Company predicts raw milk will be back in stores ‘in short order’

The controversy over raw milk has entered surprising new territory–the Whole Foods stores in California, Washington state, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Effective March 12, the company pulled raw milk–milk that has not been pasteurized–out of its store dairy departments in those four states.

whole-foods-pulls-raw-milk.jpgRetail stores in those four states are permitted to sell raw milk under state regulation.

Austin, TX-based Whole Foods, the tenth largest food and drug store in the United States, is a major player in the grocery business. In fiscal year 2008, it chalked up $8 billion in sales, according to the company’s website.

Whole Foods spokeswoman Vicki Foley told Food Safety News that because different states have different regulations about whether and how retailers can sell raw milk, it’s difficult for Whole Foods to apply standards and ensure consistency.

“We are currently in the process of looking at these regulations, and we are also working with raw milk producer partners to create raw milk standards with one rigorous, consistent set of requirements,” she said in an e-mail to Food Safety News. “For added assurance that our customers expect, we are not selling raw milk or raw milk products until we finish this process.”

Foley said the process should be completed “in short order,” although she did not respond directly to a question about how long that might be.

A sign in a Whole Foods store in Redmond, WA, informed customers that the company is pursuing a “rigorous” company-wide standard for raw milk and will not be offering it until it completes this process.

The sign also informs customers that Whole Foods hopes to be able “to offer these products again soon.” Joe MacAlister, an employee in the dairy department at the Whole Foods store in Berkeley, Calif., told Food Safety News on the morning of March 13 that the store had pulled raw milk off the shelves the previous evening.

On March 12, California raw milk producer Mark McAfee, owner of Organic Pastures Dairy Company, the largest retail-approved raw-organic-dairy-products producer in North America, sent a notice out to stores that sell raw milk informing them that Whole Foods had notified him and all other raw milk producers nationwide that the company’s stores wouldn’t be able to carry any raw dairy products.

In that same notice, McAfee also said that Whole Foods told him that its insurance company would not insure the stores that sold raw milk until a nationwide food safety plan was developed for all raw dairy producers.

Whole Foods’ Vicki Foley did not respond directly to questions about whether the company’s decision was triggered by concerns of its insurance company.

In his notice to the stores, McAfee told the storeowners that this is actually good news for them.

“We will be directing all our consumers to stores like yours,” he said. “Please expect and prepare to have increased sales of raw milk and higher traffic due to this turn of events.”

McAfee said he had been given only six hours notice about Whole Foods’ decision to suspend all deliveries of raw milk to the stores.

He also estimated that losing Whole Foods as an outlet for his products will mean a sales loss of about six percent but that he expects to be able to make up that loss by selling to health food retail outlets.

In an earlier interview with Food Safety News, McAfee said his dairy could not keep up with the demand for raw milk.

raw-milk4-featured.jpgOn the other side of the fence, Michele Jay-Russell, a University of California Davis researcher with the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, said that Whole Foods’ recent action on raw milk is “good news for California,” even though raw dairy will still be available in retail health-food stores.

She also said that raw chocolate colostrum, which Whole Foods had in its dairy cases, is a public health concern, in large part because it’s a product being marketed for children. She pointed out that colostrum is regulated as a nutritional supplement and is therefore not subject to the same sanitary standards as Grade A raw milk.

Two outbreaks linked to raw chocolate colostrum have been documented in California, she said. Those outbreaks included two severe illnesses among children who had E. coli O157:H7 and HUS (hemolytic uremic syndrome).

Both of these illnesses are potentially fatal.

Colostrum is the thick, yellowish, first milk produced by a female after giving birth but before the actual production of milk. As such, it conveys certain immunological benefits to the offspring.

Food safety attorney Bill Marler, who is representing a child and an adult from Connecticut who consumed raw milk contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 purchased at a Whole Foods store, said the two patients racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses. In addition, the adult–a young mother–will likely require a kidney transplant, which will run into multiple millions of dollars in cost.

In pointing to the liability risk in cases such as this, Marler said that in most states, anyone in the chain of distribution, which would include a farmer, a shipper and a retailer, is responsible for damages if raw milk causes harm.

But while the farmer is part of that chain, he or she often has limited assets, including insurance, which Marler said means the retailer might be left “holding the bag.” Marler told Food Safety News that the reality is that insurers are getting out of insuring dairies that sell raw milk.

Several months ago when Marler was a speaker at the executive committee of the American Insurance Institute in Washington, D.C., the committee members told him they were interested in the risks of raw milk. Marler also said the insurer that insured Towne Farm Dairy, the dairy involved in the Connecticut raw milk lawsuits, is now out of the market.

“Other insurers are adding in raw milk exclusions,” Marler said. “Whole Foods is not going to take on the risk of it by itself–especially facing the HUS suits they have in Connecticut and the risk of punitive damages.”

In comments e-mailed to Food Safety News, Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nutrition-education non-profit that promotes sustainable agriculture and traditional foods, said that the decision by Whole Foods was not based on any problem with the milk but instead has to do with the company’s insurance coverage–that the company’s insurance carriers want to be satisfied that food safety plans are satisfactory.

“We expect farm-fresh milk to be back in the Whole Foods dairy case in the future,” she said.

On her blog, “Hartke Is Online,” Kimberly Hartke, a raw dairy products consumer and a publicist for the Weston A. Price Foundation, emphasized that it’s important that raw milk products available in retail stores come from producers with solid safety plans, good animal husbandry practices, regular testing of livestock and the dairy products, and a good safety record.

“This is for the protection of public health,” she said. “Our members care very much about food safety and the reputation of the farm-fresh milk marketers.”

  • aed939

    Part of Whole Foods’ plan should be to inform customers of D-mannose as a remedy for E. coli to prevent HUS. This is beneficial regardless of the source of the infection whether it’s raw milk or raw spinach. They should do whatever can be done with in-store information without running afoul of FDA labeling rules.

  • linda

    Utter nonsense. There should already be standards in place. I feel this is a political move and not happy with the inconvenience. Raw milk, is without question better for you than the homogenized pastured product.

  • Doc Mudd

    “…Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation…said that the decision by Whole Foods was not based on any problem with the milk…”
    President Sally breezily concludes that a kidney transplant is no problem. Sure, so long as it is someone else who winds up needing the transplant. From consuming raw milk. At the incessant urging of the Weston A. Price Foundation. No culpability there?

  • I think it makes sense for Whole Foods to look hard at the risks and costs of retail sales of raw milk and raw milk products. As I said months ago:
    I would really urge you all to watch these videos:
    And, for the folks at Whole Foods:

  • You might disagree with my perspective, but I have tried to be consistent:
    1. Raw milk should be sold only on farms that are certified by the state and inspected and tested regularly. Make ambiguous black market milk/cheese sales and “pet food sales” meant for human consumption clearly illegal;
    2. Raw milk should not be sold in grocery stores or across state lines–the risks of mass production and transportation are too great; the risk of a casual purchase by someone misunderstanding the risks is too great, as well;
    3. Farms should be required to have insurance coverage sufficient to cover reasonable damages to their customers;
    4. Practices such as outsourcing (buying raw milk from farms not licensed for raw milk production) should be illegal;
    5. Colostrum should be regulated as a dairy product, not a nutritional supplement;
    6. Warning signs on the bottles and at point-of-purchase should be mandatory. An example: “WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and may contain harmful bacteria (not limited to E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter, Listeria and Salmonella). Pregnant women, infants, children, the elderly and persons with lowered resistance to disease (immune compromised) have the highest risk of harm, which includes Diarrhea, Vomiting, Fever, Dehydration, Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Reactive Arthritis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Miscarriage, or Death, from use of this product.”

  • All I have to say is that this is infuriating. I’m sympathetic to Whole Foods’s insurance concerns–it’s the government that I’m infuriated with. Thanks to the government interfering in consensual trade between individuals, we have all sorts of market inefficiencies like this. If the government stopped arrogating itself to some status of omniscience, private safety and standards companies would emerge (ever heard of Consumer Reports or the innumerable user-contributed Internet rating systems?), and raw milk and the plethora other actually safe products would be plentifully available.

  • Lynette

    It seems some people who post here are as opinionated about raw milk as others are about politics! I’m so tired of the “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts”, “there are two correct ways of thinking, mine and mine” and the “it’s my way or highway” mentality. If you think raw milk is unhealthy, don’t drink it. There are a lot of people who like the taste and health benefits of raw milk and have been drinking it for years with no ill effects. I’m not sure why a few people have such an ax to grind about raw milk, but I’m offended that they think it’s their right to deny others access it. Thank goodness they aren’t vegetarians and want to deny the rest of us the right to buy and eat meat!

  • Betsy

    Why is raw milk being singled out? Every year there are hundreds if not thousands of hospitalizations due to salmonella in ground beef, vegetables, PASTEURIZED cheese and milk and the latest: hyrdolyzed vegetable protein (in literally thousands of products).
    Hopefully, good will come out of this, i.e., better standards. We are lucky in California in that the two main providers of raw milk have such high standards — much higher than a typical dairy as you would expect.
    I think there’s more to the story.

  • Mitchell McAleer

    Keep the lawyers like Mr. Marlar out of my food supply. I grew up drinking raw Altadena milk delivered to my parent’s door every week. I drank gallons of it, for years. I am rarely sick, less than 1 day a year, some years, never, and at 51 years old, I can say that many people I know cannot make that claim.
    The systematic removal of nutritious food from the shelves of markets helped along by allegedly well meaning people like Mr. Marlar is one of the leading causes of an American epidemic of obesity and poor health, dependence on allopathic medicine, instead of healthy people who don’t need to purchase products from big corporate biotech.

  • Doc Mudd

    “I grew up drinking raw Altadena milk…”
    How does one go about milking an Altadena, exactly?
    I prefer cow’s milk myself. Pasteurized, homogenized, vitamin D fortified and ice cold…yum!! A most affordable and nutritious treat. The perfect food – it cannot be improved, so there is no reason to take stupid risks with preventable diseases. Especially with children, some of whom, unfortunately, did not choose their kooky parents.

    • kevin Golike

      God i hope your not a real doctor!

  • MK Hickox

    To Mr. Marlar:
    it appears that your blog is committed to putting raw dairy producers out of business even though commercial milk producers have much lower health and sanitary conditions than raw milk producers.
    It is really awful that Whole Foods has banned all raw milk sales while it supposedly creates a 3rd party “overseer” agency to come up with some sort of national raw milk standard since the standards are different in each state.
    Again Mr. Marler, I have never ever gotten sick from drinking raw milk purchased from Whole Foods in 18 years, and thanks to your efforts, Whole Foods has decided to deprive me of the right to purchase raw milk because the cost of defending law suits is too high.
    It is really insane about getting e coli from raw milk in California from whole foods, i wouldn’t be surprised if some commercial dairy “agent” contaminated raw milk with e coli to help generate lawsuits against raw milk. It’s all about the money, right Mr. Marler and the rest of the commercial diary mafia who hates raw milk producers because the profit margins are lower and it’s more work to produce high quality raw milk?
    Standards in CA are already amongst the highest for raw milk dairy producers who weren’t already put out of business.
    What a crummy day to visit the Whole Foods dairy section and see the “WF no longer sells raw milk products” sign posted.
    i refuse to drink pasteurized milk, it is really an unhealthy product because the pasteurization destroys everything, making the calcium difficult to absorb and having very little good bacteria and everything has to be added back in. thanks Mr. Marler and the dairy industry mafia but I won’t buy the pasteurized milk ever.

  • Cyndy

    Raw milk is one of the best foods on the planet. The California Health dept. put Alta Dena Dairy out of business with it’s politics and ignorance. If Whole Foods is concerned about health why don’t they get rid of all of the really bad processed foods, anything with the word fortified, like homogenized, lowfat, and nonfat milk, soy products, caffeine & alcohol products, canola oil, etc. Whole Foods is not the company that it used to be, they’re more corporate than health food store in recent years. Did they sell to some corporate conglomerate who primarily sells convenience? I’ve have a store in my neighborhood but rarely went there until I found they carried raw milk. Now I have no reason to go there. Other local stores sell similar products and are less expensive. I do appreciate the signs advising where to obtain the raw milk from other local stores which is where we should be shopping anyway. Thanks for the wake up call.

  • Mr. Rawmilklover

    Wow, Dr. Mudd, your name really fits. I love raw milk and feed it to my family. If it’s organic, grassfed and (maybe)certified and from good husbands who test and care for their cows I know it’s good. I have never had problems. I also REFUSE to drink pasteurized milk or let my family drink it. I love raw milk and will continue to drink it and continue to rightfully repudiate all those viscious lies about it. It is singled out from all the other food that has some association with an illness for no good reason. So Dr. MUDD and all you other raw milk haters, let me live my life and choose MY milk. I don’t want to drink processed CRAP. ANd you can’t force me to. In other words . . . screw you, you anti-freedom dictocrats. I know that might be offensive but it’s just how I feel. If you don’t approve, don’t respond. Just like if you don’t like raw milk, don’t buy it.

  • Laurie

    What a wonder that the cow was made so incorrectly that it fails to pasteurize and homogenize (force milk through a fine screen at 4,000 lbs of pressure psi)the milk. Interesting too that the only milk people drank for centuries has been raw or cultured and by and large they THRIVED. All those years of eating plenty of healthy raw milk and cream and butter (approx 18 lbs per year, per person) and heart disease was rare. Ask Mr. Marler how he feels about aspartame (now “amino sweet”) or genetically engineered foods (GMO), or even the pasture feeding of cows and chickens etc.
    I am very sorry for the serious health issues experienced by the family which are being attributed to raw milk however the reaction of this family is extremely unusual – and should not be used to deprive everyone else of their preferred health choice. Volumes of evidence attest to the healthy benefits and the superiority of raw milk – and we have no way to verify the actual cause of the family’s misfortune.
    Many people are harmed by many things that others are able to use without harm and therefore it is not reasonable to attempt to prevent everyone access to raw milk as a consequence of a possibly unrelated occurrence.

  • James

    Raw milk is a naturally-occurring, non-processed live food given to us by Nature. Pasteurized milk is an unnaturally-occurring, processed, heated, dead food given to us by the “Government”. But hey, let’s ban the natural one. Thank God for the ‘powers that be’. You’ve saved me once again. It’s a dangerous, evil substance that will kill us all! The fact that I have drunk it for 25 years with no ill-effects, that I suffer from no allergies and am rarely ill is irrelevant. The fact that pasteurized milk makes me congested, bloated and uncomfortable is irrelevant. But hey, it’s all okay. I don’t want to make free choices in my life about what I put into my body anyway. That’s why I vote for political parties, to guide me in the right direction.

  • marvelous

    Utter garbage. Lets look at almost all the jelly purchased in grocery stores, all the so called enhanced waters and on and on and on. Oils, I guess I don’t know where to stop. Thousands of items sold by grocery stores that create heart disease and every thinkable disorder. If they were really concerned about health they would not allow almost dead antibiotic laced animals to be sold for people to eat. I guess the bullshit will continue.It’s all about profits. But I guess if people didn’t eat the junk and were educated where would big mac, the whopper and gas station junk food be sold. Oh lets get the developing nations to eat it and get our illnesses.

  • natureisgood

    Mr. Marler,
    Your suggestion regarding putting warning signs on raw milk products…Sure if we’re gonna do that, we’ll also have to include it on all pasteurized milk cartons as well as just about every food sold in our grocery stores.

  • natureisgood

    it’s very sad that few companies or even gov’t agencies really care about the health of the american public. i’m frankly sick and tired of it. not only do they NOT encourage healthy whole foods, they are pushing the sales of products that barely qualify as “food.” thank God for movies like Food Inc. many groups are being exposed. i also recommend the movie Flow: for the Love of Water. it’s along the same lines…just about corrupt water bottling corporations.

  • kevin Golike

    and how many cases of E coli in salad? thousands! and yet they will not pull it from the market

  • kevin Golike

    look ,i have been on pain pills for 15 years,spent one week in Texas at my brothers who had raw milk,in 2 days i no longer needed pain pills and have not had one in over a week. been taking 10/325 hydrocodone 4 per day. no with drawls,no problems,been back in california havnt had raw milk in 2 days and i can feel the pain creeping back! called the only place in my town that has raw milk ,goat milk,i will be picking some up tomorrow !