“John, This Is Getting Away from You”–Listening in on John Sheehan’s Performance Review; New Video from GA Pour-Out

John Sheehan, director of the FDA’s division of plant and dairy food safety.I’d love to be a fly on the wall at the annual performance review of John Sheehan, the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s division of plant and dairy food safety,  America’s milk czar. But since the likelihood of that happening is much less than very unlikely, here’s how I’d imagine the conversation between Sheehan and Margaret Hamburg, the FDA commissioner:

Hamburg: So, John, I know you’re in charge of monitoring compliance with the PMO (Pasteurized Milk Ordinance). But all I keep hearing about is raw milk. You said here, in the goals you listed a year ago, that the “raw milk problem” would be on its way to being solved about now, that those “bandit” raw milk producers, as you referred to them, would be on the run, and within another year, raw milk would be nearly a distant memory.

Sheehan: Well, we’re working on it. You know, we did get a guilty plea on Organic Pastures Dairy Co., so it’s not shipping raw milk all over the country any more. That’s a lot of raw milk not going beyond California. We’re shorthanded on staff, as you know, but we have state ag people all over the country paying close attention. We’re telling them they better get on this, or they’ll see a drop in federal funding. Things are moving very well in Wisconsin. The dairy farmers selling raw milk are very much afraid. Kind of like shooting ducks in a barrel, one at a time, the guys out there tell me.

Hamburg: I don’t know, John. Everywhere I turn on the Internet and in the media, it seems there’s something about raw milk, and it’s almost never favorable to our side any more. Why, a couple years ago, it was just one blogger, some guy Gumpert, who seems obsessed about rights, and this Weston A. Price Foundation, which brags about the health claims, talking about it. Now my staffers are bringing me printouts from more and more bloggers focusing on raw milk (she shuffles through a stack of papers), Kim Hartke, David Augenstein, Bob Hayles, Bovine. And it seems like tweets about raw milk are darting around faster than hummingbirds. Cheeseslave, Farm-to-Consumer-Legal Defense Fund, on and on. Why, I see you’re even featured in some crazy book, The Raw Milk Revolution.

Sheehan: It’s all part of the plan, M’am. We’re trying to take a low profile. We don’t want to egg them on, even acknowledge them, give them more credibility than they should have, which is none.

Hamburg: Well, they don’t seem to be taking any notice of your low profile. Now they’re planning some big demonstration at a Wisconsin courthouse December 21, almost on Christmas Eve. And civil disobedience in Georgia.  And a possibly raucus meeting in Framingham, Mass., next week at the local board of health on behalf of some farmer who wants to sell raw milk. I mean, we have a lot of other problems here at FDA, with drug approvals and H1/N1 vaccine, we don’t need people getting worked up over milk. I have to be candid with you, John, and you’re not going to like to hear this, but I have this bad feeling that not only is your plan not working, it’s doing the exact opposite of what you planned. More dairies are selling raw milk because they can’t make money selling milk for pasteurization, and more people are going out of their way to buy raw milk, and I see here, they’re paying sometimes $12 or even $16 a gallon. I mean, they’re willing to pay four or five times the price of milk in the Seven-Eleven or Kroger’s, and the milk isn’t even treated. Jeez, at those prices, I’m almost tempted to get into the business. John, this is getting away from you.

Sheehan: Yes, M’am. I think we need more agents, more budget.

Hamburg: That seems to be the answer I get for every problem around here. You guys must think we just print the money. Well, maybe over at Treasury, but not here. And what about your pals in Michigan, going along with some report that raw milk helps build immunity, and may counter asthma and allergies. I thought we were paying these people good money to cooperate with you.

Sheehan: That Michigan thing was most unfortunate, M’am. They are renegades, turncoats. I don’t even want to talk about it.

Hamburg: John, denial won’t help. We’re paying you to keep this situation under control, and it’s spinning out of control. And now I read about people being arrested in Missouri for selling raw milk in a parking lot after an investigation by undercover agents. John, we’re not the FBI or CIA, this is food we’re talking about.

And there’s some poor woman in South Dakota, (she shuffles through papers), Lila Streff, who wrote this terribly sad letter to some local paper.

I had tears in my eyes after reading her letter. She says your coolies at the South Dakota Department of Agriculture advised her to invest $85,000 to build a nice barn for her goats, so she’d comply with their regulations for producing raw milk. I had one of my staffers call Lila–John, the poor woman is now up to her neck in debt, and is selling maybe 35 gallons of raw milk a week. This isn’t Dean Foods or anything. She went and borrowed all this money, and now they’re trying to add new rules to the state’s dairy laws that would require her to invest thousands more in a bottling machine, and a separate additional new building, and put a wall between her kitchen and the barn. This all came about, she says, after she called the South Dakota Department of Agriculture to find out what the rules were, and they approved her.

Sheehan: Yes, M’am. These small farm people are tricky, they’ll do anything to make a few extra dollars.

Hamburg: It’s not like that, John. The staffer who spoke with Lila said she sounded like an honest farm woman. Didn’t know a lot about the regulatory and legislative process, just wanted to obey the rules, but now she is getting clobbered because she tried to play by the rules. She says she’s become cynical about the system. Says it feels like bait-and-switch to her. I’ll tell you, John, it sounds like bait-and-switch to me, too.

Sheehan: Yes, M’am…I mean, no M’am. We wouldn’t encourage bait-and-switch. This woman just didn’t read all the rules, didn’t investigate carefully enough.

Hamburg: That’s not what I’m told, John. I checked around at the South Dakota Dept of Ag and I was told there’s one guy in the department who is determined to make life difficult for hard-working people like Lila who sell raw milk. Says he wants to pass these new rules before he retires in a couple years.

Sheehan: M’am, we’re doing everything we can to discourage small dairies from producing raw milk. And if we have to move the goal post around a little bit, sometimes we do.

Hamburg: Once again, John, this whole business is making me nervous. I don’t like insurrection. Don’t even like the sound of the word. I have friends of mine in Rockville now telling me they’re drinking raw milk, getting it brought into Maryland from Pennsylvania, and they wonder why we’re spending time on keeping people from eating a basic food. Why the hell are we even worrying about this?

Sheehan: It’s a long story, M’am. Goes back many years. But I’ll tell you my view. It’s for the kids. It’s to keep little children from getting sick.

Hamburg: (Sighs) In that case, John, I’m with you. But you better come up with a better plan for dealing with this…or we may have to move you out of dairy and find a spot for you cleaning up in the monkey labs.


There’s some interesting new video of the great Georgia raw milk pour-out of last October. It was put together by Kristin Canty, a documentary maker, who’s working on a film about raw milk, “Farmegeddon”. The people being interviewed appear at once to be outraged and stunned by the craziness of the situation—that they were being forced to pour out milk they had already bought an paid for.

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30 Comments on "“John, This Is Getting Away from You”–Listening in on John Sheehan’s Performance Review; New Video from GA Pour-Out"

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Don Neeper
December 11, 2009 6:15 am

Unfortunately I have a feeling that the raw milk issue isn’t even known or cared about by the people at the very top of the food chain at the FDA, congress or other government agencies in Washington. While there is obvious antipathy towards direct-to-consumer raw milk at the division level, I doubt that their bosses care about it one way or the other.

The Complete Patient
December 11, 2009 8:14 am

I have no doubt you’re absolutely correct, Don. No reason we can’t let our imaginations go every once in a while, imagining what life in the raw milk world might look like with just a slight bit of accountability.


December 11, 2009 9:01 am

It is much more likely that the conversation would be in the form of a briefing, and would briefly go something like this:

"Mr. Sheehan, congratulations to you and your staff for the guilty plea to criminal charges of interstate shipment of misbranded raw milk by the dairy in California. Through these actions, we prevent illnesses like the child in the video you showed me suffered."


Valley dairy pleads guilty in shipping of raw milk

Concerned Person
December 11, 2009 10:25 am

Considering that people believe there is only a very rare chance of becoming ill from raw milk, Bill Marler sure is busy with clients.



lola granola
December 11, 2009 10:50 am


I have one question for you.

Why do you care – so much – what I choose to eat (i.e. raw milk)?

And please spare me the ‘it’s for the children’ nonsense. That’s only a psychological tactic to place emotion over reason.

And, did you ever answer Bob’s question?

December 11, 2009 11:08 am


I don’t care what you eat (or what you feed your children). If you sell a product, then "I" do care (speaking for the government and those who hired us). For example, if you want to get salmonella in your home, go ahead. But, if you’re Cargill, or this woman in ND, or anyone else selling a product that makes people sick (especially repeatedly)…well, we do care.


lola granola
December 11, 2009 11:45 am

"…speaking for the government and those who hired us."

Does that mean you work for the government? Do you get paid to make comments on blogs like this?

Where in the U.S. Constitution does the government receive its authority to regulate the buying and selling of food?

If I make someone sick from something I’ve sold them, isn’t it for the courts to decide an outcome?

Bob "BubbaBozo" Hayles
December 11, 2009 12:10 pm

lola…no he didn’t. He probably forgot it…you know, a result of the chemicals in that nanny state approved food he eats…and wants to cram down our throats.

Lykke, a refresher…where in the constitution is the government given permission to make FORCED decisions for it’s citizens’ food choices for them?

You reveled in my grilling of McAffee over outsourcing…now you get the same sort of grilling EVERY time you post a comment until you either show that the government has constitutional permission, or acknowledge that it doesn’t.

Bob Hayles

EVERY time you contact an elected official remind them, "We don’t work… Read more »

December 11, 2009 1:09 pm


"Lykke, a refresher…where in the constitution is the government given permission to make FORCED decisions for it’s citizens’ food choices for them?"

The Constitution doesn’t address raw milk rights :) Nor does it talk about global warming, GMOs, or how fast you speed on the freeway. I suppose the Constitution allowed for figuring out these details through the government it created?


"If I make someone sick from something I’ve sold them, isn’t it for the courts to decide an outcome? "

Obviously, that’s one way to approach it.

Blair McMorran
December 11, 2009 6:12 pm

I was right there with you – grinning and nodding. Surely, Sheehan is blushing. Or should be. Wait – he gets paid to do this. Wait – who pays him?

I want to thank you for blogging about Lila’s brave efforts and bringing attention to South Dakota’s hypocrisy. What a sham, and can you shed more light? They don’t have much time to build support. She’s written to all the right people but I don’t think enough people are paying enough attention. They picked December 21 for a reason. They don’t think we have… Read more »

Don Neeper
December 11, 2009 9:59 pm

An interesting post just showed up on the Raw Dairy Yahoo group. I don’t have any reason to question its veracity and it would be exciting news if true, but I didn’t think that Pennsylvania allowed retail raw milk sales?

Hi everyone,

This is Edwin from The Family Cow. I’ve been silent the last while I know but we have not been idle!…just busy.

I thought all you raw milk enthusiast/activist would appreciate knowing that we have been successful in getting our 100% Organic, Grass-fed, Raw Milk into all of the PA Whole Foods Markets! This is huge! Walk into any of… Read more »

Don Wittlinger
December 11, 2009 10:32 pm

Don N Pennyslvania does "allow" raw milk to be sold in retail stores Swiss Villa brand is sold at 2 stores that I am aware of one is Sonnewalds near Spring Grove and a farm store 20 miles north of Harrisburg. Swiss Villa had their raw milk pulled from the shelves for a couple of weeks about 10 months ago for usual phantom bad germs threats.

Devon Hernandez
December 11, 2009 10:53 pm

Hello! I just wanted to comment on the PA sales thing. As long as the state certified raw milk dairy has the proper license to sell retail, it’s allowed. It’s cost prohibitive though for most small farms. The farm I normally get my raw milk from can’t afford the retail license, so they just have the farm sales license. I live in Lancaster, where raw milk is really gaining serious momentum, and there is a small grocer that opened up recently in town called Expressly Local that only sells local foods, with a few minor… Read more »

lola granola
December 12, 2009 12:55 am


You never answered my question – do you work for the government? Put another way, is any portion of your paycheck derived from taxpayer dollars, including grants?

Bob "BubbaBozo" Hayles
December 12, 2009 2:23 am

Lykke, the constitution does not mention raw milk specifically, nor does it mention the other individual item you brought up…on that you are right.

What the constitution and bill of rights DOES do however, is specifically delineate what the federal government can and cannot do. My question to you is, and has been, where in the constitution is the government given the right to make our food decisions for us. What it can do is very specific, and if it has exceeded it’s bounds on other things that doesn’t make it right to exceed it’s bounds on this.

Others… Read more »

Dave Milano
December 12, 2009 3:26 am

Regarding this:

The Constitution doesn’t address raw milk rights :) Nor does it talk about global warming, GMOs, or how fast you speed on the freeway. I suppose the Constitution allowed for figuring out these details through the government it created?

The role of the constitution is to control how government may proceed on those details to be figured out. My (and others) point is that government has blatantly ignored constitutional restraints and privileged some (usually corporations) while squashing others (usually individuals).

The gifting of human rights (personhood) by government to corporations was the lever that pried open the door, and… Read more »

Don Wittlinger
December 12, 2009 6:10 am

Why are those of us that mention the Constitution ignored isn’t that document the rock solid foundation on which WE ALL STAND? Or was the Constitution placed in EXILE in 1934 when the unconstitutional 182 independent regulatory commissions were created?
Jonathan Emord a lawyer that has won more cases against the FDA than any other lawyer in American history tells us how it happened why it happened and who did it. At least listen to the first 15 minutes and he does provide some solutions for us at the end.
I know I posted this before but… Read more »

hugh betcha
December 12, 2009 8:18 am

the solution to big gov’t is at hand. the economy is in shambles, if you don’t think so you’re not looking or you’re only listening to the talking heads on tv. states are bleeding badly, they’re building big debt assuming that the "shop till you drop" mentality will return in force… will it? if you ask me it not only won’t it can’t.

why? debt, no equity in homes, gov’t fiddling with credit laws is forcing industry to raise rates while they can. globalization has failed.

the solution is not to "fix" it… Read more »

Mark McAfee
December 12, 2009 11:05 am

David….awesome, humorous and tragic post.

Hey everyone….things are getting very interesting….read this.

We have just recieved a 400 page FDA lawyer written court document report in our Civil case that is pending to be resolved this spring about our CFR 1240.61 transgressions. We have fully admitted to breaking CFR 1240.61 in the criminal case that was settled last year….as soon as that was settled they attacked with a civil case….not sure why ( infliction of maximum pain I am sure ). But the FDA wants to regulate OPDC inside of CA and that is not going to happen….ever.… Read more »

Amanda Rose
December 13, 2009 12:32 am


Does the document refer to that contest held at the Haphazard Gourmet Girls blog? Does it include the picture and entries? If I were writing a 400-page document, I would at least make it humorous.


Concerned Person
December 13, 2009 1:53 am

Bill Marler doesnt get all the raw milk business. Whole Foods Market is getting hit hard with lawsuits. This is the case that involved 2 secondary infections.



Mark McAfee
December 13, 2009 3:11 am

Dr. Amanda,

I have not actually seen or read the 400 pages yet. All I have gotten is a verbal summary of it from our attorney. He was quite humored by it. It reads like a humorous tragedy according to my best understanding.

If I was an FDA lawyer I would play to the CA Federal Judge and not the science fiction of the sterilized FDA utopia of their dreamy corporate infinite shelf life products and the drugs that take away their signs of illness ( but not the actual illness ) after you are sickened by them.… Read more »

Alex Lewin
December 13, 2009 7:46 am

David, that’s awesome. I laughed out loud. You have a backup career as a comedy writer, if you want it!

Question: What’s happening in Framingham? I’m in Cambridge. I can blog and drag friends.


The Complete Patient
December 13, 2009 12:38 pm

Hi Alex,
Thanks for the high praise. Fortunately, or unfortunately, John Sheehan and his cronies at the FDA and around the country provide endless material, though too often it’s in the category of dark humor.

As for the Framingham event, it’s the town board of health hearing on an application by Doug Stephan to obtain a license to sell raw milk from his farm of about 30 cows. He’d be the first farm in west suburban Boston to do so. The hearing is this coming Wednesday evening, 7 p.m., 150 Concord St., (Memorial Building) Blumer Room. It’s actually a… Read more »

David Kendall
December 13, 2009 3:37 pm

My daughter lives in Kimberton, PA and has been getting Kimberton Hills Dairy raw milk from Kimberton Whole Foods in Kimberton for a number of years. Kimberton Whole Foods also has stores in Otisville, Douglassville, and Downingtown.

Blair McMorran
December 13, 2009 4:57 pm

Loved your post (but I predict FDA will slant everything you posted, extract your most extreme statements; paint you as a nutcase…More power to you!.) Can’t wait to read their version of facts – surely they cooked themselves beyond any figment of health …. Stick a fork in them – they are done.

400 pages – you got their attention yessiree! I extend my praises to you!.

Is there real interest in forming a National Raw Milk Association? That concept interests me.

Mr. Gumpert, your blog is truly amazing.

Amanda Rose
December 13, 2009 11:25 pm

If memory serves, the criminal charges were over the more simple interstate commerce issue. I am guessing that the big boys have arrived now with the health claims charges. OPDC can join Wilderness Family Naturals on one hand and players like Kellogg on the other. If anyone has a similar business, I would either close down after the first warning letter or seriously retool the marketing.

Don Wittlinger
December 14, 2009 8:04 pm

Nutrition science will be locked out of the market place. But "corporate science" will decide.
Europe Enters a Nutrition Science Dark Age by Attorney Jonathan Emord
Will there be no choise between the red pill or the blue pill or just their pill? Is the war against raw dairy part of their battle plan? And the Generals at the top could care less about who wins the raw dairy war?

Mark McAfee
December 15, 2009 9:59 am

We are missing the liability point……

The blame should go to Monsanto and other GMO Genetic engineering labs that initially created the ecoli 0157H7 to begin with. It did not appear until they started bombarding ecoli genes and capturing the random genetic sports they wanted for patents.

This is all environmental waste recovery cost. except instead of it being in the soils and waters at an old airforce base it is in our food supply. Play god ( God Move Over- GMO ) and you get horrible results.

Bill Marler must take his next ecoli 0157h7 case to the higher… Read more »

Concerned Person
December 15, 2009 11:08 am