When I learned that a Campylobacter outbreak had been linked to raw milk products from Organic Pastures Dairy this week — making this the 4th outbreak linked to that farm since 2006 and the 6th outbreak linked to raw milk just this year — I had to pause to ask, yet again, what is it that makes people drink this stuff from Organic Pastures?

Raw milk isn’t just another choice people make in the grocery store aisle, like opting for organic apples or all-natural cereal. It’s a symbol of a belief system. An anti-industrial agriculture, anti-government, know-your-farmer, back-to-the-land mentality that romanticizes the pastoral image of a small farm with cows grazing in the pasture.  Let’s call it the “teat party.”  It’s a movement that, like a religion, relies on faith in raw milk’s miraculous (some say “magical”) powers, sometimes in the face of science. But, no matter what you believe about it, raw milk can make you sick.


Mark-McAfee-of-Organic-Pastures-B.jpgIn seeking an explanation for why people feel so strongly about raw milk, who better to turn to than Organic Pastures owner and raw milk guru, Mark McAfee?

Here are some of his quotes from recent years that I think convey the zeal of raw milk enthusiasm:

– In an e-mailed statement to Food Safety News, McAfee said:

The problem with government crack-downs on raw milk dairies is that “state and federal agencies have cried wolf so many times against raw milk that now any cries that might be an honest attempt to warn of the rare incidence of illness is ignored as hatred against all things FDA.”

– In an interview with Food Safety News after an injunction against Organic Pastures preventing the company from selling raw milk across state lines:

“It’s ridiculous to come after us like this,” McAfee said.

“It’s like throwing us into the shark pool. They want a pound of flesh and blood.”

– From the YouTube video “The Truth About Raw Milk with Mark McAfee from Organic Pastures:”

“We find most dramatically, most excitingly, that when you go natural like this, and you put the cow in a green grass pasture, you never find pathogens. Pathogens are disease-causing organisms that cause disease in human beings. Bad bugs. You just never find ’em! They’re not there.”

“These processes [pasteurization] kill most of the good or bad bacteria…During that process the bacterium that are being killed and the cell bodies membranes are being broken open. Releasing cyto-toxins from inside the cell membranes, these histamines are foreign to your body. Your body doesn’t know what to do with them and they will make your body sick.” Examples McAfee gives are asthma attacks, inflammation, tearing, mucus production, and itching.

“Pasteurization doesn’t clean anything. It kills the bacteria and they’re left dead in the milk. So you have filthy dead milk not filthy living milk.”

“Raw milk is a living product that has a very low bacteria count. Raw milk is a living, breathing food.”

– In a 2009 guest blog post:

“Literally no one has lactose intolerance…instead it is ” pasteurization intolerance” and nearly anyone can drink raw milk just fine. Yet the dairy industry has invented a blame game that tells Asians and blacks and American Indians that they are not white enough to drink milk. That they have a deficiency. This is a false science and a huge dairy lie.”

“We have listened to what [consumers] say and we have responded by producing food that they can eat, food that nourishes the inner ecosystem and rebuilds the immune systems destroyed by antibiotics and sterile food. We, just like Mike [Schmidt] and the Amish know that people are literally sick of pasteurized milk…because it makes them sick and triggers allergies and asthma.”

“[Raw milk farmers] stand proud and shake your hand and share the bounty directly with you and your gut says thank you with health and immune system integrity that can only come from the earth through the hands of a farmer that has a name  and a family.”

– From the Organic Pastures website:

“Every batch of milk is tested to exceed California Department of Food and Agriculture raw milk standards for market Grade A milk….Our milking teams are so proud of our low bacteria counts, we put them on our Web site for everyone to see.”

– From a radio interview with Mike Adams, the “Health Ranger” NaturalNews.com regarding the FDA “raid” on Venice, CA Rawesome Food Co-op of Venice, CA after which the owners were held in jail overnight.

“This is a galvanizing time….It’s the great Waterloo of the FDA. They just screwed up, big time.”

-Also in the vein of battles, McAfee has implied that he would be willing to use violence to defend his raw milk rights.  Perhaps more disturbing are these comments by Mr. McAfee on the Complete Patient:

“Let me be very clear….

I am not a pacifist and there is a tipping point at which activism and defense of the rights of my home, my food, my freedom and my family takes precidence (sic) over peaceful politically appropriate action with cameras and playing along while you get raped…

Another Wounded Knee, Ruby Ridge or Waco could easily happen in America because of police abuse, massive unemployment, corruption, Wall Street rip offs, denial of the right to food etc…

I also believe that each and every mentally and emotionally stable free American should know how to shoot and shoot well and that those Americans that choose to do so should own a gun and appreciate its place in history and freedom. On of my fondest memories was visiting Switzerland in 1983 and seeing a youth with a machine gun on his back going to the shooting range on a moped. I thought to myself….no body will ever mess with his rights. Homes in Switzerland have huge machine SIG guns and everyone knows how to use them. There is little violence in that land and the crime rate is nill. Cops thoughtfully enter homes after asking politely and do not brandish weapons like Miami Vice…”

I shoot and own guns….but you will never see them displayed or used against cops or any person. Until the tipping point. At that point my life is then the value which must be laid down in the balance and it is worth giving in trade. . . . Remember, those that live by the sword can also die by it. If you raise a gun in anger expect to pay a dear price at some point. 

– And finally from the 2006 LA Times article “Can This Cow Make You Sick?” written in the wake of the 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to his farm, McAfee was quoted as saying there’s a chance, especially in children new to raw milk, that they can drink a batch and get sick.

However in the same article, he also stated: “There is a war between me and the state. What they’re attempting to do, bottom line, is an assassination on our brand. They’re trying to attack us as bioterrorists and baby killers.”  

But it’s becoming a little harder for McAfee to defend raw milk so vehemently after his dairy has now been linked to 4 outbreaks and 6 recalls.

In 2006, three strains of E. coli O157:H7 were
cultured from Organic Pastures’ heifers’ feces.  That same year, the dairy was quarantined after six children became ill with E. coli infections – two with hemolytic uremic syndrome – linked to its raw milk.

In 2007, fifty strains of Campylobacter jejuni plus Campylobacter coli, Campylobacter fetus, Campylobacter hyointetinalis, and Campylobacter lari were cultured from OPDC dairy cow feces after eight people were sickened.  See the state report here

In 2007, Listeria monocytogenes was cultured from Organic Pastures Grade A raw cream.

In 2008, Campylobacter was cultured from Organic Pastures Grade A raw cream.

And in November 2011, a cluster of five young children with Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7 infection with matching pulse-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) patterns was identified. All five children reported drinking commercially available raw (unpasteurized) milk from a single dairy (Organic Pastures) and had no other common exposures. The epidemiological findings led to a quarantine and recall of all Organic Pastures products except cheese aged more than 60 days. Environmental samples collected at Organic Pastures yielded E. coli O157:H7 isolates that had PFGE patterns indistinguishable from the patient isolates.  

Given these and the other raw milk outbreaks including an ongoing one in Oregon that put 4 children in the hospital with life-threatening illnesses, I say it’s time to face the dangers of raw milk, and perhaps to put this issue ahead of the other food safety questions that have stolen the media spotlight of late, specifically “pink slime” and “meat glue,” neither of which have ever been linked to a foodborne illness.

If we’re going to criticize those products, maybe it’s time to put raw milk under that microscope instead?

For more information on the real risks of raw milk, see Real Raw Milk Facts and download summary of raw milk and raw milk cheese outbreaks 1998 to present.