At Last, Data on Raw Milk and Lactose Intolerance; Raw-Milk Legislation; A Pre-Internet Recollection

One of the benefits to emerge from the trauma of the Michigan “sting” of October 2006–when Richard Hebron was stopped, his raw-milk products confiscated, and his home searched–was an activist community of raw-milk consumers.

Hundreds wrote the Michigan Department of Agriculture, legislators, and county prosecutors to describe the benefits they gained from regularly consuming raw milk. Those letters helped convinced prosecutors and the MDA to back off on their temptation to file felony charges against Richard.

But, of course, as we all know, those stories of improved health don’t really count to health and medical scientists, since the experiences are considered “anecdotal.”

It turns out the Michigan raw-milk community didn’t stop with the letter-writing campaign. Led by a prominent Michigan pathologist, Ted Beals, and with backing from the Weston A. Price Foundation, these individuals decided to survey raw-milk drinkers about their experiences with lactose intolerance. They also engaged international research firm Opinion Research Corp. to conduct a national telephone survey to learn about the national incidence of lactose intolerance.

The results have finally been tabulated, and they provide convincing evidence for the long-stated claim that raw milk can usually be consumed by individuals with lactose intolerance.

Some 2,217 Michigan consumers of “fresh unprocessed milk” (the Michigan study’s term for raw milk) were surveyed, of whom 155, or 6%, said they had been “told by a healthcare professional they had lactose intolerance.” Of those 155, some 127 have no symptoms of lactose intolerance when drinking the fresh unprocessed milk—which is 82% of those with the lactose intolerance diagnosis.

Why is this a big deal? Because lactose intolerance is a major problem in the U.S. In surveying consumers nationally as part of the study, Opinion Research Corp. found that 15% of American households have at least one member who is lactose intolerant. Base on that finding, Opinion Research concluded that about 10% of the U.S. population, or about 29 million Americans, have lactose intolerance. Among children, Opinion Research extrapolated that the rates are even higher—some 18% of households with children, while the rate is 13% in households without children.

It would seem to make sense to make raw milk easily available to people with lactose intolerance—maybe allow them to have it with a doctor’s prescription. Maybe I better shut up before Big Pharma tries to make raw milk a mutibillion dollar prescription item. In any event, congrats to Ted Beals and his cohorts, including Steve Bemis, a Michigan lawyer, who have patiently been accumulating, collating, and assessing this data over the past seven months. Hopefully, they’ll get it published in a scholarly journal of some kind.


While New York’s Department of Agriculture and Markets continues trying out assorted tactics of authoritarian regimes to stamp out raw milk, a few states are moving in the opposite direction. Legislation loosening restrictions on raw milk is under consideration or about to be proposed in at least three states—Vermont, Maryland, and Missouri. In Vermont, legislation has been proposed to lift restrictions on the amount of raw milk dairy farmers can sell to consumers, while in Maryland, which has banned even cow shares, legislation has been introduced to allow direct farm-to-consumer sales; it is being actively promoted by the Maryland Independent Consumers and Farmers Association. And here’s a link to the Missouri legislation.

I should add, of course, that getting legislative permission to sell raw milk from the farm to consumers doesn’t ensure that regulators won’t try to throw their weight around to intimidate consumers, per the NY situation.  


I had a reminder today of just how far back my interest in sustainable farming goes (and how long I’ve been in this reporting biz). An article I wrote about homesteading back in the pre-pre-Internet days of the early 1970s, when I was a cub reporter for The Wall Street Journal, has shown up on the Internet. I recall that there was some debate internally at the WSJ to break the then-existing ban on photos by publishing some of this farm…but the idea was turned down, and remained in effect for many more years. The article turned out to be one of the most popular articles the WSJ ever ran to that time, eliciting hundreds of (snail mail) letters.

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24 Comments on "At Last, Data on Raw Milk and Lactose Intolerance; Raw-Milk Legislation; A Pre-Internet Recollection"

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February 24, 2008 3:55 am

I would have thought that the incidence of lactose intolerance would be less in children than in adults, since milk is the first food babies eat.

Gary Cox
February 24, 2008 9:47 pm

when i resigned from the ohio attorney general’s office to farm organically full time, i followed eliot’s model of season extension. using his model, i was able to grow many different types of veggies into jan and feb which i thought was impossible here in central ohio. amazing. he is right on. his book was my bible. i think the title is "the new organic gardener."

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
February 25, 2008 2:38 am


(I don’t know how factual these links are)

I am guessing here,I don’t know the exact stats on how many are breast fed vs bottle fed.Also the length of time for breast feeding, health of the mother and her diet intake are factors too. Perhaps it is the bottle fed who are among those lactose intolerant.

February 25, 2008 1:59 pm

Speaking of Science and the Scientific Record, a damning document was presented during the California hearings, entitled:

What does the science say?

Prepared by Michael Payne DVM, PhD
Western Institute for Food Safety and Security (WIFSS)
University of California, Davis

My source at the meeting reported that when this man spoke, all hope of total repeal of AB 1735 was lost – the committee was visibly shaken.

Now we have the text that he spoke from, and I hope that some of the knowledgeable contributors to this forum can help to refute his claims.

My word-for-word transcription of the document is… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
February 25, 2008 2:02 pm

I realize this is off topic, It appears this guy has some sort of supernatural powers. How does he know that all that beef from downer cows doesn’t put anyone at risk or even Low risk? And he fights against the low risk of raw milk. LMAO on that one.

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
February 25, 2008 2:24 pm

Jerome, Here’s the logo.

I didn’t see where any of that information was sited. So where is the science? If my feeble mind recalls correctly, much of that was repeated on other governmental web sites and I think different sites debunked quite a bit of that. (unfortunately most people do not research nor question issues) A good scientist always sites his/her work, to give credibility to it. It neglected to show where and how it obtained thier information, shame on them for being lousy scientists!

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
February 25, 2008 2:53 pm


On the site you posted #5 Contradicts page 2 the right side of top of page (that would look nice in court)

I would not doubt that there are other discrepancies along with alluding to illness caused by raw dairy without absolute proof. And we all know if the cows are ill and the dairy is dirty, you have a great potential of becoming sick, it ain’t rocket science.

Debunking the Inadequacies of the UC Davis information and showing both sides of the issue along with comparisons between raw and pasturization and the number of outbreaks from both… Read more »

Bob Hayles
February 25, 2008 8:21 pm

It won’t be refutation of "facts" detrimental to raw milk that wins this war. No matter how many facts and studies we debunk, the opposition will come up with more.

We will win on rights…the right to make our own nutritional choices REGARDLESS of whether those choices are smart or not, regardless of whether those choices fly in the face of "established science". We will win on rights or we won’t win.

Bob Hayles
Thornberry Village Homestead…a small goat dairy, owned by God, managed by Bob and Tyler.

Amanda Rose
February 26, 2008 12:52 am

I agree with Bob and I would add that there is a clear scientific argument to be made for not drinking raw milk. I still drink it — my decision is coming from a different sort of food philosophy.


Amanda Rose
February 26, 2008 9:15 am

Elizabeth — Read Michael Payne’s argument. You’ll find it all there. Those studies aren’t "wrong," it’s just that most of us here view the world differently. Food safety people also concern themselves over uninformed consumers and those of us here just want food choice — different perspectives.

Steve Bemis
February 26, 2008 9:31 am

There are substantial questions about most of the studies which Payne cites. Check it out, at where the FDA powerpoint citations of many of these cases are examined.

Amanda Rose
February 26, 2008 9:38 am

Here I write that the primary reason I drink raw milk is "passionate love," so you’ll get a sense of my point of view:

February 26, 2008 2:12 pm

the problem with most if not all of these "studies" is they are conducted on milk that comes from some feedlot dairy and is destined for the pasteurizer. So the studies are correct but they aren’t exactly unbiased when it comes to milk produced for raw consumption.

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
February 26, 2008 9:28 pm

I agree with Mac. The "studies" do appear to be done on milk from factory dairies destined for pasturization. I doubt any of us would consider drinking that milk especially in the raw.

Do these studies show which farms they were done at? For example Claravale? OP? Or any of the other raw dairies across the nation? Or were they done at the factory farms?

Claravale and OP have been serving raw milk for years; I don’t recall reading of any illnesses from those two dairies. Thus far, only speculation, nothing concrete.

Steve Bemis
February 26, 2008 10:46 pm

Sylvia – many of Payne’s studies are "old chestnuts" of the anti-raw milk crowd. Some, as already pointed out (and as Payne himself indicates) are from partially/poorly pasteurized milk, "suitcase" cheeses made from raw milk under poor conditions of hygiene and/or preservation, and in at least one case, deaths of elderly/hospitalized/terminal cancer patients who had been using raw milk as an attempted last-ditch cure and whose exact cause of death may have been questionable. Again, check out for a careful analysis of the facts behind many of them.

Amanda Rose
February 27, 2008 12:00 am

I guess I don’t understand the argument here since some of the data in the linked Payne testimony is from OP. I know there is disagreement here on whether there was an outbreak in 2006, but the fact that bacteria was found in the cows/heifers shows us that an outbreak *can* happen. The pasture based system surely is protective against an outbreak but it is not a guarantee.


February 27, 2008 5:22 am

From one of my favorite science blogs:

Should you be wondering about the relevance of this comment, it’s that officials use coliform levels as criteria tto close beaches even if the pathogen sickening the populace isn’t a coliform. Measuring coliform levels does not always mean bathing condiitions are safe.

Money quote:

But one of the things these studies show is that there are pathogens in recreational waters even when they meet standards deemed acceptable by state and federal bacterial standards. These beaches were legally open to the public. Thus the bacterial indicator standards are of doubtful protection.

Just another example… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
February 27, 2008 10:57 am


I would think and hope, that no one disputes that an out break "can" happen. We all know there are no guarantees in life. As stated in other posts "sh*t happens, no matter how careful you are.

Absolute proof that a bacteria came from a specific place,is one thing, condeming someone with speculation is wrong. (even oj walked, and I would swear he was guilty, but I assume that those on the jury did not have thier absolute proof-I did not follow that trial closely, he had a history of abusing..) I had thought in America, our laws are… Read more »

Amanda Rose
February 27, 2008 12:36 pm

I would like to hear the produce evidence in the 2006 outbreak. We’ve determined on this blog before that spinach wasn’t in common since not all children had it (though they could have been contaminated by spinach-eating friends or family I suppose). The fingerprint didn’t match the Buttonwillow lettuce case or the larger spinach case at the time.

But again, I am a bit lost on exactly what we are arguing about here. There were raw milk outbreaks. Whether we think the milk was inferior in those cases is another matter. Payne responds to that potential argument by… Read more »

Amanda Rose
February 27, 2008 11:52 pm

I just realized that this whole discussion is in the context of AB 1735. In my opinion, the only relevant thing to the Blue Ribbon Commission is the coliform count itself is 10 a reasonable requirement to protect consumers? Can producers meet it? This second question may only be important because of raw milk protection in California law.

I havent even looked back at the literature though I have seen the literature that previous posters have cited. It would be shocking to me if the group agrees on a new level.

Do we know if OP and Claravale… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
February 28, 2008 11:17 am


I don’t recall any definitive results between those children and the produce nor the OP dairy.

I do agree, what one wishes to consume, should be their choice and also should be accessable to them.

I think other states have a higher count than 10 and are doing ok, . What was the count last year between the 2 dairies? Since no one was sickened, I can only assume that it ok.

I did a brief net search in regards to the coliform counts and it appears that, depending on where the information is coming from, any number from… Read more »

February 29, 2008 6:26 pm

I had worked for a large dairy in California that had a long standing battle with another dairy and their selling of "raw milk" and milk without "BST" It was never explained as to the reasons behind this. I’m now wondering if it’s simple economics…More standards would be expected if all dairies provided "safe raw milk" consumers do have strong voices, look at the proliferation of organic milk.
As it is at the time I left the business that had that milk so dead it would last two weeks on the dairy shelf.

February 29, 2008 6:27 pm

I had worked for a large dairy in California that had a long standing battle with another dairy and their selling of "raw milk" and milk without "BST" It was never explained as to the reasons behind this. I’m now wondering if it’s simple economics…More standards would be expected if all dairies provided "safe raw milk" consumers do have strong voices, look at the proliferation of organic milk.
As it is at the time I left the business that had that milk so dead it would last two weeks on the dairy shelf.