When I traveled to Oak Knoll Ayrshires Farm in Foxboro, MA, yesterday to pick up some milk, I was feeling a little frustrated. Not only did I have to travel a half hour each way, on a day when I had many other things to do, but I wouldn’t be able to get all the grass-fed milk I wanted.
Thanks to the article I wrote in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine a few weeks ago, dairy farmer Terri Lawton has picked up lots of new customers. Good news for her. Tough news for some of her existing customers like me.
Now, if I want her grass-fed milk (rather than the dairy’s “traditional” raw milk, which is also fed hay and grass, but also some non-organic feed), I have to reserve it weeks ahead. The good news, though, is that I can feel confident Terri isn’t substituting product from some other farm, or mixing in “traditional” milk with the grass-fed, to meet the rapidly rising demand. She’s letting her customers know the situation, and they have to adjust.
I bring up this experience because of the discussion on my previous posting concerning the Amanda Rose blog item about Mark McAfee, and his responses following her posting. There is clearly a problem emerging in the raw milk market, along with other farm-to-consumer markets, like grass-fed beef, naturally raised pork, eggs, etc.
We all assume farmers are legally selling us what they say they are selling. We assume they are raising the food they are selling. Sometimes, though, they are not “legal,” as Blair notes in her comment. And sometimes, it appears, when demand soars ahead of supply, they are selling products not produced on their farms, as Mark has admitted happened at Organic Pastures.
But let’s get something straight. Using two non-OPDC products (cream and colostrum) at various times doesn’t mean all the dairy products he sold during September 2006 came from another dairy, and that that explains why no E.coli 0157:H7 was found by inspectors at Organic Pastures Dairy Co. This is a huge accusation. Amanda doesn’t make it directly, but she strongly implies it, and The Ethicurean, which I highly respect as a journalistic food site, gets that point as well, when it states that Amanda (whom it identifies as “an Ethicurean team member”) “…confirms rumors that one possible reason that state investigators’ tests never could link Organic Pastures Dairy conclusively to the E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak of 2006 was because it wasn’t OP’s milk…even if it was under its label.”
Whatever Mark did wrong, and he may well have done wrong by selling products from other farms under his label, he doesn’t deserve what Amanda and Ethicurean are dishing out, for two reasons.
First, Amanda’s article represents a serious violation of basic journalistic protocol (she is presenting herself as a journalist), since she failed to confront Mark with her allegations before publishing her story. This is the same sort of thing I have castigated other news media for doing in reporting on state allegations of pathogens in raw milk at dairies around the country. If her allegations weren’t so serious, I wouldn’t raise this point, but they are serious, very serious. He deserves that. The lowest accused criminal deserves that. They may choose not to answer, or to say no comment, but they deserve to be confronted with the allegations.
Mark in fact responds to many of Amanda’s points in the comments section of her blog. Unfortunately, those comments lose their impact by not being included in the original piece, and by being interspersed with Amanda’s unrelenting accusations.
Second, there is a serious flaw in Amanda’s logic. Unless Mark actually did substitute some other dairy’s milk entirely for his own—which Amanda hasn’t even begun to prove and which I find unfathomable—then at worst he was selling dairy products from two (or more) dairies in September 2006, when six children became ill. What that really suggests is that it wasn’t raw dairy products that made the children ill after all, since all the E.coli 0157:H7 evidence found in five of the children was of the same genetic composition. Unless two or more widely separated dairies had the same E.coli 0157:H7, which seems highly improbable.
As further evidence of my doubts about Amanda’s journalistic prowess, I should respond to her opening paragraph, in which she says, “I worked on California’s AB1735 campaign back in October and have the last remaining gallon of milk from the 2006 recall of Organic Pastures milk for E. coli 0157:H7. I tried to mail the milk to David Gumpert at The Complete Patient, but he thought that the existence of the milk brought too much attention to the issue of pathogens in raw milk…”
Here’s what I said in an email to Amanda when she inquired last January about mailing that milk to me: “I appreciate the thought, I really do. But I’m just wondering—per your request here—what do I do with it? I’m really thinking out loud. I guess I might want to write something about it, but I sense the whole business with the illnesses has been overdone compared with other food poisoning illnesses. I probably don’t want to drink it, because if I wouldn’t feed it to children, then I probably wouldn’t want to feed it to adults, either. I guess it’s something of a bizarre momento, but what meaning does it really have—to you or to me, or to anyone? Help me out here.”
I only go on at such length about our exchange, which is pretty minor in the context of this situation, to show that what I said was misrepresented–I turned down the old recalled raw milk Amanda was offering me for a number of reasons, including the fact that there had been a huge amount of discussion about the accusations against OPDC—not the same as “the existence of the milk brought too much attention to the issue of pathogens in raw milk…”
There’s a lot of discussion to be had about the appropriateness of what Mark did in substituting products. But it’s a different discussion than suggesting he was guilty of a massive fraud that made six children sick. I don’t even want to begin to characterize the nature of that accusation.