I described recently how difficult I found it to explain to a cousin just what all the controversy over raw milk is really about.

When I read the comments on my interview with the California regulator, I appreciated once again how complicated this subject is. This stuff about fecal coliforms, coliform mastitis, SPC, and colostrum contamination is amazingly involved.

Some of the comments, especially as concerns the illnesses of six California children in 2006, cover ground well hashed over here at various times during the last year-and-a-half. I think, though, that the tone of the discussion is more respectful than it has ever been on this topic, which seems to make the current discussion more of a learning experience and less of a pitched battle.

One especially revealing piece of new information, for me, is the California Department of Public Health report Darwin linked to on the campylobacter outbreak in late 2007, apparently blamed on Organic Pastures Dairy Co. (There aren’t that many raw milk dairies in Fresno.) Talk about complicated…or maybe I’m just a little slow. Anyway, here is a simplistic explanation of what I got out of the report:

— Two siblings who had consumed raw milk got bad upset stomachs in late 2007, and one was diagnosed with campylobacter.

— The state asked local public health officials to send along all the cases of campylobacter from raw milk they could identify, and five more were identified.

— The state then asked local public health officials to send along all campylobacter cases they could come up with from the same period of late 2007.

— A small number of departments responded, and forwarded the names of 80 people who had been infected.

— Of those 80, two had consumed Dairy A’s raw dairy products (and two more raw milk cheese from unknown sources).

— In total, eight Campylobacter cases were diagnosed that had consumed Dairy A raw dairy products, and three more were suspected.

— The remaining 76 cases of the 80 sent in by public health officials showed “no common exposures… such as a single brand of poultry, seafood, or travel exposure.”

— Presumably we’ll never know what made the other 76 people sick–whether it was two pieces of salami and 74 different restaurants or.. three pieces of chicken, eight hamburger patties, and 65 different restaurants…or five bad bags of spinach and two takeout orders of sushi and and 15 burrito trucks and 54 different restaurants…You get my drift here.

— The state’s conclusion is “that a limited amount of contminated Dairy A product was available for a brief period…”

Something is wrong with this picture. Perhaps I’m missing something–the report is quite dense and difficult to follow. In the end, I’m left with this question: Are California public health officials so lacking in tools or so incompetent that all they can ever spot with reasonable certainty are cases of raw milk contamination, to the exclusion of everything else?