For Raw Milk Farmers, Youre Damned If People Do or Dont Get Sick

I was thinking as I was writing yesterday’s post that the Utah situation felt eerily like what happened in California last September–people becoming ill, but no trace of bugs in the suspected raw milk. Then I thought that maybe I was trying to read too much into it. But Mary McGonigle Martin picked up on it as well.

All of which got me wondering, as many of us have wondered at different times when these situations come up, about just what’s behind these mysterious illnesses that flare up around raw milk. Knowing what we know about the agriculture and public health authorities, it’s not unrealistic to suspect them of making raw milk a scapegoat, as it were, for illnesses they can’t trace. But then again, maybe certain dangerous bacteria just appear for a brief amount of time, as Steve Bemis suggests, and then disappear.

And then there are the non-illnesses. I keep reading, particularly out of Pennsylvania, that supposedly dangerous bacteria are discovered in raw milk during routine inspections…yet no one seems to become sick. In one recent case, the Pennsylvania Health Department and Department of Agriculture warned anyone who bought milk from a particular dairy after May 8—a month ago—to dispose of it. It sounds so ominous. But amazingly, no one has become ill. For milk that old, it’s almost certainly been consumed.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if, instead of taking an adversarial approach, these agriculture and health bureaucrats took a more inquisitive approach. What is going on here? Maybe we can learn something about the nature of raw milk, and people’s immune systems, that would help people consume raw milk, as well as other foods, more wisely than they do now.

But, of course, that isn’t what happens. It’s always something to the effect: We’ve been telling you for decades that raw milk is dangerous, so if you get sick, it’s not because we didn’t warn you.

Actually, they are saying more than that. They want the farmers to give up this crazy old-fashioned natural approach to farming and get with the program—as Dave Milano so well describes it, “when nature is shoe-horned into the industrial ag’ box.”

When people still get sick from food-borne illnesses, like that affecting spinach, lettuce, peanut butter and hamburger meat, the officials sing a different tune. Then, it’s a matter of either getting the farmers and producers to run cleaner operations, or else getting the processors to stamp out the damned germs (more pasteurization, irradiation).

In other words, when products coming from the industrial system make people sick, it’s a matter of a little fine tuning. No one in authority ever seems to ask the hard questions. Is there a double standard at work here? I wonder if that has something to do with job security.

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2 Comments on "For Raw Milk Farmers, Youre Damned If People Do or Dont Get Sick"

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June 6, 2007 10:35 pm

Wonderful insights, David. The same principle is at work during epidemics. Why don’t some people get sick when many of their fully vaccinated brethern do? Is there a differnce in susceptiblity (almost certainly), and if so, why? What makes some people’s immune system more robust — diet, lack of chemical insults, hereditary (by which I mean more than genes)? Why aren’t we studying this?

Our whole medical model studies sickness instead of fostering health.

Another interesting question in all of this and one that has persisted for me since reading about Mary’s son Chris and the California illnesses that were ascribed to raw milk: What if there was some synergy there, some interplay between several factors, say, raw milk and e.Coli spinach? What if it just wasn’t one factor?

We know so little about single variables that polysylabic variation is almost mindboggling in its complexity and possibilty. There is so much we don’t know…

June 10, 2007 11:57 pm

Give me a break Suzanne. Five kids got sick and we were told that ALL five got sick from the same source. ALL FIVE KIDS DRANK ORGANIC PASTURES MILK. Why is it so hard to believe that it is the milk.???? I doubt, very highly, that all five kids ate or drank the EXACT same things on the same days. This is nothing to wonder about. You all talk about the bureaucrats and how the regulate or not regulate certain foods yet are so blind to the truth. I have read every excuse in the book on this site…Its amazing what you all have come up with. BLAME everything else but the real source.