Dear Governor Sandoval: Seven years ago when my son became severely ill after drinking contaminated raw milk, I knew very little about the realities of contracting a foodborne illness. Despite the fact I’m educated and hold a master’s degree, I was naïve about foodborne pathogens.  We all know someone who has eaten something and then hours later or the next day was sick. This was my foodborne illness knowledge base.  I believed the worst that could happen was a few days of diarrhea and vomiting. In the spring of 2006, the health food store where our family shops began selling raw milk. Huge signs hung in the store to catch customers’ attention claiming raw milk could heal asthma, allergies and digestive issues.  My son was always congested after drinking pasteurized milk and he also suffers from ADD.  I began to contemplate buying raw milk to see if it would help him.  Had I not lived in California where raw milk is available in the grocery store, I would have never purchased it for my son.  This is not a food I would have sought out in another manner illegally from a nearby farmer or herdshare program. The only reason I bought it is that it was readily available. Initially I had some reservations, but the organization that encourages parents to feed their infants and children raw milk only focuses on the benefits; the risks of drinking raw milk are downplayed.  The company that sold the milk had detailed information on its website about how it fed the cows grass and tested the milk for pathogens, so I thought it would be safe to drink.  When I made the choice to buy raw milk from the grocery store, I didn’t know what choice I was really making.  I never did see the microscopic state warning label on the back of the bottle.  If a warning like this was front and center on the bottle, I would have never purchased it:

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.

Every morning I have to look in the mirror and deal with the fact that I almost killed my son when I made the decision to give him raw milk.    During his two-month stay in the hospital, he endured endless hours on a ventilator, kidney dialysis, chest drainage tubes, central lines, PICC lines, blood, plasma and platelet transfusions, intravenous nutrition, narcotics, antibiotics, and surgeries.  He recovered from renal failure, congestive heart failure, a collapsed lung, acute pancreatitis, high blood pressure and seizures.  When I made the choice to give my son raw milk, I didn’t know something so horrific could happen to him. A few years ago I had the opportunity to join the working group of the Real Raw Milk Facts website. The goal of this website is to address the complex issues surrounding raw milk science and policy. The website is also meant to serve as a clearinghouse for evidence-based studies, presentations, commentaries, regulations, and position statements on raw milk.  The highlights of the website are the victim videos, the milk outbreak charts from 1998 to present, and the U.S. map outlining each state’s raw milk laws. If I could turn back the clock to August of 2006, this is the information about raw milk I wish I knew:

1. All foodborne illnesses are preventable, especially from milk.  Over 100 years ago, it was discovered that if you cooked milk, like you cook meat, poultry and eggs, it kills deadly pathogens.  Pasteurization was invented for a reason.  As a society, we are too far removed from the horrors that occurred to children over 100 years ago.  We really don’t comprehend the damage that can be done if the milk is contaminated.

2. Raw milk is a high risk food for deadly pathogens because they live in cows’ feces.  Cows lie in their own feces and defecate while being milked.  The position of the cow’s teats to the anus can cause cow feces to get into the milk.   It is impossible to milk cows twice a day, 365 days a year, without making a mistake. Eventually, a pathogen will find its way into the milk.  When people make a choice to drink raw milk, they are making a choice to possibly consume deadly pathogens.

3. Infants, children, the elderly, pregnant women and anyone with a compromised immune system are at the greatest risk of becoming ill from contaminated raw milk.  These high risk groups should not consume raw milk.

4. Based on the CDC’s foodborne disease outbreak database, from 1998-2010 there have been 96 raw milk outbreaks causing 1,605 illnesses. There are three pathogens that cause the majority of raw milk outbreaks: Campylobacter, E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella.  The illnesses start out the same with severe diarrhea and possible vomiting, but each pathogen can cause other types of damage unique to the specific pathogen.

Campylobacter: This pathogen causes the most raw milk outbreaks.  Since 1998, raw milk has been involved in 77 Campylobacter outbreaks causing 1124 people to become ill.  This pathogen can cause reactive arthritis and Guillain-Barre Syndrome which leads to paralysis. Mari Tardiff drank raw milk contaminated with Campylobacter and then became paralyzed.

E. coli O157:H7: Since 1998, raw milk has been involved in 21 E. coli outbreaks, causing 331 illnesses. E. coli O157:H7 can cause the serious damage and can lead to Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, the most common cause of kidney failure in children. Children suffering HUS can also lose part or all of their colon, suffer pancreatitis, seizures and strokes. After drinking milk contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 my son Chris and others:  Nicole, Larry and Kalee, all developed HUS. Last year two-year-old Kylee developed HUS and now needs a kidney transplant.

Salmonella: Since 1998, raw milk has been involved in 6 Salmonella outbreaks causing 179 illnesses.  This pathogen can cause blood infection, irritable-bowel syndrome and reactive arthritis. Antibiotic resistance makes Salmonella difficult to treat.

5. When there are raw milk outbreaks, the majority of victims are children.  I counted the number of raw milk outbreaks between 2005 and 2012 involving the pathogen E. coli O157:H7–the same pathogen that almost killed my son.  Over this eight-year period, there were twelve outbreaks. These outbreaks caused 100 illnesses with the victims’ median age being under 13, and 23 children developed hemolytic uremic syndrome. It is shocking to think that 23 percent–or almost one-fourth of these children–developed this syndrome that leads to kidney failure after drinking raw milk contaminated with this pathogen.

6. Following raw milk safety standards may reduce the risks of pathogens, but it will never eliminate them completely and testing does not guarantee the milk is not contaminated with a pathogen. For example, the raw milk my son drank is tested both by the state and the dairy. In 2006, the testing occurred about twice a month and the state testing occurred monthly.  That means it was tested around 3 times a month.  The other 27 days the milk was not tested.  This leaves a lot of flexibility for pathogens to sneak in undetected.

In the state of California, there are two dairies that meet the requirements to sell certified raw milk.  Despite this milk being regulated, tested, and deemed safe, outbreaks still occur.  From 2006-2012, a period of merely six years, there were four raw milk outbreaks: two from Campylobacter and two from E. coli 0157:H7.  Five children developed HUS.  Statistically, it reveals a raw milk outbreak every 18 months and three of the four outbreaks occurred at the same dairy.  As you think about signing this bill, you must take into consideration the cost of investigations when statewide raw milk outbreaks begin in your state. Based upon my firsthand experience, I keenly understand why a host of professional organizations do not support the consumption of raw milk, especially for children.  To name a few:  the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Public Health Veterinarians, the National Environmental Health Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. To whom will you listen:  professional health organizations or an industry interested in making money from the sale of raw milk—regardless of the risks? As you contemplate signing this bill, please take the time review information on the Real Raw Milk Facts website, specifically the victim videos and the raw milk outbreak charts and reports. Sincerely, Mary McGonigle-Martin Mother of Christopher Martin

  • Emily Nelson

    Ms. McGonigle-Martin, thank you for stepping forward and writing about this issue. More people need to understand the realities of the dangers of raw milk. Unfortunately, too many people think their “freedom” is more important than the health and safety of the American public and have been swayed by the nonsense and pseudoscience of “advocates” for this dangerous product.

    • LurkinLizard

      Hogwash. There have been more people killed from drinking pasteurized milk than drinking raw. Raw milk is NOT a “dangerous product.” If you don’t want to drink it, fine. Don’t. But don’t try to keep ME from drinking it.

  • ChurnYourOwn

    Dear Mary, I’m so sorry for what happened to your son. But I have a question – you say your son was sickened “after consuming raw milk.” What you didn’t say is that your son was sickened by a pathogen “which was later proven to have come from the raw milk.” Can you clarify how you were able to conclude that the milk is what sickened your son? Also, wasn’t the eColi 0157:H7 spinach outbreak going on around the same time your son was sickened?

    • Kevin

      ChurnYourOwn you are welcome to believe that raw milk is safe to drink, but you are only putting yourself in danger. You shouldn’t question Mary’s story when there are numerous documented cases of children becoming ill from drinking raw milk. You should try pasteurized milk, it contains the same valuable nutrients without the risks.

      • ChurnYourOwn

        Kevin, you seem to think that there’s something wrong with being an inquisitive, independent thinker. Do you also teach your children never to question others? To believe everything that everyone says? In the case of Mary’s letter, I saw a glaring omission, so I decided to ask the question rather than jump to a potentially false conclusion.

    • MaryMcGonigleMartin

      ChurnYourOwn, I’m guessing that is butter made from raw milk? It is so strange that you would ask aquestion about the spinach outbreak. My son has never eaten Dole packaged spinach.

      If for some reason you doubt my son became ill from rawmilk, then I will change the data I posted on my article to “Over the past 8 years there have been 12 raw milk outbreaks involving the pathogen E.coli0157:H7. 99 became ill with 23 children
      developing HUS. That is almost ¼ of the children developing HUS.” If you really
      understood what HUS does to the human body you would be very disturbed by this
      data. If you are not familiar with HUS, you can read all about it here.

      • ChurnYourOwn

        Since you didn’t answer my question Mary, I’ll interpret your answer to be no, the link has not been proven.

        • Michael Bulger

          Based on common exposure, contamination/E. Coli 0157:H7 at Dairy A (Organic Pastures), and the fact that no other food product connect the victims, the link is considered proven.

        • MaryMcGonigleMartin

          I thought the links Bill Marler provided answered the
          question. Yes. A link was proven and my son and another little girl involved in the outbreak won a settlement. If you would like to discuss this matter
          further with me, please call me on my cell 951-296-8803. I will answer all of your questions.

  • billmarler

    Churn: It was not the spinach, it was the raw milk.

    I represented most of the people who became sick after eating spinach traced to Dole. I also represented the Martins and the other child sickened by the raw milk. Why would I not have simply added them into the suit against Dole if in fact they were linked to the spinach outbreak?

    • ChurnYourOwn

      Thanks for this information Bill. I see now that it probably wasn’t the spinach, however, it looks like there wasn’t definitive proof of having come from the milk either. But I do understand that it’s always tough when all you have to work with is epidemiological data, which in this case seems to point in that direction. Problem is, consumption of raw milk correlates very closely with other atypical lifestyle choices, like preparing a lot of foods from scratch, sourcing ingredients from non-mainstream sources, etc. That’s why I think one needs to be careful about overreacting to a situation like this in the absence of hard proof. And by overreacting, I mean asking for the government to ban something.

  • Eat Mike

    People should be free to choose what they consume, and where they obtain their food. Prominent labeling is indeed necessary, but individuals need to take responsibility and know what food is, and how to handle it. Raw chicken is not illegal, nor are raw eggs. Should all Americans be forced to purchase only fully-prepared foods? Folly.
    A dear friend of mine died from choking on a marshamllow. Shall we make them illegal?
    Horrors exist everywhere. It is knowledge, personal responsibility and individual choice that determine the extent to which we expose ourselves to the risk of horrors. But fate has a major role that cannot be legislated away, or sued into compliance.

    • Doug

      How often do you fully cook your milk at home?

      • Ignacio Alvarez

        Mike comes cooked, its called pasteurization.

  • Mais Karesli

    in the country where i was raised, we all knew that raw milk is dangerous, we used to buy fresh milk from farmers, but then we would boil it at home for at least 15 minutes before consuming it. when i studied nutrition and came around the subject i was so surprised from the new campaign about raw milk, and i will never ever even think about try it. may be boiling raw milk is not as bad as pasteurizing it, I’m just saying may be, we need to search more about the subject.

    • MaryMcGonigleMartin

      Thank Mais for your comment. If a person wants to buy raw milk straight from the farm, then boiling it at home is an excellent option to store bought pasteurized milk.

  • I’m an amateur historian. I know that 100 years ago, cholera, diphtheria, typhoid, in addition to salmonella and other pathogens, regularly killed people, mostly children. That is why pasteurization was such a blessing. It SAVED LIVES. The idea that pasteurization somehow makes milk “bad” and raw milk has magical qualities is based on wishful thinking, not science.
    If adults want to risk serious disease, fine, but children should be protected until they are old enough to decide from themselves if they want to risk their health.
    Yes, raw chicken and raw eggs are sold but not for raw consumption. If you want to eat all those things raw, you certainly may. And you may die (or merely wish you would. I had salmonella, thank you, and I hoped for death.) from that as well. Your choice, but only if you are an adult.

  • Susan Vaughn Grooters

    If you could, please comment on CSPI’s Facebook page today. We have a lot of misunderstanding and myths that we could use health debunking.

    • MaryMcGonigleMartin

      Hi Susan, the high school I work at had their graduation
      tonight. I can comment tomorrow or
      Friday. I scanned the posts on the CSPI
      Facebook page; very typical types of misinformation comments are posted.
      Unfortunately, WAPF has done a huge disservice with presenting misinformation
      to their members about grass fed cows not harboring pathogens and that knowing
      your farmer is a safety measure. They parrot
      this misinformation as if it is truth.

      Since 2005, there have been 14 raw milk outbreaks involving
      grassfed and pastured cows.

      Many raw milk outbreaks have occurred with people that knew
      their farmer.

  • Amy

    I have a couple of dairy goats and my family consumes their raw milk on a daily basis. I’m very careful to keep my milking tools (buckets, jars, etc) as sterile as possible and milk the goats into jars out of the freezer in a cooler bag. I know my goats are healthy and what they eat, so I’m not worried. I can see however, how people may be concerned if dairy farms with large herds and minimum wage workers could pose a problem with proper milk handling. There are health benefits to raw milk (especially goat!), and I hope for the small family farm sake, they do not ban it. I don’t sell it, but realize that with anything in life, there could be some risk involved, but banning everything is not the answer.

  • Heather Lei

    It is always sad when people get sick, but people get sick for many reasons and taking away our choices won’t prevent that. There have been many outbreaks of foodborne illness and most of those foods are still around. Put a warning label on it, fine. People need to be responsible consumers and make educated decisions and stop blaming other people for bad things that happen. My family chooses to not consume milk at all, but we don’t push for legislation saying that all milk products should be banned.

    As for 100 years ago, many things have changed since then and it is faulty logic that compares conditions then to conditions now.

    Let people consume the food products they choose to and accept the consequences of their choices. If you don’t like it; don’t choose to consume it. Time to grow up, folks.

    • target2009

      The Internet is awash with warnings about the risk of drinking raw milk. This is the information age. Anyone who could not find both sides of the argument should not be posting the fact in public. Any search for raw milk produced a large number of warnings.

      The fact that over 3 million Americans choose to drink raw milk anyway suggests they benefit in some way. Since this does not impinge on our freedom we should not interfere,

  • Libertynorth

    Whatever happened to show a little responsibility for your own choices and let your neighbors do the same without using force against them???????????? I guess some people would rather the nanny state then liberty.

  • You are what you eat

    “The position of the cow’s teats to the anus can cause cow feces to get into the milk. Eventually, a pathogen will find its way into the milk. When people make a choice to drink raw milk, they are making a choice to possibly consume deadly pathogens.” And people want to eat this stuff in raw form.
    No kill step and a healthy environment for these buggers to grow. Weigh the costs and benefits of drinking raw milk folks…drinking this stuff won’t make you 5 inches taller, etc…should become apparent why we pastuerize. I’ll stick with the science, go Louis Pasteur!

  • target2009

    This story commits the logical fallacy of composition. One person has a bad experience, therefore all experience is bad.

    Blaming society for the consequences of your own actions is not adult. I would hope you teach your children better life skills than that.

    The web is replete with anti-raw milk material, pages and pages. CDC, FDA, main stream media, its everywhere. If you did any research at all you would have found ample material to consider before purchasing raw milk and feeding it to your children.

    If you haven’t learned to weigh both sides of a debate, especially one as biased as this one, the problem is your own. As for your wish to go back to 2006, why. The FDA’s stance on raw milk ha not changed for much longer than that.

    Frankly you should count yourself lucky that your child was not one of the three people who died drinking pasteurised milk in MA in 2007. There were certainly no warning labels on those milk cartons, or any pages on the FDA website warning of the dangers of consuming pasteurised milk.

    Frankly provided production standards are maintained, and the product is clearly labelled, people should be allowed to drink any milk they want. It is up to the consumer to determine what benefits there are if any. In my experience paid for food studies are singularly useless in this area.

  • Real foods

    History? My how things have changed – Louis Pasteur was contracted to extend the shelf life of beer, pasteurization went into law due to the filthiest cow dairy in NYC, refrigeration was not invented yet. Maybe we should rethink if pasteurization is really necessary in this day and age. Maybe we should develop better, inexpensive testing for E. coli, listeria and salmonella so that we can better evaluate our raw foods and stop the debate. Maybe we should spend all this wasted debate time on better education that raw foods can be safely consumed if handled properly…..

  • John Cunin

    443,000 people die each year from tobacco … 48,000 die in hospital acquired infections … 48,000 die in car accidents … Over 10,000 die in alcohol related traffic incidents … We all seem to be fine with all this but we are now supposed to get all of our milk from industry farms who are not inspected as they should, and have bought and own the politicians who are writing the legislation that supposedly is to protect us but doesn’t (please don’t insult the intelligence of informed consumers and suggest otherwise) because a single digit % point of the above numbers got sick ??? … Grocery store milk from big dairy concerns comes from tortured animals pumped full of BST and antibiotics and is dead except for artificial unhealthy nutrients that are added back to the stripped milk … Big dairy sickens many more people of all ages than raw milk ever will … It is unfortunate that Mary’s son got sick once but that is no license to strip citizens of their rights to farm, sell, and consume healthy natural products … I do not want the USDA anywhere near my food … Know your food, where it comes from, who made it, how it was made and have faith in God not government …

  • Ignacio Alvarez

    So by Sandoval’s logic we should make Sushi illegal to. Its raw and can make you sick or even cause parasites. Lets make everything illegal because Sandoval”s son got a tummy ache. Forget the fact the we are all grown adults and can make decisions on we chose to put in our bodys. Get this asshole out of office. I’m sure this had more to do with what lobbyists think than what is good for our community.