Tuesday, February 21, 2012

CDC has a Raw Milk Problem

Updated 2/22/2012: To be fair, Claravale dairy, discussed below, is being investigated for a possible campylobacter outbreak. The dairy voluntarily recalled it's milk products. Sally Fallon of the WAPF rebuts the CDC article linked to below in a press release today. It's contents will be published at the end of the article. My only comment is that the facts and figures make my head spin and it's hard to trust either side who makes such hardline cases for and against raw milk. I just know I will no longer feed it to my family.


If you didn't already know that I used to be a member (well, technically I still am a member through the Spring, at which time I won't be renewing) of a cultish like group that claims superior health benefits from drinking raw milk and claims raw milk is inherently safe because it kills pathogenic bacteria, well, now you do. Dear Sally Fallon of the Weston A. Price Foundation and any other group that makes such wholly inaccurate claims: "Here's your sign"

Why the angst? I used to feed raw milk to my children from Organic Pastures dairy and Claravale dairy, the two legal and regulated dairies in California. I blindly listened to Sally Fallon and thought it was safe!  Back in August, when I was shocked out of my idealistic sunshine and rainbows world by the Healthy Family Farms/Rawesome saga, I spoke with a lady who is very close to raw milk politics here in California. The inevitable questions she always gets from the newly enlightened raw milkies like myself are somewhere along these lines: "Should I drink the raw milk? Should I feed it to my kids?" Her answer to such a query from me, loosely paraphrased: "I've drunk enough raw milk in my life to know that my campy titers are probably through the roof." "Campy?" I said. "Campylobacter, it's a raw milk pathogen." "Oh" I said, sheepishly, feeling guilty about never knowing such a pathogen could exist in my raw milk. "As for my children, well, they probably don't have as much immunity as I do."  I was crushed. From then on I continued to buy Claravale milk only for myself but Strauss for the kids. Organic Pastures had a history of outbreaks, I soon learned. But Claravale, I reasoned, had never been associated with an outbreak in CA. They are a small operation with a closed herd. They MUST do it right, and their milk MUST be the safest, I hoped.

Well, after following raw milk politics closely since that August of 2011, Organic Pastures came down with an e.coli outbreak that sickened 5 children with 3 hospitalized. A raw milk dairy called "Your Family Cow" in Pennsylvania had a "campy" outbreak that sickened at last count 77 people.

The latest Campy outbreak, and perhaps most depressing for myself, is out of, you guessed it, Claravale. This farm was held up by some members of WAPF as a model raw milk dairy. I haven't met Ron Garthwaite, owner of Claravale, but I've heard he is a true dairyman and takes his raw milk quite seriously. The fact that he isn't such a smooth talking salesman like Mr. McAfee of Organic Pastures kinda endeared me to the guy. My heart breaks because I used to by his milk for my children. Just like with Organic Pastures dairy, those sick kids could have been mine. Those sick adults could have been me.

Thank you, dear Ethicurian, for helping my put my head on straight and sort through the disillusion. After reading this blog post, you might understand why we moms get a little bit ticked off when it comes to lies about raw milk.

I'd like to leave you with a comment on this post on The Complete Patient blog from a person who claims to have been sickened in the outbreak from the Pennsylvania dairy, "Your Family Cow". Just in case you might follow the raw milk supporters line of reasoning and feel that Campylobacter is not such a big deal:

"I am a victim of this tainted raw milk. In my life on this planet I drank raw milk ONCE! And it nearly killed me! About two weeks ago, I was so sick I almost wished I would die. I will never drink raw milk again, EVER! I do not care how clean your new facilities are or how nutritious raw milk is supposed to be. Thank God for Pasteurization!

I thankfully did not give any of the tainted milk to my grandchildren who I baby sat that day. Their young metabolism may not have been able to fight off this horrible infection. I am still not fully recovered but thankfully am getting better! I now worry about the possible complications down the road, but that is a concern for another day. All the science talk about how to clean this or that is all fine and good for future avoidance of such errors. But I have never been so ill as I was that week and a half. I do not have the time nor patience to read all the commentary above. All I can ask is "What about the victims?"
February 9, 2012 | Registered Commenterbill walker"


Dear Members,
Yesterday the CDC issued a press release claiming a rate of 150 times more outbreaks from raw milk than pasteurized.  We have prepared the press release below, with a critique of their data.
Please send this press release to your local newspapers and post on your various email lists and websites.  You can also use the information below to write to local newspapers and your elected officials.
Thank you for joining us in raw milk activism!
Sally Fallon Morell, President
Kathy Kramer, Executive Director
Agency ignores data that shows dangers of pasteurized milk
WASHINGTON, DC, February 21, 2012. In a press release issued today, authors affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control claim that the rate of outbreaks caused by unpasteurized milk and products made from it was 150 times greater than outbreaks linked to pasteurized milk.” The authors based this conclusion on an analysis of reports submitted to the CDC from 1993 to 2006.
According the Weston A. Price Foundation, the CDC has manipulated and cherry picked this data to make raw milk look dangerous and to dismiss the same dangers associated with pasteurized milk.
“What consumers need to realize, first of all,” said Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, “is that the incidence of foodborne illnesses from dairy products, whether pasteurized or not, is extremely low.  For the 14-year period that the authors examined, there was an average of 315 illnesses a year from all dairy products for which the pasteurization status was known.  Of those, there was an average of 112 illnesses each year attributed to all raw dairy products and 203 associated with pasteurized dairy products.
“In comparison, there are almost 24,000 foodborne illnesses reported each year on average.  Whether pasteurized or not, dairy products are simply not a high risk product.”
Because the incidence of illness from dairy products is so low, the authors’ choice of the time period for the study affected the results significantly, yet their decision to stop the analysis with the year 2006 was not explained.  The CDC’s data shows that there were significant outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to pasteurized dairy products the very next year, in 2007: 135 people became ill from pasteurized cheese contad with e. coli, and three people died from pasteurized milk contaminated with listeria (wwwn.cdc.gov/foodborneoutbreaks/Default.aspx).
Outbreaks from pasteurized dairy were also a significant problem in the 1980s.  In 1985, there were over 16,000 confirmed cases of Salmonella infection that were traced back to pasteurized milk from a single dairy.  Surveys estimated that the actual number of people who became ill in that outbreak were over 168,000, “making this the largest outbreak of salmonellosis ever identified in the United States” at that time, according to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
According to Fallon Morell “In the context of the very low numbers of illnesses attributed to dairy in general, the authors’ decision to cut the time frame short, as compared to the available CDC data, is troubling and adds to questions about the bias in this publication.”

According to Fallon Morell, the CDC’s authors continue to obscure their study by failing to document the actual information they are using. They rely on reports, many of which are preliminary. Of the references related to dairy outbreaks, five are from outbreaks in other countries, several did not involve any illness, seven are about cheese-related incidents, and of the forty-six outbreaks they count, only five describe any investigations.
Perhaps most troubling is the authors’ decision to focus on outbreaks rather than illnesses.  An “outbreak” of foodborne illness can consist of two people with minor stomachaches to thousands of people with bloody diarrhea.  In addressing the risk posed for individuals who consume a food, the logical data to examine is the number of illnesses, not the number of outbreaks. 
“The authors acknowledge that the number of foodborne illnesses from raw dairy products (as opposed to outbreaks) were not significantly different in states where raw milk is legal to sell compared with states where it is illegal to sell,” notes Judith McGeary of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance.  “In other words, had the authors looked at actual risk of illness, instead of the artificially defined “outbreaks,” there would have been no significant results to report.”
This does not end the list of flaws with the study, however.  The link between the outbreaks and the legal status of raw dairy mixed an entire category of diverse products. Illnesses from suitcase style raw cheese or queso fresco were lumped together with illnesses attributed to fluid raw milk, a much less risky product.  In the majority of states where the sale of raw fluid milk is allowed, the sale of queso fresco is still illegal.  The authors had all of the data on which products were legal and which products allegedly caused the illnesses, yet chose not to use that data.
Similarly, to create the claimed numbers for how much riskier raw dairy products are, the authors relied on old data on raw milk consumption rates, rather than using the CDC’s own food survey from 2006-2007.  The newer data showed that about 3 percent of the population consumes raw milk—over nine million people--yet the authors chose instead to make conclusions based on the assumption that only 1 percent of the dairy products in the country are consumed raw.
The authors also ignored relevant data on the populations of each state.  For example, the three most populous states in the country (California, Texas, and New York) all allow for legal sales of raw milk; the larger number of people in these states would logically lead to larger numbers of illnesses than in low-population states such as Montana and Wyoming and has nothing to do with the fact that raw milk is illegal in those states.
“It would hardly be surprising to see some sort of increase in foodborne illnesses related to a food where that food is legal,” said McGeary.  “If we banned ground beef, we’d see fewer illnesses related to ground beef products.   Yet this new study fails to prove even that common-sense proposition, even as it claims to prove a great deal more.  What the data really shows is that raw dairy products cause very few illnesses each year, even though the CDC data indicates that over 9 million people consume it.” 
Contact:  Kimberly Hartke, Publicist, The Weston A. Price Foundation
703-860-2711, 703-675-5557
The Weston A. Price Foundation is a 501C3 nutrition education foundation with the mission of disseminating accurate, science-based information on diet and health. Named after nutrition pioneer Weston A. Price, DDS, author of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, the Washington, DC-based Foundation publishes a quarterly journal for its 13,000 members, supports 500 local chapters worldwide and hosts a yearly conference. The Foundation headquarters phone number is (202) 363-4394, www.westonaprice.org, info@westonaprice.org.


  1. I have received info from Claravale (via my buying club) about a POSSIBLE outbreak. They voluntarily pulled their products pending investigation. So far all tests have been negative.

    1. Oh, good to know. Claravale has really great tasting raw milk and I'm glad that Garthwaite voluntarily pulled their product. I still won't be giving raw milk to my children any time soon.

  2. I've actually met Ron from claravale. Seems serious about his work and pretty fair about pricing. Glad he's in my back yard

  3. I've actually met Ron from claravale. Seems serious about his work and pretty fair about pricing. Glad he's in my back yard