Raw milk vendors and advocates failed earlier this week to persuade California’s Humboldt County to lift its ban on the sale of unpasteurized milk.

Mark McAfee, owner of the Chino-based Organic Pastures Dairy Company, led the group of raw milk vendors and advocates who approached Humboldt County last August.  

Organic Pastures is the largest raw-organic dairy products producers in the country, and has 60,000 customers in California, where raw milk sales are legal in all but three counties.

McAfee presented 18 articles from his library of research literature to the county’s five-member Board of Supervisors, who in turn asked the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services to circulate them to experts.

County staff then asked several state and federal agencies to provide expert review on eight of the articles that specifically addressed raw or unprocessed milk, and to respond with whether the contents impacted their agency’s positions on the risks of raw milk.

Among the responses the staff specifically called to the attention of the supervisors were these:

“These materials do not change our positions regarding the threat to public health posed by consuming raw milk because they do not comprehensively and objectively present the risks of infection with pathogens that may be present in raw milk.”  — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“California regulations, promulgated under the authority of the Health and Safety Code, therefore recognize a level of risk associated with raw milk products and specified in the required warning on consumer packages.

“Without official FDA authorization for specific health claims, CDFA would consider any reference to preventing, curing or mitigating a disease or health related condition on new raw milk labels, or advertisements to be false and misleading and therefore prohibited by California law.” — California Department of Food & Agriculture

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has carefully reviewed these articles and found that none of the claims on the benefits of raw milk can withstand scientific scrutiny. The  FDA strongly encourages Humboldt County to continue to protect public health by prohibiting the production and sale of raw milk.”  — U.S. Food and Drug Administration

“Each claim related to the beneficial effects (of raw milk) on lactose intolerance, asthma, osteoporosis gastrointestinal health and immune augmentation has either been disproven or remains unsubstantiated in the medical literature.  The claim, for instance, that raw milk consumption presents lactose intolerance was soundly refuted this year in a Stanford Medical School clinical trial (Quyen Vu, Mummah & Gardner, 2010).  — Western Institute for Food Safety and Security

After the county supervisors decided not to lift their ban, McAfee told the local newspaper, the Eureka Times Standards, that the responses Humboldt County received from the state and federal public health agencies were based on politics, not science.  

McAfee last summer argued that raw milk is a “choice of freedom” that should not be controlled by the government; claimed that the beverage rebuilds one’s immune system and helps prevent disease; and that it is a “right people should be free to make.”

Raw milk accounts for less than 1 percent of all fluid milk sales, but causes two to 10 times as many illness outbreaks as pasteurized products, according to the Humboldt Department of Health and Human Services.  Last year, 10 raw milk dairy outbreaks infected 138 people.  Also in 2010, there was one outbreak involving pasteurized dairy that resulted in 23 illnesses.

Dairies can sell raw milk for far more than for pasteurized milk, with raw milk commanding three times or more the price of pasteurized milk.