Hey, When Raw Milk Data Don’t Go Your Way, Try Some Gymnastics, Like CDC Does; Another Look at Harvard Debate

During the raw milk debate at Harvard Law School last Thursday, I criticized our opponents for their failure to present data, as in real understandable numbers.

I had gone to the trouble of analyzing data from official statistics provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control–supposedly the gold standard of foodborne illness data. (Some of what I presented was CDC data extracted by the MarlerClark firm, certainly no friend of raw milk.)  I found that, over the last decade, between 25 and 175 individuals have been reported ill each year from raw milk. Moreover, I found that the number of illnesses is generally in the vicinity of .5% (one-half of one per cent) of the total number of 23,000-25,000 foodborne illnesses reported each year. (The preceding link goes to the 2008 number, the most recent reported, and that number is down on the order of 1,000 or more from the immediately preceding years.) That’s a very small percentage, given that 3% of the population has been found, by the CDC, to be drinking raw milk.

Why wouldn’t the opponents comment on the numbers I had compiled from CDC data, or present numbers of their own? For a very good reason. The numbers suggest that because raw milk contributes such a miniscule proportion of all reported foodborne illnesses, it’s nothing approaching a significant public health problem.

So what do you do if it gets embarrassing to ignore the numbers? If you’re a good bureaucratic number cruncher, you raise a lot of dust and say, “He went thataway!” In other words, you distort and distract, you do anything to avoid discussing the truth.

That is what the CDC did yesterday in publishing a study assessing illnesses from raw and pasteurized dairy over the 14 years of 1993-2006. “Nonpasteurized products caused a disproportionate number (≈150× greater/unit of product consumed) of outbreaks and outbreak-associated illnesses,” it concluded in its abstract.

I would be content to ignore these ideologues, except the major media pick up on such pronouncements, coming as they do from the august CDC, the place where all things concerning the science of health are validated. Here’s how USA Today led off its article on the study: “Unpasteurized milk, touted as the ultimate health food by some, is 150 times more likely to cause food-borne illness outbreaks than pasteurized milk…”

What’s the problem with this “study”? Because the most important number, the number of illnesses, doesn’t prove CDC’s point that raw milk is terribly dangerous, it pulls the old switcheroo–it focuses on “outbreaks.” It’s long been known, and acknowledged all around, that there are more raw milk outbreaks than pasteurized milk outbreaks. But when there are pasteurized milk outbreaks, they can be doozies. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were pasteurized milk outbreaks affecting tens of thousands of people. One in 1994 sickened 224,000 people who ate pasteurized-cream ice cream. The true cause was never pinpointed–whether it was the cream or the eggs. That outbreak doesn’t seem to have made it into Langer’s study. I also don’t see mention of a 2006 outbreak in which 1,300 California prisoners were sickened by pasteurized milk.  

Indeed, Langer whitewashes illnesses from pasteurized milk–those were flukes, it was the consumer’s fault, the food handlers’ fault. Excuses, excuses. He says of illnesses from pasteurized milk that “at least 4 (57%) probably resulted from post-pasteurization contamination by an infected food handler. Failure of the consumer to store the dairy product at an appropriate temperature probably contributed to 3 other outbreaks. Such temperature abuse can enable pathogens (present because they either survived pasteurization in low numbers or were introduced after pasteurization) to multiply to concentrations capable of causing illness.” I love it. “Temperature abuse.” Is that akin child abuse?

The important number–the number of illnesses–is buried deep in the CDC study. That number is 1,571 illnesses attributed to raw dairy over the 14 years of the study. It works out to an average of 112 per year. As I said, there are between 25 and 175 reported illnesses each year.

I actually wrote about the lead author, Adam Langer, a few years ago, when he came up with this truly perceptive insight: In states that prohibit raw milk, there are fewer illnesses from raw milk than in states that allow raw milk. As I wrote at the time, you’d likely have the same phenomenon with any foods–ban deli meats in one state and you’ll have fewer illnesses from deli meats than in another state where they’re allowed. This bizarre insight is one of Langer’s key conclusions for this latest paper.

It’s supposed to be about safety, but we see yet again that it’s really about politics and propaganda. Don’t know why I’m always surprised. Guess I just had it drilled into me too many times that the CDC cares about the science.

The Boston Globe has a nice wrapup of last week’s raw milk debate. It doesn’t take a stand, just reports the facts, along with good atmosphere and nice photos.

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16 Comments on "Hey, When Raw Milk Data Don’t Go Your Way, Try Some Gymnastics, Like CDC Does; Another Look at Harvard Debate"

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February 22, 2012 11:29 pm

I'd posted the following on the previous article, so am reposting it here:

Here's a long but interesting 2001 article about British cheesemakers under threat from over-regulation, which corresponds with raw milk here in the U.S.:

For example:
"EU regulation imposes a `zero tolerance' for Listeria monocytogenes in cheese but it does not apply to other foods such as pates, meats and salads. However, it is the consumption of meat products that contributes to the majority of food poisonings. … This is even more surprising in the view of the fact that `several countries have concluded that the complete absence of Listeria monocytogenes for certain ready-to-eat foods is an unattainable and unrealistic requirement that would restrict food production and consumption without having a positive impact on public health'."

and: "What is needed is a rational approach towards hygiene and regulation but not one where food is rendered totally sterile. Good hygiene combined with encouragement of local products and the promotion of vigorous good health is not only possible but necessary."

And lots more….

February 23, 2012 1:07 am

David-can you cite the reference for the 23,000-25,000 cases of foodborne illness. I am interested in looking at these further.

The Complete Patient
February 23, 2012 1:25 am


Try this. It's the 2008 total, down on the order of 1,000 or more from immediately preceding years:



Mark McAfee
February 23, 2012 7:33 am

Great job David, I enjoyed your talk and you guys did a wonderful job defending and defining the raw milk market situation / condition etc….

At the end of the day…the data lies told and spun by the CDC are lies. Just lies. Lies are very interesting, they turn on their tellers. In fact ….they turn very badly on their tellers and the truth of the dollar voting markets never lie.

OPDC sales are a barometer of the truth. People learn of the truth through their own experience and they know it as the truth. It is their experience and when they compare their experience to the CDC lies…they really get pissed off. OPDC has made it our business to expose and uncover this disparity. When a state has 35 million people in it….it takes just a slight percentage of those millions to create a very viable market niche. This niche is very loud and very smart and very communicative and is growing wildly.

Watch out lies…the truth will catch up to you and when it does….jobs will be lost and heads will roll.


The Complete Patient
February 23, 2012 7:56 am

Thank you, Mark.

I agree with you about lies. They also make people ever more cynical about their government. They may not expect truth from politicians, but they hope against hope that scientists charged with overseeing public health are being honest and straightforward. To see them repeatedly resort to data distortions, essentially lies, for propaganda purposes is depressing. Like you say, it will come back to bite them at some point when they are trying to communicate serious important information, and people have stopped believing them.


Sylvia Gibson
February 23, 2012 8:21 am

"They may not expect truth from politicians, but they hope against hope that scientists charged with overseeing public health are being honest and straightforward."

So true. The lawyer just regurgitated the govts same old stories. Where does he get off saying we don't have the right to consume what we want? If I was sitting a jury, he would not have even remotely swayed me to listen to his side….He was not impressive and I would not choose him if I needed a lawyer.

This really didn't appear to be a debate to me, nothing new was presented by either side…except your stats that corrected the govts lies.



Milky Way
February 23, 2012 11:52 am

Regarding the debate, the data wins. Take a deep, cold drink of your raw milk. The data shows you have a Campyobacter problem going back decades, and since the 2000's you have an E. coli 0157 problem (independent of Listeria in pasteurized milk or melons – that's their problem).

The raw milk industry has a Campylobacter and E.coli O157 problem.

What are you going to do to address it? The government isn't going to fix it.

Spin it? The customers made sick will be your downfall – free market…


February 23, 2012 12:20 pm


I have not had an opportunity to look at the paper you are basing your statistics on, but your calculations are clearly wrong.

You stated that there is on average 112 cases/year of foodborne illness due to raw milk consumption and there is a total of 23,000 total cases of foodborne illness annually in the US.

112 divided by 23,000 is approximately .005, you need to multiply by 100 to make it a percentage. So using your numbers, the percent of raw cases is about 0.5%.

Gordon Watson
February 23, 2012 1:11 pm

excellent point, Milky Way

setting aside the fact that Dr Ted Beals' analysis came to a very different conclusion, using the same DC numbers as the CDC, I do agree that the govt. isn't going to fix it. Because they're part of the problem

George Jonas is doing some brilliant writing lately in the National Post. He brings to it, his experience growing up under communism in Hungary. A column entitled the Protection Racket / gun control, about Ian Thomson who drove off 3 men intent on fire-bombing his home, by firing a shot in the air, pertains to REAL MILK. Of course in the Aburdistan known as Canada, he was charged with unsafe storage of firearms. Jonas says " Mr Thomson ran afoul of a docrine dominant in interventionist societies. It holds that anything for which the state has no solution, is insoluble" also " without a monopoly on protection, government's monoply on co-ercion become endangered"

the apparatchiks who implement agricultural policy are lost for a way to deal with the bio-hazards resulting from a couple of generations of utterly perverse food production. But we raw milk producers are not. For instance, the B2P micro-lab is the kind of science they cannot argue with. Along with software programs like "This Fish" to trace a jar from the milking parlor to the consumer's fridge, etx. If a problem shows up, a simple recall is all that's necessary. Or is it that there's some ulterior reason for NOT treating REAL MILK same as every other food stuff?

My website is something of an early-warning system. For the last 5 years, the average of one inquiry per day picks up just before a major piece of mudslinging by the dairy cartel. That syndrome proves that the strength of the movement is the cynicism which enveloped the Soviet union as it went to pieces … the govt. was so thoroughly discredited that people assumed that whatever it put out, was the opposite of the Truth.

Jesus said "the poor you will always have with you" … similarly, there will always be people getting food poisoning. Regardless = informed consumers are demanding REAL MILK and the free market will meet that demand.

The Complete Patient
February 23, 2012 8:36 pm

You are correct. I stated it that way in the debate (one-half of one per cent), but didn't write it correctly above. I've corrected it.

Milky Way,
You make a good point. There's an inconsistency here, though. The chicken industry has a much worse campylobacter and salmonella problem (on the order of 60% or more of all chicken is contaminated, according to Consumer Reports surveys, and chicken is a leading cause of illness, according to CDC data), yet we don't see chicken producers being arrested, or their plants shut down. I don't know what government is doing on that matter, but I suspect working more cooperatively than with raw dairy producers.

That doesn't mean raw dairy producers shouldn't work to reduce illnesses, and I said as much during the Harvard debate. But they shouldn't do it expecting the government offensive to ease up. There is absolutely no indication that if raw dairy producers eliminated entirely the problems you describe that there would be any change in the government's approach. The producers under the most regulatory pressure over the last year haven't made anyone sick. That's because the prevailing opinion at CDC and FDA, which call the shots for the states, is that raw milk is inherently unsafe.


Sylvia Gibson
February 24, 2012 4:26 am


"Director at the Department of Agriculture said the pulse-field gel electrophoresis, or genetic fingerprint, of the bacteria found in the Oct. 12 sample "did not match the PFGE pattern for those persons who became ill."

Brunton Dairy is facing two lawsuits filed in Allegheny County Court by individuals who said they became sick after consuming the dairy's products."

A "match" wasn't needed in 2006 for OP…..so these people will be getting the equivalent, right?

"but officials refused to comment on what had caused the contamination."

Why keep it a secret?


Why is there a need for anyone to "allow" private agreements between people?


1993-2006 was their "study" I can see why they left out the 1980s…bad years for pasteurized dairy….and in 2007 they killed people. Looks like pasteurized dairy caused much more illness than the lethal raw dairy.

"Page 1 1 Some Outbreaks Due to Pasteurized Milk
19761 outbreak Y. enterocolitica in 36 children, 16 of whom had
appendectomies, due to pasteurized chocolate milk1
1982Over 17,000 cases Y. enterocolitica in several states from milk
produced in Memphis, TN2
19831 outbreak, 49 cases, 14 deaths from L. monocytogenes in MA2
1984-853 outbreaks of antimicrobial-resistant S. typhimurium, at plant in
Melrose Park IL.The third wave had 16,284 confirmed cases; surveys
indicated as many as 197,581 persons may have been affected2
19851,500+ cases, Salmonella culture confirmed, in Northern IL2
1993-941 outbreak, 2014 cases/142 confirmed S. enteritidis due to
pasteurized ice cream in MN, SD, WI6
1995Outbreak of Yersinia enterocolitica in 10 children, 3 hospitalized due
to post-pasteurization contamination7
20001 outbreak, 98 cases/38 confirmed S. typhimurim in PA and NJ7
20051 outbreak, 200 cases C. jejuni in CO prison9
20061 outbreak, 1592 cases/52 confirmed C. jejuni infections in CA10
20071 outbreak, 3 deaths from L. monocytogenes in MA.11"

Dave Milano
February 24, 2012 4:56 am


I really liked your opening statement in the debate, and found Pritzkers, umm, interesting.

Its common practice to lead with ones perceived strength, and Pritzker did exactly that when he described his position as a response to facts. Facts are indeed a tremendous sales tool. The problem, of course, is that facts often arent.

Facts have a nasty habit of changing over time, and are sensitive to subjective analysis. And as anyone who has stepped unwittingly into deep water knows, there is a pretty wide truth/baloney continuum associated with facts. This is especially in evolving science (and all good science is evolving to one degree or another). The respected meta-researcher Dr. John Ioannides has made that point very well. Read a good lay article about him (from the November 2010 issue of The Atlantic Magazine) by googling Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science. Heres a line from the sub-headline:

Much of what medical researchers conclude in their studies is misleading, exaggerated, or flat-out wrong.

Pritzkers (and the regulatory bureaucracys) facts damn a substance that has sustained mankind healthfully for millennia. That those facts create suspicion ought to be no surprise.

Chef Jem
February 25, 2012 7:08 pm

The New Medicine acknowledges the interconnectedness between psyche-brain-body as a whole integrated organism. What appears to us as "disease" is revealed in this paradigm as an intelligent biological program. The program is immediately launched by the subconscious upon the sudden, unexpected shock conflict that catches the individual off guard. A shock conflict of this type can happen when a doctor delivers a diagnosis and/or a prognosis to their patient. The patient may consequently have a death-fright conflict.

I suspect that other individuals who assume any god-like authoritative positions in the world can also be the cause of shock conflicts in people who find themselves in their line of fire. I think this same well proven model (feel free to contact me for references) can be applied to the arena of government and especially in enforcement. Didn't Farmageddon include at least one example of that? In any case I know that there are examples of shock-conflicts induced in individuals by way of government agents who have displayed deadly force. This kind of impact is intended and when the agent has exceeded the limits of their jurisdiction the display is both a trespass and a personal injury. The key here is that we need to know the limits of the agent's territorial jurisdiction and preferably before having contact with the agents. I'm thinking firstly about the farmers and it can also include food club members and the like as well.

I'm currently in a Law course that I've enrolled in for the express purpose of supporting the small farmers and related communities to be more fully informed, better prepared and supported when contacted by government agents. I'd like suggestions on how support like this can be extended to those who want it. Contact me directly at chef@thesetruths.com

David Burla
March 4, 2012 4:59 am

****** "AMERICA IS UNDER ATTACK!" ****** Ver 7

United States of America is under attack you know,
By corrupt Globalists who are running the "SHOW",
They want to own the world and control your life,
And care not about you suffering a lot of strife.

Who are those demonic moron Globalists you ask?,
They're the Banksters, Politicians and Presidents,
They own the Corporations and RIG the Media you know.
To control what you see, hear and how your children grow.

They are planning for a "New World Order" Domination,
That includes criminal ways for mass De-population,
Like staging false flag attacks to pay their war machines,
Like poisoning air, food, water and by deadly Vaccines.

Ask Obama why he doesn't stop the tyranny,
Why on New Years Eve he signed the NDAA,
Why he cares not to help the hurting people,
'Cause he's a "PUPPET" and the people are sheeple!

The Bill of Rights are being trashed by engineered tyrannys,
Americans must unify to get back their Civil Liberties,
The Military pledged to protect "The Land of the Free",
And to fight invasion by a Foreign or "DOMESTIC ENEMY"!

Our Military should arrest the President and Politicians,
For breaking their Oaths to uphold the Constitution,
Failure to do so will guarantee an end to Democracy,
With No Rights or Free Will, like death is permanently.

So wake up America and break out of your trance,
And get serious against the present circumstance,
Go hound your State Senators and the President,
So Restoration of the Constitution has a good chance!

Poem 5, Ver 7
March 3, 2012

David Burla
March 4, 2012 5:01 am


American people question and wonder,
Why America lost it's "Financial Thunder",
Why jobless lines are reaching the sky,
Why Corporations legally cheat and lie.

People are suffering and people are dying,
The medical system cares not of your crying,
With the cost of living and taxes so high,
It makes you think and it makes you sigh.

Those behind the corruption and the crap,
Need to be arrested and given the strap!,
Problems need correction sooner than later,
Or be doomed to serve a "Fascist Dictator".

Blame Banksters, Politicians and Corporations,
For planning a "New World Order" Domination,
They plan to make the stock markets crash,
For they are "EVIL DOERS" with "MEGA CASH".

They will break your "Will" to make you ill,
And care not for Liberty or "Free Will",
They create tyranny by signing new laws,
Like beastly animals with "Killer Claws".

They want to control you and own your land,
They plan to put a "Implant" in your hand,
You won't be able to buy, sell or trade,
Without the "Mark of the Beast" to prove you paid.

They treat your water with Industrial Waste Fluoride,
To make you have cancer, disease and be a schizoid,
Monsanto genetically modified Nature's perfect seeds,
To "Depopulate" the world with "Slow Kill" food and feeds.

People can't afford Quality American Products,
Do to high taxes imposed by it's fascist government,
So Corporations pay offshore to build them to "spec",
Which closes our factories and creates unemployment.

Those Demons are trashing America's Constitution,
Forcing tyrannical laws and hurting "Our Great Nation",
Like "Indefinite Detainment" signed on New Years Eve,
Verified broken Oaths and "Sheeple" are naive.

Ron Paul for President would be the "First Choice",
To restore the Constitution and lower your voice,
And to make the economy work smooth and sensibly,
Would provide peace, happiness and no more tyranny.

Government must turn their "EVIL SHIP" around and do a 180,
Otherwise they're heading for a hot place known as HADES,
You too can make a change by getting off your chair,
And Voting for Ron Paul to show you really care!

Poem 3, Ver 3
Jan 23, 2012

David Burla
March 4, 2012 5:02 am


Blame the Banksters and Senate Institution,
For Fragmenting American Constitution,
The Sheeple glued to TVs and Entertainment,
Allowed NDAA signing Indefinite Detainment.

Dr. Ron Paul would restore the Constitution,
He believes Liberty and Justice is the Solution,
And by removing the Senate House Prostitution,
Would stop todays Tyranical Pollution.

Please Vote Ron Paul to WIN the race,
So Government Demons have a red face,
This can happen if you get off your chair,
And going to the polls to show you care!

Poem 1, Version 7
Jan. 2012


Americans will always remember,
The eleventh day of September,
When devils ordered airliners,
To fly into the twin towers.

Gold and Silver was the reason,
The Banksters did the treason,
They cared not who they killed,
As long as Satans deed was fulfilled.

God says vengeance is mine my son,
Day of judgment will surely come,
Especially to those killing innocent ones,
On September Eleven, Two Thousand and One.

Poem 4, Version 5
Sept. 2011