seem a little strange.