By Rady Ananda
In another frenzy by freaked out regulators, the California Dept of Food and Agriculture recalled raw milk products from Organic Pastures Dairy Co. in Fresno, after five children became ill and admitted to drinking raw milk from OPDC. Tests confirmed, however, that the products did not contain the variety of E. coli known as O157:H7 from which the children suffered.
“Each month [the California Dept of Public Health] tests all Organic Pastures’ products for pathogens,” explained owner Mark McAfee in a public statement. “In addition, Organic Pastures uses a third party for pathogen testing multiple times per week. All these tests have been negative.”
Three of the five children were hospitalized with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious condition that may lead to kidney failure, reports the CDFA.
The recall of Nov. 15 covered of all OPDC’s raw dairy products with the exception of cheese aged a minimum of 60 days, which includes its “Truly Raw Cheese.” Also not affected is the farm’s organic beef and organic eggs.
O157:H7 is a type of E. coli that causes disease by production of the Shiga toxin. “The bacteria that make these toxins are called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or STEC for short,” reports the Centers for Disease Control. People acquire a STEC infection by ingesting feces – usually by unwashed foods, but also from animal contact or even from swimming pools.
McAfee is one of the key raw dairy advocates in California, long being a thorn in the side of regulators who seek to criminalize “nature’s perfect food” to the benefit of monopoly milk producers.
While the debate over the health benefits of raw milk rages on, it is exceedingly rare for anyone to become ill from it. As reported in my recent piece on the global milk wars, amid a 15-year battle in Australia, food standard authorities admit that “fewer than 10 people” have become ill from raw dairy in the past decade.
In the US, according to data collected by raw milk opponent Bill Marler, at least 158 people became ill from raw milk products in 2010. Among nine million raw dairy fans, that’s an illness incidence rate of 2/1000 of a percent, or one illness for every 41,000 raw dairy imbibers.*
However, according to analysis of government data by retired pathologist Dr Ted Beals, an average of 47 people become ill each year from raw milk (and zero deaths) in the past 12 years in the US.
Despite the conflicting data, food business writer David Gumpert estimates that of the 21-25 thousand foodborne illnesses reported each year to the Centers for Disease Control, about one-half of one percent result from contaminated raw dairy.
California has simply targeted a chief proponent of raw milk, shutting down his business without evidence that his dairy caused the STEC infection. Can you imagine the CDFA trying to do that to a multi-billion dollar dairy corporation? Talk about myth-based vs. science-based regulators.
*Updated Jan. 8, 2012 to correct that Dr Beals did not claim no illnesses, but rather no deaths, from raw milk.
*Updated Nov. 23 to include Marler’s data. To reach 158, I excluded his erroneous inclusion of “raw” milk illnesses when 18 children became ill in Wisconsin, since the milk was from a dairy CAFO that was intended to be pasteurized, but was stolen by the farmer’s relative who provided it to a school. Gumpert predicted that “raw milk opponents would try to categorize that case as a raw milk problem.”
Marler is aware of his continuing erroneous claim, given his response to my article on the subject. He is fully aware, based on his chart, that the milk was intended to be pasteurized. No one can drink raw milk from a dairy that intends to pasteurize it because of the filthy conditions under which that milk is produced. All of it is contaminated, so it is disingenuous for Attorney Marler to label this a “raw” milk outbreak.