Let’s Get Our Facts Straight Before We Accuse Mark McAfee of a Serious Crime

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.

Leave a Reply

25 Comments on "Let’s Get Our Facts Straight Before We Accuse Mark McAfee of a Serious Crime"

Notify of

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Amanda Rose
April 23, 2008 11:47 am

The Amanda Rose Fact Checker
An item-by-item check

(1) Amanda accused Mark of outsourcing all of the recalled products.

Not true. Youre hearing what you want to hear, David. I dont know about the Ethicurean, but a lot of folks use the term milk loosely. I do not use it loosely because I realize that here in California it is illegal to outsource product to bottle as raw milk. See (3) below.

(2) Mark responded to Amanda’s concerns in her blog comments and they should have been included in the original post.

I should do a rewrite with Marks comments so I could… Read more »

Amanda Rose
April 23, 2008 12:17 pm

I just re-read Mark’s first comment on my post and I can see one reason why David is so incensed: the bulk tank issue.

I saw the bulk tanks bringing product in October. I know they were bringing in product because Mark engaged me in a discussion during the arrival of one. He told me that he was outsourcing to meet the butter demand. I assumed he was also using the milk for kefir and cheese. He has made it clear that he doesn’t outsource milk.

In Mark’s post on my blog, he says that the tanker was removing skim… Read more »

April 23, 2008 6:21 pm


It’s sad that your farmer doesn’t protect the customers that allowed the growth of her business. It’s wrong that new customers should get preference over existing ones. It’s not the system we use….last one ‘in’, first one to be shorted. Our waiting list is long.

Outsourcing puts answering the demand in front of controlling the quality of the product. It’s better to be more concerned about whats in the jug, than how many you can load on the truck today.(and please don’t get me started on the meaningless of USDA Organic certification).

Seems to me that this movement, and the people… Read more »

April 23, 2008 8:12 pm

Amanda: I, for one, am really tired of the righteous "mama bear" vibe on this blog. We are all someone’s children, and when our children grow to be adults, we don’t care any less about them.

"Thank you for marketing that same product to my young son as a health food" is certainly a stupid comment. I doubt a child would even be reading food labels without strong inducement. The product was marketed to YOU, the most likely buyer. Please stop being intellectually lazy and take heed to milk farmer’s advice above.

Bob Hayles
April 23, 2008 8:13 pm

This issue regarding Amanda Rose’s allegations make me have to comment on a couple of things that are pertinant, without addressing their validity.

First, this shows the importance of something I preach over and over…know your farmer. It would be almost impossible for a farmer, whose customers were also friends and regular visitors to his farm, to outsource some products and not acknowledge it.

Also, it is much harder to look a customer/friend in the eye and lie to them when asked about farming practices, animal care, etc., than it is to slap a lable containing a lie (100% Grass… Read more »

Steve Atkinson
April 23, 2008 9:31 pm

Bob, excellent post.

From your examples of customer interactions I would have to say your farm is spirit based rather than result based—the spirit of community: a community in which each customer is unique and irreplacable and has a voice. This is what a small farm can be and should be. Because this spirit cannot be duplicated in a large operation, and because all people have an innate longing to experence community, I believe small farms have an untapped potential, and farmers like you are leading the way.

Amanda Rose
April 24, 2008 12:25 am

Hi again everyone. I just wanted to say that living here in the California market with lots of friends buying the product, I felt a moral obligation to come out. I’ve come out and I don’t expect everyone to agree with my doing so or with elements of my argument. I am fine with that. We all have to choose our own paths and I’ve done what I needed to do in my case. I have actually spent months documenting what I wrote. I did that for my friends here in the market and for myself. What the community… Read more »

April 24, 2008 12:26 am

Thank you Amanda This information is very useful.

April 24, 2008 3:21 am


Thank you for sharing what you have discovered about the operations at OPDC. I cant imagine how disheartening it was for you to discover you son drank colostrum bottled with the OP label (which actually came from the Vander Eyk Dairy) during the time of the 2006 E.coli outbreak involving children that consumed OP dairy products. I cant imagine how angry you must feel believing your son may have been at risk for contracting a pathogen because of this substandard product.

Your postulation is thought provoking. Is it possible that OP equipment was contaminated with E.coli… Read more »

April 24, 2008 6:11 am

Bob and Amanda,

After following these recent discussions, I understand at long last the question Bob H. posed twice on earlier poststhe one about small farming and direct sales to your customers. The Eureka moment happened after reading your comment below, which I found moving:

"My biggest fear, and strong motovational factor, regarding "bad" milk is not that it will bring the authorities down on me if I make someone sick, or that a lawsuit over bad milk might cost me the farm. No, what makes me work my rear off to produce a good product is the knowledge that… Read more »

Bob Hayles
April 24, 2008 6:43 am

Well I’ll be danged…she isn’t Darth or Hillary after all. Now I gotta come up with another moniker for C2.

More later.


Central Valley Mom
April 24, 2008 7:48 am

Well, I only know of two raw milk dairies in CA. If it wasn’t bottled & sold in stores like Whole Foods, a lot of people in CA wouldn’t have access to it. In a perfect world, all states would have raw milk available so OP wouldn’t have to ship out of state pet food. O.P. wouldn’t have to bring in outside milk to meet demand. Unlike most people, I can drive out to the dairy & pick up a weeks worth of milk. And it’s not like a small farm. The herd is usually too far out to… Read more »

April 24, 2008 7:53 am

Bob…forgot to ask, did you pick-up the Saanens–they are a hardy, high-production breed with tons of personality IMHO, I think you will enjoy them. Let me know.

Amanda, I was tempted to say much more about your public post, but I think you said it all. You were very brave to go public with your research and opinions on this topic. I’m not a journalist and as such do not know the rules of public expression, But, thank you for sharing the information that you obviously spent much time gathering. Time will tell.

Also, I want to… Read more »

Steve Bemis
April 24, 2008 8:09 am

Regardless of the facts percolating in this teapot, Amanda has done this blog, and the larger discussion of raw milk in general, a tremendous disservice by failing to get all sides of the story reported to begin with. If malice were afoot in the reporting, it would be commonplace (proved all too often in politics) to get the misinformation, or the slanted story, or the poorly reported story, out there first and then let the details (truth) fall where they may. Certain news services do it all the time, and just sit back and watch the confusion… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
April 24, 2008 8:29 am

"(NO! I don’t use dirty underwear…I wash it first, heavy on the bleach…LOL)."

Bob, Careful with that bleach, it’ll eat holes in your shorts…..

April 24, 2008 8:34 am

Amanda posted her findings on her own personal blog. This is not a journalistic publication. Mark McAfee has had no problem in the past posting on this blog. If there are facts to be corrected, he can choose to correct them anytime he wants.

I’m sure everyone is waiting for his side of the story. Let’s see is he has the courage to post.

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
April 24, 2008 10:24 am

As stated, I think a closed heard is best. I have mixed feelings about huge dairies/farms they seem to breed contamination, no matter how careful those running it are. Mark does post his bacteria counts and I would assume he would be receptive to talking to me or anyone else about his farm et al. Just as I believe the owners of Claravale would.

OP and Claravale are the only sources in Sacramento that I can get raw dairy from (not counting some cheeses). These two dairies are 3 or more hours away. Hopefully the quality will only continue… Read more »

Steve Bemis
April 24, 2008 6:36 pm

CP – he has posted on her blog, in an attempt to state his side of the story, and it’s buried under the initial story. That’s my point.

April 24, 2008 9:42 pm


I am sorry but I do not see it as buried. He admits that he purchased product from Vander Eyk and says that it was no secret and was open about this at all times. This is the first I have heard about it and wonder How Many of his customers knew about this at the time?

Steve Bemis
April 24, 2008 11:18 pm

Lisa – you’ve read the additional postings, but CP apparently had not, and that’s simply my point. I’m not arguing the substance, because anyone who wants to dig hard enough can find the substance (although, there is a lot more sifting through the shards of opinion once the truth is fractured). It is very difficult once something is initially reported wrong or incompletely, to get the whole story out at a later point. The beauty of David’s blog is that he is scrupulously careful to get it right the first time (pro or con), or failing… Read more »

April 25, 2008 12:38 am

Steve.I reread what I wrote. It did appear that I didnt read what Mark McAfee posted at the end of Amandas story. I did read Marks rebuttal.

What I was referring to was Mark posting a comment on this blog. He has done so many times in the past and has corrected what he believes to be misinformation represented by the state of Californian officials.

He knows may raw milk advocates read this blog. If any facts need to be clarified or questions answered, he can make his statements here for all to read.

Only two facts need… Read more »

April 25, 2008 1:03 am

It looks to me like this story is being spun into Amanda doing something wrong. Bottom line is that I am buying a product from Organic Pastures Dairy, and that is what I am expecting to receive. Not find out after the fact that the product is coming from somewhere else.
I really didn’t have to dig that hard.

Bob Hayles
April 25, 2008 1:32 am

I must say that one thing I like about this post and followup comments is that it reinforces a BIG pointI make…KNOW YOUR FARMER!

Bob Hayles

April 25, 2008 5:06 am

In CA, only Grade A dairies can sell milk (raw or otherwise), which is why there are only 2 raw milk dairies in the state. There’s no such thing as a legal way for a mom-and-pop, 2-cow farm to sell milk unless they run a licensed, inspected Grade A dairy, which is more expensive to establish (to conform to the code of what’s required equipment and facilities) than many can afford. The giant fecal-factory dairies, where the cows usually stand around in a dirt lot knee-deep in manure, are perfectly fine in the eyes of the state,… Read more »

May 2, 2008 1:33 pm

So, why is Mark quiet here?
Bob, love your post!