My interest in health and nutrition began some 30 years ago. At 19 I quit smoking and for the first time in my life put on some extra pounds. (I’m sure it had something to do with the Hershey chocolate bars I consumed to ward off each and every cigarette craving.) Anyway, these extra pounds motivated my investigation of weight loss diets and I was horrified to discover that everything I’d been consuming my entire life was in essence a physiological time bomb. Processed foods are bad for you? Who could have known? And how could this be? I mean, if processed foods hurt people, why are they allowed to be sold?
Having always been an avid reader I was amazed to discover a world replete with nutritional information regarding diet and how to eat healthy. I slowly transformed my bad habits. I quit my job at a fast food restaurant and went to work in a vitamin store. Running replaced my affinity for cigarettes and my former assortment of junk food was nowhere to be found in the health food store I now regularly found myself.
Studying food labels became the rule, and I shunned any artificial flavorings, colorings, chemicals or preservatives. I juiced, ate fruits and vegetables, whole grain products, yogurt and baked chicken and fish. Raw eggs, milk and cheese also became part of my new diet after I came across encouraging literature regarding their benefits. (Raw milk is legal in California, so its purchase only required a quick trip to the health food store.)
My fervent dedication to eating well lasted for several years. When my husband entered my life, it became very difficult to maintain the purity of my diet. As time passed, I continued to eat healthier than most of my peers, but not as strict as I had for those few years in my late teens and early 20s.
A search for possible answers to ADD
After college, my husband and I both entered the field of education. I work as a school counselor and he teaches government and economics. In 1995 we bought our second home and in December of 1998 we adopted our son Christopher Chase Martin. Life was good.
At approximately four years of age, our son demonstrated signs of Attention Deficit Disorder without hyperactivity. He was a very bright child. He could recite the alphabet at 17 months, but could not stay focused when playing board games or any activity requiring focusing or fine motor skills like coloring and writing letters. He would tell me that it was too hard.
Kindergarten confirmed my suspicions. Homework time was filled with frustration, which typically led to meltdowns. He could not complete homework without one parent sitting with him to keep him focused and on task. At our first parent/teacher conference, his teacher informed us about his focusing issues in the classroom.
ADD is caused by a dopamine deficiency that occurs in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. ADD medication increases the dopamine level in that part of the brain, allowing it to work properly. I felt that Chris was too young to be placed on stimulant medication (a form of amphetamine) so I searched for natural ways to increase his dopamine levels.
Some say children with ADD should avoid artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, white flour and white sugar. Chris rarely consumed any of these items. Reducing sugar of all kinds, including juice and even honey, is strongly encouraged. However, the significant challenge we faced was removing dairy and wheat from his diet, a must due to the discovery that many children and adults with ADD have food sensitivities to these products.
Chris is a picky eater and all of his favorite foods contained dairy and wheat. I started by reducing wheat-based products and replacing them with baked, gluten-free products. Important vitamins and minerals, including more omega 3s, were added and we immediately noticed a profound effect on Chris. Within two weeks he did homework without the normal fuss and his handwriting improved dramatically. The teacher reported that his on-task behavior had also improved in the classroom.
All was not perfect, however. A couple of years passed and Chris was still beset with several symptoms of ADD, although nowhere near as severe as they had been. He was slower than other children in completing his school work–but he finished it. He still needed help with homework and one parent would always assist in that regard. Extensive writing assignments were difficult because he couldn’t stay focused long enough to get everything he wanted to say on paper. To accommodate this weakness, he would verbally communicate what he wanted to say and one parent would type it.
Could raw milk remedy our dairy quandary?
During this time, Chris also faced congestion issues, waking with a stuffy nose and a cough. These symptoms usually dissipated as the day progressed but it did become his normal day. It was disconcerting. I was convinced it was related to dairy consumption but I was semi-paralyzed by the thought of removing his beloved organic pasteurized milk, yogurt and cheese. I was at a loss. If I removed dairy from his diet, what he would eat?
The dairy dilemma was nagging at me until one particular trip to our local health food store. There, in the store window, I saw a poster that would change our lives forever. Organic Pasture Dairy Company was advertising raw milk, suggesting relief from lactose intolerance, digestive disorders and asthma. I remembered reading (30 years ago) that raw milk was somehow healthier than pasteurized milk. I began to wonder about raw milk again — was it the answer to our son’s dairy quandary? If he consumed raw milk would it relieve his congestion?
I didn’t purchase the milk that day because I also remembered the reason I had stopped drinking raw milk: a Salmonella outbreak involving Alta Dena Dairy that resulted in a recall. Food poisoning is far more serious than I had imagined, but I must admit I was as na√Øve as most regarding the seriousness of such pathogens. My notion was that the worst one might expect was a stint of diarrhea and vomiting; I had no idea these pathogens could kill you.
Every week after seeing the sign I would stop at the raw milk shelf and consider buying it for Chris. Several times I picked it up only to put it back. Time passed. In the meantime, I had found Dr. Joe Mercola’s website and began subscribing to his newsletter. To my surprise, random articles about the purported health benefits of raw milk populated his site. As I read them, I unfortunately started to feel at ease with the idea of drinking raw milk.
I was finally convinced after visiting the Organic Pastures website. I found pleasing claims describing their cows, how they were fed, how their milk was regularly tested and how they had never found a pathogen in all the years they had been in business. Their website also stated that if cows consumed grass they wouldn’t harbor pathogens. OPDC cows were advertised as being 100 percent pasture fed. They even posted all of their test results on their website and based upon this information I believed that the milk they produced would be safe for my son to consume. In mid-August, 2006, I purchased a quart of raw milk. I wondered if Chris would like it.
Chris’s ordeal from E. coli infection begins
Chris drank raw milk for approximately two weeks. The last bottle he would drink I bought on a Friday and by Monday evening I noticed it was already turning sour. I remember feeling frustrated that I had paid so much money for something that soured so quickly. I dumped the remaining milk down the drain and threw the bottle in the kitchen trash can.
The next evening, September 5, Chris returned home from his martial arts workout with a headache and low grade fever. He did not attend school the next day, due to his lethargic state. He slept most of the day. That evening he felt better and ate a good dinner, but it didn’t last. Later that night, the diarrhea started. We thought it best he stay home one more day.
His second day was filled with repeat trips to the bathroom and by early evening we noticed blood in his stool. This discovery prompted an immediate trip to the emergency room. Within an hour of arriving at the hospital, Chris became severely weak. He began vomiting regularly, experienced no relief from the diarrhea and was now in pain.
He became so weak he could not lift himself onto the bedside toilet and required our assistance each time. For the next five days, both day and night, we witnessed our son struggle every 15 to 30 minutes with these ceaseless discharges. Nothing could prepare a parent for this kind of agony as we watched helplessly, praying it would stop. It was a heart wrenching.
Upon entering the emergency room we had no way of knowing that we would not return home or go to work for two months. Chris had a severe case of E.coli 0157:H7 food poisoning that developed into hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Our son fought a war which he almost lost, against an invisible enemy. The damage done by this bacterium is incomprehensible. Videos about Chris’ experience can be found on the Real Raw Milk Facts and CDC websites.
Soon it was discovered that five other children had become ill with the same E.coli infection and one other child also developed HUS. Interviews with the families involved determined that the only common food the children had consumed came from Organic Pastures Dairy Company.
Another outbreak linked to Organic Pastures milk
In November 2011, a repeat outbreak occurred, this time infecting five children with E.coli 0157:H7. Three of these children developed HUS. Once again, interviews determined that the only common food consumed among the children came from Organic Pastures Dairy Company.
For those of you unfamiliar with the source of contamination, let me paint a graphic picture: cow feces are in the milk. Drinking contaminated raw milk, as happened to my son, can make you very ill and even cost you your life. Bottom line is that cows defecate in huge quantities without much consideration to their personal sanitation. Also consider the juxtaposition and proximity of a cow’s anus and teats, coupled with the fact that they lounge in their own feces and defecate while being milked. Beginning to get the picture? Mistakes during and after the milking process do happen. That is why raw milk is considered a high risk food and why in 1924 “grade A pasteurization” became recommended federal policy. It is all about the feces.
So if raw milk is a high risk food, why would someone choose raw milk for their children? There are many moms, like myself, whose children suffer from ADD, autism, asthma, eczema, digestive disorders or food allergies. We struggle to find answers to help our children. According to the CDC, approximately 43 percent of children have some sort of chronic medical issue and that number does not include children who have cancer. Most parents will turn to their medical doctor for answers and if that doesn’t work, some will hope to find a remedy through nutritional alternatives.
I assume most would agree that eating fewer processed foods and eating more whole foods is a sound nutritional path. Sadly, when reading about nutrition there is no escaping information about the Standard American Diet (also referred to as SAD), which consists of processed foods filled with hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, refined white flour and sugar, artificial flavors and colors, MSG, and preservatives.
Our kids gorge on sodas, sugary cereals, French fries, potato chips, cookies, cakes and myriad fast food choices. Much of this food comes from a box, package or can and is loaded with chemicals few recognize or can pronounce.
Also, there are many different food crusades emerging across the nation: the Traditional Foods, Organic Foods, Locally Grown, Vegan and Food Freedom — just to name a few. They all share the desire to escape eating mass-produced industrialized food and do not consider food from a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, also known as a CAFOs, a healthy practice.
Milk produced by cows raised in CAFOs is considered by some health experts to be “sick milk.” The cows are raised in horribly crowded conditions, they are fed genetically modified soy and corn along with low doses of antibiotics to keep them from becoming ill, and then they are injected with RBGH, a growth hormone, to coerce the cows into producing more milk. After this milk is harvested, it is ultra-pasteurized to kill loitering bacteria and homogenized to keep the fat from rising. The milk currently sitting on our grocery shelves is not the same milk that our grandparents and great-grandparents consumed. This milk is processed milk.
Would you eat raw poultry?
This leads to confusion. The act of heating milk to kill dangerous bacteria gets mixed into all the other information about how our modern day milk is produced. Does the pasteurization process alone, heating the milk, alter its nutritional benefits? We cook poultry, fish, meat, vegetables, and bake a variety of foods and they are still considered to be nutritious, unprocessed foods. Could you imagine eating a casserole or chicken that has not been cooked? The question, is does the simple act of heating milk render it processed?
The Weston A. Price Foundation thinks so. Dr. Weston Price was a dentist in the 1930s. He traveled the world studying traditional cultures. He found common variables in all traditional diets that promoted health, especially fats. He observed health consequences for those eating processed foods and a renewal of health when a traditional diet was re-introduced.
The Weston A. Price Foundation notes this distinction about milk: pasteurized milk is processed and raw milk is fresh, unprocessed, and when consumed in its natural state is full of life producing enzymes and probiotics. WAPF believes that the pasteurization process destroys the nutrients as well as alters the protein structure of the milk. Their mission is to have raw milk sales legal in all 50 states and they do not want the government regulating its production.
Misleading consumers to think raw milk is safe
WAPF also professes that cows fed all-grass diets cannot harbor pathogens and that raw milk possesses the inherent ability to kill pathogens. They believe that if you know your farmer and the milk is not produced by a CAFO, the milk is safe to drink. This misinformation regarding raw milk leads well-intentioned consumers to believe that raw milk is safe to drink.
WAPF is organized in every state and their goal is to encourage raw milk consumption. Their website lists a multitude of illnesses that supposedly can be cured simply by drinking fresh, unprocessed milk. Infants and children are specifically targeted for consumption of this enchanted elixir.
Unfortunately, this generation has lost touch with one important notion: why was pasteurization implemented in the first place? We are far removed from the horrors that occurred 100 years ago. Raw milk seems an easy solution to many physical ailments and it seems safe because few children are currently dying from its consumption. But I know the horror of the risk one takes when consuming raw milk, intimately. Had my son’s face-off with raw milk happened even 30 years ago, he would have died. Modern medicine and machinery (ventilators, kidney dialysis, blood, plasma and platelet transfusions, antibiotics, narcotics, intravenous nutrition and surgeries) ultimately saved his life.
So let’s return to the original question: why would someone drink raw milk? For over a decade, the Weston A. Price Foundation has been proselytizing about the perceived health benefits of raw milk consumption, which also happens to coincide with times of economic hardship. Family farms are disappearing in an environment when you have a growing population becoming increasingly aware of the health costs of eating processed foods and they want to support their local farmer, which becomes the perfect marriage for raw milk production and consumption. Consumers are led to believe they are purchasing a healthier, unprocessed food and at the same time the feel good about economically supporting their local farmer. But like all marriages, they tend to lose their charm when someone becomes seriously ill. Since January of 2010, there have been 23 raw milk outbreaks with 300 illnesses.
Disseminating dangerous myths
The choice to give my son raw milk was tragic. And at the time, I didn’t know there was a raw milk movement in the United States. This movement is led by the likes of: Sally Fallon Morrell, Dr. Ted Beals, Dr. Ron Schmid, and Mark McAfee, owner of Organic Pastures Dairy. This band of zealots would have you believe that the foundation of good health can only be found in a bottle of raw milk.
Sally Fallon Morrell is the president of the Weston A. Price Foundation. She owns a publishing company called New Trends Publishing, Inc. and has co-authored a book titled “Nourishing Traditions,” which focuses on eating the traditional, unprocessed foods of our ancestors. She encourages pregnant women to consume raw milk, and heartily endorses feeding it to infants and children. Within the movement, she has received accolades for her raw milk infant formula.
Dr. Ted Beals, a retired pathologist, tries to use his credentials to give legitimacy to the movement. When state legislatures consider bills to legalize raw milk, Dr. Beals shows up as a witness. While he acknowledges that outbreaks caused by raw milk do occur, he says other foods have caused more illnesses. He does not believe raw milk is a high-risk food.
“The Untold Story of Milk,” by Dr. Ron Schmid, regarded as the raw milk bible, was published by Sally Fallon Morrell. It presents an overview of the history of pasteurization and outlines all the reasons people should be drinking raw milk instead of pasteurized milk. Three dangerous myths are disseminated in this book: grass fed cows don’t harbor pathogens, raw milk has innate properties that kill pathogens and if you know your farmer, the milk is safe.
Mark McAfee owns the largest raw milk dairy in the United States and is a super salesman for the raw milk movement. He is a dynamic speaker and a passionate educator about the perceived health benefits of raw milk. He hosts “Share the Secret” educational forums throughout California encouraging people to consume raw milk, and is commonly seen at raw milk rallies across the country. However, his sales pitch for raw milk fails to include information about the two raw milk outbreaks at his dairy, both involving acute E. coli 0157:H7 infections, resulting in 11 seriously ill children, five of whom experienced kidney failure.
And finally, there is my friend David Gumpert, host of The Complete Patient Blog and author of “The Raw Milk Revolution.” His blog provides a forum for raw milk advocates, who believe in their constitutional right to food freedom, to voice their opinion. I refer to David and myself as bookends in the movement. He advocates for the family farmer’s right to sell milk without pasteurizing it, and I advocate for the victims who have been injured by raw milk and try to warn future victims about the potentially serious health consequences they might encounter.
The Weston A. Price Foundation has chapters all across the country and says its numbers have grown dramatically in the past decade. Members believe in the philosophy of Weston A. Price, they eat according to the information provided in the book Nourishing Traditions and they believe the myths about raw milk written in the Untold Story of Milk. These growing chapters grind incessantly for the legalization of raw milk in states where it is currently illegal; in states where raw milk is legal, their aim is to relax existing regulations to their benefit. Sally Fallon, Ted Beals and Mark McAfee persistently advocate in state legislatures across the country regarding the perceived health benefits of raw milk.
Victimized again by falsehoods
My experience with these characters has been appalling. My son’s near-death experience was hell to pay for my mistake, but I was not prepared for the second victimization. Rather than acknowledge the tremendous harm done in the first Organic Pastures outbreak, and then search for the reasons this happened to avoid future problems, they chose a different, rather slimy path to muddy the truth and deflect any culpability.
Their reaction was morbid. The lies began immediately about our son’s case and some of these falsehoods could be found on the Weston A. Price Foundation website. I wrote to Sally Fallon requesting that she remove the distortions. Instead of honoring my appeal, she injected these pathetic fabrications into Ron Schmid’s updated version of his book. This whole matter was very twisted and patently shows how they would hawk their souls to convince their followers that raw milk is always safe to drink.
People who choose raw milk for themselves or their families believe they are making an informed decision. They believe the benefits outweigh the risks. They have read the Schmid’s book or literature endorsed by WAPF. However, a truly informed decision should also address the potential health consequences. Until both sides are presented and considered, any decision to consume raw milk is based on propaganda and ignorance.
I was ignorant and I have spoken to many others who have become ill or who have had children that became ill after consuming contaminated raw milk. Sadly, they all believed the risks were minimal, which brings me to bottom line: would any mother’s choose raw milk for their children if they knew that it could seriously harm or even kill them? Never!
Consumers should understand the risks
With the abundance of literature about raw milk proselytizing its unproven benefits, how are consumers to learn about the dangers? When I purchased my raw milk it would have been nice to have some safety information to counteract the large poster in the store window advertising the alleged benefits. Perhaps a sign at the shelf where the milk sat would have helped me discern fact from fiction at Organic Pastures website. Warning labels are required on raw milk sold in California, but it is located in very small print on the back of the bottle. I never saw the warning message nor did I know to look for it.
In states where raw milk is sold in grocery stores, at farmers markets, or even on the farm, I would like to see this warning label in large, bold, conspicuous print:
Warning: Unpasteurized milk, also known as raw milk, is a raw agricultural product and may contain harmful bacteria (not limited to E. coli, Campylobacter, Listeria, and Salmonella) and can lead to serious injury and even death. Pregnant women, infants, children, the elderly, and persons with lowered resistance to disease (immune compromised) have higher risk for harm, which may include bloody diarrhea, vomiting, fever, dehydration, Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, Guillian-Barre Syndrome, Reactive Arthritis, Irritable, Bowel Syndrome, miscarriage, or death.
Note: Raw Milk must be kept refrigerated at 40 degrees at all times.
This warning label would offset safety misinformation and give the unsuspecting consumer a fighting chance at becoming informed about the potential hazards lurking in raw milk.
No danger in removing dairy from diets
It has been nearly six years since I made the catastrophic decision to give my son raw milk. He would have been spared tremendous suffering had I simply followed my instincts to simply remove all dairy from his diet instead of trying raw milk. As it turns out, when Chris consumes dairy products, the casein protein delivered to his blood stream works as an opiate on the brain. In other words, this protein works like a drug and causes Chris to become unfocused. His body has a negative reaction to both casein peptides and whey protein in milk. Once removed, his ability to focus greatly improved. He no longer needs a parent during homework and all morning congestion is gone. My son improved from the absence of store bought milk, not from the addition of raw milk.
A word of wisdom to other parents whose children may have a negative reaction to store bought pasteurized milk, whether allergies, asthma, autism, ADD, ear infections, eczema or digestive issues: try removing all dairy products and see if the symptoms improve. There is no risk in removing dairy products. The calcium and vitamins found in milk can easily be attained from other foods or supplements during your experiment.
One final thought about Sally Fallon: despite my believing she is completely irresponsible promoting the consumption of raw milk to infants and children, her cookbook “Nourishing Traditions” does have excellent information. This book is like having your grandmother in the kitchen passing down generations of food preparation wisdom. Food fermentation, both dairy and vegetable, is a focus for obtaining beneficial bacteria. Sally Fallon writes that people can obtain beneficial bacteria from kefir and yogurt made with pasteurized milk, so I’m not sure how or why the hyper-focus on raw milk emerged. So, if you are looking for a healthier way to eat, follow the suggestions in her book and just disregard everything you read about raw milk.
Don’t profit from poisoning people
I would like to say something about supporting local dairy farmers. I have empathy for the plight of the small family farmer, but it can’t come at the cost of harming people. Both raw milk farmers and consumers need to be educated about the risks of raw milk consumption. Poisoning people with raw milk is not going to economically help the local farmer. Feeding the cows grass and treating them humanely is not going to prevent cow feces from getting in the milk. If you want to support your local raw milk farmer, home pasteurization is one solution. People can learn how to pasteurize their own milk using a home pasteurizer or double boiler. If you suffer from lactose intolerance, take the digestive enzyme lactase. The perceived benefits of consuming raw milk will never outweigh the risk of harming yourself or your child.
And finally, my son still eats an organic, unprocessed diet without dairy products. In fact, no one in our family consumes dairy products. It was difficult making the switch, but well worth it. In the past year, no one in our family has been sick and Chris is hoping to receive a perfect attendance award at the end of the year. He is a happy, healthy teen who has yet to have a cavity, further evidence to never believe that the foundation of good health can only be found in a bottle of raw milk.© Food Safety News