FDA Taking a Look at Raw MilkJun 12, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
In 1938, milk was the cause of 25 percent of all food poisoning incidents. With the introduction of universal pasteurization—long considered one of the most successful public health endeavors of the last century—that number fell to one percent by 1993. Despite this, a growing number of dairy owners have been selling raw milk—some illegally—as part of the growing natural food movement.
Some believe raw milk contains organisms that treat all manner of maladies, including digestive problems, asthma, and autism and feel raw milk offers greater benefits because it allegedly does not contain chemicals and hormones found in many dairy products. This growing contingent says the heat necessary for pasteurization kills healthy natural proteins and enzymes.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) disagrees and insists pasteurization destroys harmful bacteria without significantly changing milk's nutritional value and also extends its shelf life. The FDA has long warned against the inherent dangers of consuming raw milk and has begun looking into raw milk purveyors to determine if such farmers are selling raw milk legally given the large number of regulations regarding how raw milk can sold and over concerns of food borne illnesses. Currently, it is illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption in 22 states. The other states allow raw milk sales within their borders; the FDA bans sales across state lines. "Raw milk should not be consumed by anyone for any reason," said John Sheehan, head of the FDA's dairy office. "It is an inherently dangerous product."
One such seller, Mark McAfee, who started marketing and selling raw milk in 2002 and was among the first in California to sell raw milk on a large scale, is being investigated by the FDA, which is looking to determine if McAfee’s dairy illegally shipped raw milk over state lines and sought to recruit a McAfee employee to secretly record conversations with McAfee. It was the FDA ban on cross-border sales of raw milk that led to its criminal investigation of Organic Pastures, the Fresno dairy owned by McAfee and California's largest raw milk supplier. The FDA ordered two Organic Pastures employees to testify before a grand jury, offering to pay one to secretly record her conversations with McAfee. "The main issue was selling our products outside California," said Amanda Hall, who refused the wire.
McAfee also faces lawsuits filed by the families of five children who claim his raw milk made them seriously ill. McAfee claims testing at his dairy did not detect the strain of E. coli that sickened some of the children and is also challenging a new California law requiring lower bacteria levels in raw milk.
In Pennsylvania, local officials “busted” two dairies unlawfully selling raw milk and, in Maryland, health officials issued an emergency ban on "cow-sharing" agreements—programs in which farmers take care of cows that are "leased" by consumers.
Food safety officials say raw milk has sickened hundreds of people with Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, and other harmful and potentially fatal bacteria. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1,000 people fell ill from raw milk between 1998 and 2005. Two died.