First, bags of spinach were found to be contaminated with E Coli, which made people sick. The strain of E Coli in the spinach (0157:H7) was the same strain found in those people who were sick. Now four children who consumed raw dairy products from Organic Pastures dairy have become ill with E Coli as well. At least one of these children had the strain 0157:H7 confirmed on lab tests, the same strain present in the contaminated spinach. However, tests of the raw dairy products have failed to detect any E Coli in samples.
Nonetheless, the California State Veterinarian, Dr. Richard Breitmeyer, has placed a temporary ban and recall of all raw milk products from Organic Pastures as a precautionary measure.
Like most foods, the less processing that dairy products undergo, the more nutritious it is. Although pasteurization will kill potentially harmful bacteria in milk, it also destroys bacteria and enzymes that help people digest and absorb nutrients in milk. The benefits of consuming raw milk have been advocated by many groups. The website www.realmilk.com (operated by the Weston A. Price Foundation) describes these many benefits (www.westonaprice.org). Others are critical of dairy product consumption by humans in any form (www.notmilk.com).
An alternative to raw milk is organic, non-homogenized (cream top) pasteurized milk. Homogenization distributes the fat in milk throughout the solution, but also makes the fat unavailable. The fat is needed for calcium absorption and is a good source of saturated fat for children.
Parents who have found that switching to raw milk products solves the problems associated with processed milk, may have more difficulty now obtaining raw milk, and will get more pressure to use pasteurized dairy products. And the whole issue of dairy product consumption is a hotbed of controversy.
It is illegal for dairies to produce and sell raw milk in 23 states. Consumers have found ways to get around these laws by buying milk directly from farmers. And in California and other states where raw milk is legal, dairies have been able to supply consumers with their products through health food stores. But state health departments frown on raw milk production and often go after dairies.
In California the health department has forced the Organic Pastures dairy to indefinitely stop all distribution and recall all raw dairy products from stores because of an alleged connection to four children who have E Coli illnesses. These children supposedly consumed products from that dairy, but may have contracted the E Coli from another source. Extensive tests at the dairy have found no evidence of E Coli in cows, milk products, or even the manure. In Ohio a dairy’s license has been revoked this week because of raw milk sales to consumers. But dairies are fighting back.
Organic pastures has threatened a $100 million law suit against the state of California for harming the dairy’s brand and reputation.
The Schmitmeyer Dairy in Ohio is protesting the revocation of their license. The dairy operates a herd-share program where people pay $50 to buy a share in a cow, plus $6 a gallon for the milk. Because they own part of the cow, the Schmitmeyers and supporters contend it is not illegal for them to take the raw milk. However, the state’s hearing officer said the herd-share agreement was “nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to shield (her) from liability for her illegal sales of raw milk.” Raw milk supporters in Ohio have introduced a bill into the legislature to legalize raw milk sales.
A third story involves a small raw milk dairy in Washington, Grace Harbor Farms. Two children who drank the milk, a 5-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl, became ill with E Coli infections. In this case the same strain of E Coli was found in the milk and in the two sick children. Milk products from that dairy have also been recalled.
Consumers of raw milk would do well to also take a daily supplement of probiotics (acidophilus and other intestinal bacteria) to help prevent infections from any contaminants in the milk they drink. These isolated stories should not dissuade consumers from using organic raw milk products, which are superior in every way to pasteurized and homogenized milk.
I recommend that parents consult a holistic pediatric practitioner to discuss your children’s individual needs. Parents should also make an informed decision about dairy consumption by consulting the websites listed above. Finally, do not switch to soy milk as an alternative, which has its own set of problems.