A suburban San Francisco pediatric practice says there is ever-more evidence connecting an outbreak of campylobacter among nine of its young patients to Claravale Farm, a producer of raw milk.

Dr. Lindy Woodard of Pediatric AlternativesWhat’s been the pediatric practice’s response? Well, it emailed an alert to all the 700 or so families on its patient list a week ago, and gave them a calm heads up. Calm, because this four-physician practice, Pediatric Alternatives, is unusual among pediatricians in that it actually recommends that parents feed their families raw milk.

“We know that many of you give your children raw milk at our recommendation,” the alert began. “Unfortunately, we have several children in the practice who have recently come down with a gastro-intestinal infection we suspect is associated with raw milk from the Claravale Dairy. So, as a precautionary measure, we are asking you not to give your children Claravale milk until this issue is resolved.

“The infection is from a bacteria called Campylobacter which causes a food poisoning type of diarrhea. Campylobacter can be acquired from many different types of foods, but also from other sources, like playing with puppies. Most of the time this infection is not severe, but occasionally children can get fever, chills and or diarrhea with blood in it. Usually the infection is allowed to resolve on its own, but for more severe cases it is treated with a short course of antibiotics. We are happy to report that the children who acquired the bug are all doing fine.”

Absent from the pediatricians’ email was the hyperbole that usually accompanies news of possible illnesses from raw milk trumpeted by the personal injury law firms, the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. None of the, “It can kill!” or “Raw milk should never be served to children…” that is the norm.

As the alert noted, it’s not an absolute certainty that Claravale’s milk was responsible. But, according to Lindy Woodard, one of three pediatricians at the practice, of nine children sickened by campylobacter over the past month, “All have been on Claravale raw milk.” “She added that there have been no reports of illness from drinking milk from Organic Pastures or from any of the herd share programs that families from the practice may participate in. Woodard estimates that between 20% and 30% of the approximately 1,000 children who are part of the practice drink raw milk. (Coincidentally, a few people linked to a video with Woodard, following my previous post, taken at a showing of the documentary “Farmageddon” last September.)

I wasn’t able to reach anyone at Claravale, nor is anything about possible illnesses posted on its web site. I wasn’t able to reach anyone a month ago, when word of illnesses came up in comments following my February 17 post. At that time, it was understood that possibly six children had become sick, and Claravale shut down for a week. Since then, another three children in the Pediatric Alternatives practice have become sick.

A number of people on this blog posted information they had in hand about a possible outbreak, and the Marler Blog used those comments to broadcast that illnesses at Claravale had been “outed”.

According to Woodard, the parents of sick children have been fairly calm. One told Woodard she wished the alert had been sent out sooner. And another has been in touch with area health departments to make sure they are aware (though laboratories routinely report newly discovered campylobacter cases to public health officials). One parent still had an unopened bottle of Claravale milk from several weeks ago, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture was understood to be picking it up for testing this coming week. Claravale was understood to have done extensive testing, that yielded negative results, when it closed for a week in February.  

The Pediatric Alternatives practice is unusual in that it not only recommends that parents include raw milk as part of children’s diet, but treats children whose parents refrain from vaccination, tries to avoid antibiotics, and offers “a naturopathic approach to allergy elimination through good nutrition and gut health.” Part of its “integrative” philosophy, as stated on its web site, is that “Food is medicine.”

“We’re the rabble rousers” among pediatric practices, says Woodard.

As for the illnesses, “I don’t think it is a big deal,” Woodard told me. By contrast, she noted that some estimates have it that more than half of all the nation’s chicken is tainted with campylobacter. The problems associated with the raw milk illnesses are, in the practice’s experience, far outweighed by the nutritional benefits for the children who drink raw milk. When their parents get rid of processed carbs and include raw milk, the children invariably “are glowing,” she says. 

I’ll make a couple predictions: The personal injury law firms will run with this story, and criticize both the pediatricians and the parents who use the pediatric practice. They notion of a calm rational approach to possible illness from raw milk doesn’t square with their fear mongering and desire to ban raw milk. And you know what? Pediatric Alternatives will gain new patients as a result.
I guess I’m one of the last to comment about the “pink slime” story that has been all the rage over the past couple weeks. To me, it’s just another example of hidden processing of our food–the kind most people prefer not to know about. But with the national television media practically shoving the pink slime in our faces, it was difficult to avoid. Also difficult to avoid is the reality that the U.S. Department of Agriculture isn’t about to require that labels for ground beef indicate whether it contains pink slime. (That could be an opportunity for some cute art work to indicate the presence of the stuff.)  To me, it is just another reason more people are trying to exit the public factory food system, and obtain their meat privately, from known sources.
I was able to spend some time at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases this past week in Atlanta, to try to improve my understanding of food safety issues. One of the things I learned was that, of the 146 illnesses and 31 deaths from listeria in cantaloupe last year, the vast majority of those affected (86%) were over 60 years old. And salmonella is the most common bacterial pathogen, accounting for 40% of all foodborne outbreaks. Outbreaks of salmonella in eggs have been on the decline, while those from norovirus in leafy greens have been on the increase.

There were some presentations I wouldn’t have expected, like one about how a home garden was contaminated by salmonella in manure from the owners’ horses, and another about the growing trend, and supposed dangers, of importing bushmeat from Africa.