When You Penetrate John Sheehan’s Veil of Secrecy, You Find a Pizza Cheese Quality Control Guy Running FDA’s War on Raw Milk–And Turning All Disclosure into Struggle

John Sheehan of the FDAYou have to wonder: What has John Sheehan been trying so hard to hide in refusing to disclose information about himself?

When I was researching my book, The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights, one of the items on my check list was to profile John Sheehan, the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Division of Plant and Dairy Food Safety, and apparent architect of the six-year federal and state assault on raw milk producers.

Not surprisingly, he refused my requests for an interview. I even traveled to a dairy regulator meeting in Florida to try to catch him on the fly, but he brushed me aside. I barely snapped a photo of him.  

But what was particularly surprising was his refusal to provide any specific details about his career background, other than to direct an FDA public information person to tell me he was a patent lawyer who joined the FDA in 2000 after serving as “a mid-level manager within the dairy industry for 17 years. He has worked for some of America’s largest and most progressive dairy food organizations.”

When I asked for the names of these “progressive dairy food organizations,” he arrogantly refused. “He doesn’t think he has to disclose that information,” the public affairs person explained.

Hmmmm. This was a first in my journalistic experience–a manager in a publicly held company or a major government agency refusing to divulge the most basic of background information. It seems as if our public servants, being paid tens of thousands of dollars every year in salary and benefits, and overseeing millions more in budgetary allocations, have that minimal responsibility of sharing to do.
I tried looking Sheehan up on LinkedIn, where he is registered, but all it says there is that he graduated from University College, Cork, in Ireland. Even on LinkedIn, he was clearly trying to hide his career details.

Of course, the more a government official tries to hide, the more the public’s imagination goes to work. Had he perhaps run Dean Foods’ acquisition program to consolidate the dairy industry into even more of a monopoly? Maybe he oversaw marketing and sales of the rGBH hormone for Monsanto? A blog reader provided a link to a John Sheehan who had been disbarred as a lawyer. And in this conspiratorial age, curious minds can go off in a lot of different directions.

Finally, I obtained my answer. It took filing a Freedom of Information Act request, negotiating with the FDA (no, I wasn’t seeking his entire employment folder), and waiting some months. Earlier this week, I received my answer: a copy of the resume John Sheehan used to apply for his current job as head of the Dairy Division (page one and page two).

It turns out that 12 years of his 17-year career were spent as a Quality Control Manager for pizza cheese maker Leprino Foods Co. This included “managing a budget of approximately $1.5 million per anum, supervising the activities of between 21-26 personnel, including two supervisors…”

Certainly a far cry from his current position, where he’s in charge of some millions in budgetary allocations and hundreds of inspectors and other employees.

Before that, he spent four years as Quality Control Manager with something called Express Foods Co., of Fairfax, VT, which no longer exists. Its parent, Grand Metropolitan plc, merged with Guinness plc in 1997 to form Diageo. Prior to that, he spent a year with the Michigan Milk Producers Association as a Laboratory Supervisor.

As I indicated at the start, the resume is fairly non-noteworthy. So why does any of this matter? In the day-to-day din of discussion about food rights, I suppose it doesn’t matter much how an apparatchik like Sheehan worked his way up the ladder of business and government to a position of significant power over other people’s lives. In the larger scheme of the food rights war currently under way, though, the struggle to extract such simple pieces of information is symbolic of the FDA’s determination to resist even the smallest and seemingly most harmless signs of openness, and to turn them into a struggle.

I might initially have been tempted to think it was a reflection of Sheehan’s insecurity over the ordinary-ness of his previous career, but having observed his overall secretiveness and aggressiveness in fighting to deprive people of nutrient-dense foods, I’m sure it has more to do with his self-righteousness and determination to accumulate ever more power, to use at his discretion to impose the FDA’s will. It’s also symbolic of what we are up against as we fight the powers we work each day to pay and support. 

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26 Comments on "When You Penetrate John Sheehan’s Veil of Secrecy, You Find a Pizza Cheese Quality Control Guy Running FDA’s War on Raw Milk–And Turning All Disclosure into Struggle"

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Mark McAfee
September 2, 2011 11:07 am

John Sheehan is the perfect guy for the job. When big dairy or big dairy processors want things done behind the Food Inc revolving door…..they do not want a leader, or smart thinker. They need a compliant dull follower. A pizza QC guy is perfect.

By the way….I hope you watched the You Tube video I posted on the last string. It sure beats the hell out of anything the California Milk Advisory Board ( got milk? ) people have ever done. And sure beats Mooootopia hands down, no contest.

I have a question….how is the FDA going to… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
September 2, 2011 6:02 pm

Wow, what a non-impressive resume! Is he an American? Where are his qualifications for the fda job? I do not see any in his resume. Putting unqualified people in position of power can only be to be "yes men" .

You're right Mark, a "yes" man for the job. Worthless.





Steve Bemis
September 2, 2011 8:43 pm

I'm not inclined to overanalyze someone's motivations for career choice, other than to recognize the simple fact of the revolving door in modern government/industry relations (government on the ascendancy under Democrats and big business on the ascendancy under Republicans – little real difference). I am sure that one of the prime concerns of a fast-food supplier, particularly in the quality control function, is to make sure no-one gets sick. Hence, do almost anything to make the "food" clean, even sterile, to make sure high production volumes, safety and profits can all co-exist. All praiseworthy goals in… Read more »

Mark McAfee
September 2, 2011 10:24 pm

I was there when David took this picture.

It was at the NCIMS meeting in Florida in 2008 and so was Pete Kennedy ( if I am correct ).

What bothered me most was the culture. The culture at the NCIMS was one of FDA dominance and complete military rule. A rule that ran the private sector and dominated the decisions and the science of approvals. It ruled who could and should speak. It ruled the rules….the culture cancelled my presentation that had been set for six monrths…five minutes before my presentation.

Sheehan was a puppet. With no… Read more »

Michael Schmidt
September 3, 2011 2:18 am

there is nothing new to this phenomena. If you study the history of Germany and look at the background of the most notorious and cruel Nazi members you will find a similarity to what seems to evolve here in North America.
Average people suddenly discover the joy of power and use it with greatest satisfaction.
Is that a human trade? I hope not but it seems to be that way.
Bureaucrats no doubt can easily fall pray to the joy of power tripping .
But it also explains that somebody like Sheehan has only a limited horizon and lacks the needed… Read more »

Nourish Yourself
September 3, 2011 4:27 am

He and all the other power mongers are pathetic! I see power hungry people all the time in corporate america! Sad!


RawMilk Advocate
September 3, 2011 9:22 am

David, I have a feeling there is more here they are hiding. He was (is?) a member of the California Bar, so there must be some case history that could be researched. This basic info must lead to other things they are hiding. Search the US patent and trademark databases as well. Keep digging, I am sure there is more to find.

The Complete Patient
September 3, 2011 9:30 am

Appreciate your observations about the nutritional and food safety symbolism inherent in the Sheehan-FDA match. You have helped explain why Sheehan was, and still is, the perfect man for the job he has been selected to do.

I was thinking about the German/Nazi and other authoritarian society similarities as I was writing this post, but pushed them out of my mind, afraid to consider the possibilities. Thank you for making the point.


Mike Ward
September 3, 2011 10:02 am

Wouldn't this justify some type of conflict of interest lawsuit? Wouldn't this be some justification to undo some of the bad rules he has made?

RawMilk Advocate
September 3, 2011 10:31 am

He is still active in the California bar:

Ron Klein
September 3, 2011 7:38 pm

One thing to add . Private corporations are not state entities and as such the liberty interests that many take for granted do not apply to employees unless they are members of a defined and protected class, (race, gender….). Freedom of speech for example is not an inherent -right-e-mails, phone conversations etc. belong to the corporation. I have often heard fellow employees complaining of the "violation" of their rights to free speech, privacy regarding activities while conducting corporate business, because their e-mails are screened and they are forbidden from critical commentary about management.

What I'm seeing in… Read more »

lola granola
September 4, 2011 3:33 am

It seems we've uncovered the identity of the anonymous person who wrote to David complaining of the tone of commenters of this blog, referenced in this posting:

"Time Out to Be Introspective, To Take a Look At Our Manners, and At Our Relevance"

On September 2, Will Winter – WAPF chapter leader, holistic veterinarian and consultant to Thousand Hills Cattle Company, and founder of the Traditional Foods Minnesota Warehouse – posted this to the Traditional Foods Minnesota Yahoo Discussion Group:

"I read the other day that AMERICA has become more divisive and thus divided now
than any time in… Read more »

Mark McAfee
September 4, 2011 4:07 am


This Crohns Association petition of the FDA and Sheehan shows clearly the deep big dairy connection and blind dedication to the PMO and pasteurization. When the Crohns people asked the FDA to review strong evidence of MAP bacteria causing Johns in Cows and Crohns in humans, the FDA refused to test commercial pasteurized milk off the shelves of America. Instead the FDA took samples of raw milk, froze them to minus 80 degrees, double shocked the samples with sound waves and then pasteurized them….clearly not the process that the PMO standards describe for milk… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
September 4, 2011 6:04 am


I would expect education and age to bring forth paths to solutions and not such negative behavior. His words are no different than those he was complaining about.

Mary Martin
September 4, 2011 6:24 am


Fate kissed us 5 years ago today. Happy Anniversary! :-)

Peace and forgiveness,


Mark McAfee
September 4, 2011 7:28 am


You comment choked me up. Hugs back to you.

In a very real and historic way, Chris was the trigger point to move me deeply and in new directions. All of the emotions of every Paramedic patient I ever touched came back gimme through Chris. To think that I could be the cause of his illness was something and is something that drives me. It is the origin of RAWMI it is the energy behind our RAMP program. Raw milk is supposed to heal and never hurt. To this I am thankful to you and I… Read more »

Mark McAfee
September 4, 2011 7:42 am

Sorry for the errors, the software would not allow edits. Posting from a Steve Jobs Phone.

Milky Way
September 4, 2011 8:25 am

On September 13 teams began to deploy on the 2006 spinach outbreak. It ramped up about a week later. Concurrent with the spinach outbreak, the raw milk Dairy A outbreak hit. A different outbreak strain and it was clear these were separate outbreaks – none of the raw milk drinkers ate spinach from Dole and they all consumed Dairy A milk, which was beyond coincidence given the mapping and DNA evidence. The Dairy A investigation revealed E. coli O157 in cattle feces, but the E. coli O157 isolated from Dairy A animals did not match… Read more »

Milky Way
September 4, 2011 9:04 am

Is there a mechanism to remove misinformation off the WAFP website?


Sylvia Gibson
September 4, 2011 6:35 pm

"E. coli O157 isolated from Dairy A animals did not match the outbreak strain. "

Did the Ecoli from Dairy A match what was found in the kids? Did ALL the kids have Ecoli? Was the Ecoli found in his milking cows or the ones separated from the milkers? Not posting about the shoddy investigation by the regulators leaves a very misleading story.

"Is there a mechanism to remove misinformation off the WAFP website?"

Gee I suppose the best way to find your answer is for YOU to send them an email and ask. Why would you… Read more »

Sophie Lovett
September 4, 2011 9:15 pm

Completely off-topic, but I have a question for which this community is most likely to have the answer.

While cleaning up after a week without power (goodnight Irene!), some milk developed a few stages byond any I'd ever seen. I had a gallon of raw milk in the refrigerator in an ice tea container (the kind with a spigot at the bottom) because I was separating the cream to make butter. It was in the refrigerator for almost a week, then the power went out and it remained there for the six days without power. It had transformed in… Read more »

Mark McAfee
September 4, 2011 10:52 pm


Bill Anderson is the raw milk fermentation genius to answer what your raw milk lab experiment resulted in.

It has been my experience ( having done this same experiment many times ) that it was fully edible. However, it would help to be part Maasai or Scottish Islander. What you had was sour cream on top, kefir cheese ( something like it anyway ) in the middle with casein fraction, and whey on the bottom. WAP described cultures arround the world that made nutritious foods intentionally from fermented raw milk. Just like this.

I had a thought last… Read more »

Ken Conrad
September 5, 2011 12:24 am


The frosted leaf in the soil formation could have been mold growth which can be skimmed off and discarded or fed to the chickens.

The cream could have been used as a creme fraiche of sorts or to make cultured butter.

Depending on its lactic acid content the milk including the cream could have been heated on the stove until it curdled and then strained to make a mild soft cheese. Such milk is also excellent in baking and for making pancakes.

Ken Conrad

Sharon Z
September 6, 2011 12:52 am


Local ice cream makers face shutdown by state

Kris Swanberg, owner of Nice Cream (Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune)
August 05, 2011|By Monica Eng and Chris Borrelli | Tribune reporters
A few years ago, Kris Swanberg, having been laid-off from her job as a Chicago Public School teacher, remembered she received an ice cream maker as a wedding gift. TheChicago mom fished it out of her kitchen cabinet and eventually started a new career.

Today Swanbergs Nice Cream on offer at local Whole Foods and farmers markets is considered a star of Chicagos rich and beloved artisanal ice cream scene,… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
September 6, 2011 3:33 am

If she did what was "suggested" then her product would not be "artisanal ice cream". It would be no different than the adulterated stuff that is sold in the majority of stores. How sad.

seeking truth
September 7, 2011 8:32 pm

If she did what was "suggested" then her product would not be "artisanal ice cream". It would be no different than the adulterated stuff that is sold in the majority of stores.

Isn't this the goal? The only threat to the industrial food corporations is the cottage industries that are cropping up around the country due to the interest in 'real' food. They were so close to completely wiping out the memory of 'real' food, with an entire generation of Americans who had mostly never consumed any. I am past being shocked to find most people have never eaten… Read more »