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"

Mark McAfee
September 2, 2011

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 deal with massive consumer dollar voting with OPDC hitting the tipping point in CA Raw Milk Markets.

Clarks Nutrition is going to add OPDC back onto it's shelves after three years of no raw milk.

We need more raw milk producers in CA. Cow Shares are a good start, but they will not help people in down town LA….they want raw milk also.

Sylvia Gibson
September 2, 2011

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

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 the corporate food model. That's the FDA model, so he's a perfect fit. What doesn't fit is nutrition, or in the current FDA regulatory mindset, anything as troubling and squirrely as individual freedom of choice in foods. Corporate mass-production models do not tolerate idiosyncracies (which tend to look like monkey wrenches), so as they say at the fast food window, "There you go."

Mark McAfee
September 2, 2011

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 power and all the power. He was a no-body and he was the dictator king. A very strange and foreign culture to me, an American, that thought that democracy was alive. Thought that people could speak freely and openly. Thought that there was process and that facts mattered….I thought that even the FDA facts and CDC facts mattered. I was wrong…I was niave.

I got a lesson that day.

I learned that this is a WAR. A real WAR. A WAR fought by lies, huge mountains of money, men with stupid looking military uniforms with rank and epilets taking orders from Deans Foods and Monsanto ( because they came from Deans Foods and Monsanto ….Mike Taylor ). They needed all of these accessories to elevate their royalty and authority. If they were dressed like everyone else they would not be be able to rule by edict.

I learned that I am not a raw milk dairyman. I am a teacher soldier in the most unconventional war ever fought. A war, where Americans die when everyone one is compliant and everyone follows the FDA PMO, CAFO FOOD INC RULES. A war that is killing the next generation because nutrition does not matter and drugs do.

I fight this war everyday. I fight it unconventionally….legally and passionately.My ranks are filled with Dollar Voting Moms that vote with their internet comments and dollars for a new and better way to feed their families. My soldiers are simply bankrupting the FDA sponsors.

I fight this war by teaching teaching teaching and there is a not a damn thing Sheehan can do about it.

I also must say that many other people fight this war. Ed Shank in Pen, Sally Morel, Gary Cox, Mike Schmidt in Canada, John Hulme, Patty Chelseth….and the list goes on and on.

Teachers all. Not a damn thing these treacherous regulating rulers of our food can do about it.

Teach and until they die off.


Michael Schmidt
September 3, 2011

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 compassion to serve those he supposed to serve.
It is a dangerous scenario we are facing.
The faceless brutality breeds itself without fear of consequences.
Wake up America it is later than we think but not too late yet

Nourish Yourself
September 3, 2011

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

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

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

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

He is still active in the California bar:

Ron Klein
September 3, 2011

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 the transformation government agencies since the mid to late 90's (having worked with and attendied classes and seminars put on by the FDA) is the adaptation of the corporate culture. We see it in Universities also. This is where Steve's comments are on point. The further consolidation of corporate culture, with a "Constitutional" or legislative mandate, of power is a frightening thing. Corporations in general do not look to long term productivity or an investment in ideas, creativity and people but the perpetuation of control and short term "success." Managers struggle to maintain their positions..this is a very simplistic assessment-BUT .consoladation of power was something the Founding Fathers understood and addressed in this nation's foundational documents.

lola granola
September 4, 2011

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 our short history, except for the Civil War. I believe it. We
have all watched the men and women we have elected to congress to represent us
get into a stalemate generated by pointless fighting and bipartisan blindness.
The unwillingness to fight for the common goal is paralyzing America, making us
the laughingstock around the world. That fighting trickles down to our daily
life, you see it with road rage, inflammatory rhetoric in editorials, racism,
discrimination, and classism. Just yesterday I published a portion of one of the
most egregious examples of divisiveness in OUR food world, that lunacy that is
going on at The Complete Patient blog (not that I recommend you go there or
support that petty infighting). In that case, I've written 3 long e-mails to
David Gumpert begging him to quash and banish the babyish attackers (to no
avail). We certainly want to learn from all this an do everything we can to
UNIFY and to EMBRACE our differences as a good thing!"

And on September 1 Will Winter treated us to this:

"Poor Mark! As most of you know, he's the founder and operator of the largest raw
milk dairy in the country. After a decade of being under siege, fighting feds,
local officials, and even lawsuits, he's currently trying to build a unified raw
milk community, but in doing so has put himself under constant attack by the
cyber-idiots that make comments on David Gumpert's neat blog, The Complete

"Mark has been trying to rally (all alone) against them but I don't know how he
stays so calm. As I said, the attackers are for the most part pinhead cowards
attacking him like a swarm of mad hornets! (actually anyone who posts on that
site will get random BS attacks, you don't want to post there unless you enjoy
being savaged by nihilistic morons).

"After 100 or so recent and nasty personal attacks Mark wrote this reply this
week. I think it's tremendously INSPIRING and so worth reading. (you can get the
full context by going to David's last entry in the blog…."

David, I think you should invite Will Winter to defend his point-of-view here to all of us nihilistic pinheads.

(I believe you can only access the original comments by membership to Traditional Foods Minnesota Yahoo Discussion Group, but I could be wrong.)

Mark McAfee
September 4, 2011


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 in America.

Sheehan is quoted as saying that the FDA is a science based organization.

That is a bold faced LIE. The FDA refusing to work with a group like the Crohns Association, an association that is handling a crisis of Crohns in America with 3 million sufferers….

The FDA is a criminal agency. Some day soon….Micheal Moore needs to take this project on. It is a festering wound at the foundation of what has failed America.

I hope this happens before….Americans simply become militant and forcefully remove the FDA from their throne. This is more than anger producing….it is illness Inducing, and causes untold numbers of American deaths. Thanks Pizza QC Guy…..you are not in the Pizza Parlor anymore. Now your problems are far greater that anything extra large that your extra small brain has ever though of.

Pizza QC guy….here is my wish for you.

Stop avoiding your charge…..start looking at real data. Save your soul and American lives. Your avoidance of facts and telling of real lies is criminal.

Sylvia Gibson
September 4, 2011


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


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

Peace and forgiveness,


Mark McAfee
September 4, 2011


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 am forever dedicated.

It would be three more weeks before CDFA would come into my office and serve me notice of the recall in September 2006. This event changed your life and it changed mine as well.

Even though no pathogens were found in OPDC products or in our milk cows manure. This does not really matter. This incident was a transforming event.

Hearings at the state, passage of AB1735 without public hearing or debate, ugly fighting in the courts with CDFA , the formation of our RAMP program, RAWMI the Share The Secret program and massive customer educational outreach. This event changed raw milk and it changed me.

I am so glad Chris is ok… Give him a kiss for me.

Mark McAfee
September 4, 2011

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

Milky Way
September 4, 2011

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 the outbreak strain. Later, Dairy A said they were outsourcing colostrum and raw milk for butter/cheese production. Cross contamination is a clear risk factor and potential contributing factor to explain the 2006 raw milk outbreak due to Dairy A.

Lessons learned…


Milky Way
September 4, 2011

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


Sylvia Gibson
September 4, 2011

"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 post that question here? What is the purpose?

Sophie Lovett
September 4, 2011

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 an interesting way.

The top layer was golden like butter, and the formation looked like frost heaves in the soil. The middle layer was like the marshmallow part of ambrosia. The bottom was a thin liquid, like water. The most fascinating aspect is that it did not smell foul at all! In fact, it was a pleasant dairy, butter-like smell. I'm not really a brave in this way, so I did not venture a taste.

I tossed the whole thing, but am still curious about the science behind the transformation.
Can anyone described what happened in that container and if it might have been edible?

Mark McAfee
September 4, 2011


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 night after Mary sent me her hugs.

The FDA probably reads this blog information as the Go To source to learn about Raw Milk progress and it's activity. We should all spend more time in an attempt to use this channel to educate The FDA. Over time, some will sink in. Over time some of the FDA will start to investigate the experiences and data. Progress will be made, some of them are not Food Inc revolving door riders. I know that Dr. Acheson MD ( ex FDA doctor who worked with Sheehan ) made logical comments when he was interviewed by Kristin Canty in Farmagedon.

Ken Conrad
September 5, 2011


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


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, one that could be shut down entirely by state rules, she recently learned.

She says that a couple of weeks ago a representative from the Illinois Department of Public Health came to Logan Square Kitchen and informed her shed have to shut down if she did not get something called "a dairy license."

Swanberg and others in her field had operated for years now without ever hearing of such a thing and, indeed, they say, the Citys Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, to whom they applied for business licenses, never informed them they would need one to operate.

To get this license Swanberg wrote, in an email, she would have to:

"Work out of our own space. Currently we work out of the Logan Square Kitchen."
"Have our product tested once a month for bacterial levels."
"Change all of our packaging and labels to meet state standards."
"Purchase a pasteurizer, which from what the state tells me will be about $40,000 or use a pre-made ice cream mix."
Swanberg says that the IDPH officer who visited told her that her ice cream probably wouldnt pass the bacteria tests if she continued to use fresh strawberries. Instead the officer suggested she use "strawberry syrup," Swanberg said.
IDPH spokesperson Melanie Arnold said that it isnt illegal to use real strawberries but that IDPH does not encourage it simply because when you try and clean a strawberry to make sure it doesnt have any bacteria, it kind of deteriorates.

The departments Dairy Equipment Specialist, Don Wilding, said that other ice cream producers use irradiated strawberries. He says look good but he cant vouch for the taste.

Swanberg could continue to work without a license, Wilding said, if she used a premade ice cream mix that is usually formulated with stabilizers and other additives the kind of thing typically used at Dairy Queens, Wilding noted.

Still, Swanberg feels that using strawberry syrup and a premade soft serve mix might not attract the same customers who buy her product made from fresh organic cream blended with local and often organic produce like basil and strawberries she picks herself.

The department could not confirm the $40,000 price tag on a pasteurizing machine. But it did confirm that, even if she uses pasteurized milk and boils all of her ingredients together, she would then need to pasteurize it in this special machine again.

Although the state is focusing on Swanberg first, other artisanal ice cream makers in Chicago are concerned they might be next.

"I have to be worried. I am in too deep to cut my losses now," said a fellow ice cream maker who asked that her name not be used. "This is my life and passion, so I dont want to be shut down.

"Our biggest thing is wondering whether or not there is a way, considering the organic and local food movement, to change the regulations so that small local producers are not being regulated in the same ways as massive creameries I mean, this is what they enforce for Haagen Dazs."

Indeed, IDPH confirmed that these small operations are governed by the very same rules that apply to billion dollar ice cream companies. And although Illinois recently passed the The Illinois Local Food Entrepreneur and Cottage Food Operation Act, (currently awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn's signature) which suggests that the different sets of rules should govern tiny food operations and giant corporations, the bill does not apply to ice cream.

Until she gets her license, Swanberg says she must stop putting product on the shelf. She hopes to meet with her fellow ice cream makers to figure out a plan that can allow them to deliver the same quality while abiding by state rules.


Sylvia Gibson
September 6, 2011

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

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 a living food, or anything that still had anything resembling a nutrient left in it. It is this vast majority of the people, the general masses who face the obesity and health crises that need to be educated, and it is this that the industrial food cartels fear the most. What if the people actually discover that what they are eating isn't even food? That is our job. When people know the truth, all of the back room politics in the world will not keep them from finding sources of real food.