The Power of Numbers in the War Over Raw Dairy–How the CDC Came to Admit a Death Wasn’t Categorized Correctly
Take the statistic I came up with in my Feb. 11 post, after having assessed data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control–that there have been on average 39 illnesses from raw milk cheese between 2000 and 2008. It’s the first time I’m aware of that anyone has presented the data that way.
Within days, National Public Radio had a story about the controversy over raw milk cheese, and included this statement, “On average, about 40 people report getting sick from raw milk cheese a year nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” The idea was to suggest that raw milk cheese doesn’t seem to present a huge public health problem.
There’s another related number that has been around much longer, and it’s this: Between 1998 and 2008, there have been two deaths from raw milk. This number comes up repeatedly in media reporting about raw milk, courtesy of the CDC, even though I have reported that those illnesses appear to have come from queso fresco cheese, a soft fresh cheese that isn’t legal under FDA regulations requiring a minimum 60 day aging period.
The CDC hasn’t responded…till now. It all came about as a result of an inquiry made by Mark McAfee, the owner of Organic Pastures Dairy Co., in December, when he challenged claims on the Centers for Disease Control web site stating that raw milk is dangerous. The agency actually agreed to make some slight changes to its language on the site, but when he inquired about statistics concerning raw milk illnesses in California, an official with the agency’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Parasitic Diseases, Janell Routh, stated in part. “From 1998-2008, more outbreaks associated with unpasteurized dairy in California than in any other state (13). There was 1 death reported in that time, from Salmonella Typhimurium.”
McAfee expressed surprise about the death. The state wasn’t reporting it, he said. His requests to Dr. Routh for more information went unanswered. Finally, he threatened to file a Freedom of Information Act request.
An answer came back last week from an unnamed official of the CDC’s information office (firstname.lastname@example.org): “The death mentioned in an earlier email was from an unpasteurized dairy product, queso fresco, made from raw milk.”
Why is this important? Because statistics have become important weapons in the war over food rights. When the CDC says there have been two deaths from raw milk between 1998 and 2008, that statistic carries a powerful message: you can die from drinking raw milk.
Now all the CDC has to do is admit the second death was from the same cause.
If it turns out that the two people it says died from drinking raw milk didn’t, in fact, die from drinking raw milk, then the CDC has lost an important weapon in the government’s campaign of fear around raw milk. If no one died in that eleven-year period, suddenly, raw milk isn’t quite the danger it has been made to appear.
It will be interesting to see how long the CDC will continue to hold onto its treasured statistics in its media handouts.
Read the entire blog post here: http://www.thecompletepatient.com/journal/2011/2/18/the-power-of-numbers-in-the-war-over-raw-dairy-how-the-cdc-c.html
Here is Mark McAfee’s (The CEO and Founder of Organic Pastures) comment on the blog post which is also well worth reading:
Thank you for sharing the discussion that I had with the CDC. I knew there was something very Sheehan about the data. The CDFA in CA did not show any deaths in CA from raw milk. So I knew that somebody high-up was playing fast and sly with the numbers.
When I asked the CDC to please tell the rest of the story on pasteurized milk illnesses and deaths, the best the CDC could do was change their website to show Mary Martin and state that the only GUARANTEE for food safety in milk was pasteurization.
I then reminded the CDC that the last people to die from milk died from pasteurized milk not raw milk….I got no response. Now….that just pissed me off. So I stopped being nice and just sent the divorce lettter to Dr. Routhe MD. I had no further interest in the dialogue…..it was only making the CDC more creative and distructive against raw milk.
My clear conclusion…..the CDC could give a damn about the numbers or the facts. I have no hope of any kind of relationship with doctor Routh, so I just went Jamie Oliver on her:
This is my letter to Dr. Janell Routhe MD at the CDC:
The changes made to the CDC website contain one sided stories and partial truths. There is no mention of the deaths from pasteurized milk? There is no mention of the extreme standards for raw milk in CA or states that allow the retail sale of raw milk.
There is no mention of the “Two kinds of Raw milks in America”. One for people and one for the pasteurizer. The most disingenuous statement repeated throughout the CDC raw milk website is the concept that there is a guarantee of safety with pasteurized milk. There are no guarantees of safety from any food!
Raw milk is not on the top ten risky foods list according to the FDA….?? Pasteurized cheese and pasteurized ice cream are on the top ten most risky foods list!
Tell the families of three people that died after drinking pasteurized milk in MA in 2007 that they were drinking guaranteed safe pasteurized milk. There is not one comment about the risks of pasteurized milk. There were 1300 people sickened in 2006 from pasteurized milk in CA, why was that not mentioned?? Why the one sided information and misleading of the public?
I am disappointed that the CDC has not printed a two sided story of good and bad….risks and possible rewards from raw milk. There was no mention of the PARSIFAL study that showed that unprocessed fresh farm milk consumption decreased asthma and allergies greatly. This EU study of 15,000 kids was peer reviewed and widely published. No mention of it?
Dr. Donald Fields ( Chief of Medicine ) at Valley Children’s Hospital near Fresno CA uses raw milk to effectively treat, reduce and prevent asthma. He graduated from UCSF and is a professor of medicine at that medical school. The CDC knows darn well that 5000 kids per year die from Asthma….none die from raw milk.
Do the math!
I am deeply saddened that your efforts to improve the quality of Raw Milk information at the CDC has failed miserably and misleads the public even worse than before.
If it appears that I am a little upset…it is because I am. The CDC is giving out data that contributes to further immune system failure and illness.
Kids that drink raw milk are robustly healthy. The raw milk they drink here in CA is very safe ( not perfect but very safe ).
http://www.californiarawmilk.org/site/ please visit this website if you would like to hear and see the real stories of moms that sing the praises of CA retail tested and inspected raw milk. Raw milk that has transformed their children’s lives and health.
Please rethink the concept of who you serve. You are supposed to be in service to the people of the USA and paid to provide fair balanced information.
You have failed to serve the people. You instead have served industry and the FDA that would like the US public to use drugs to treat every ache and pain…and never ever think that foods are a part of healing and health. I was a paramedic for 16 years. I know chronic disease. I know medicine all too well. I have said enough and will now leave you alone to think.
CEO and Founder OPDC
Retired Medical Educator
Fresno County Health Department.