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Testimony before the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Food-Borne Illness (April 15, 2007)
Thank you, Senator Florez, for the opportunity to testify before the joint committees today. My name is Sally Fallon. I am testifying in my capacity as the president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit nutrition education foundation; as the founder of A Campaign for Real Milk, which advocates the consumption of unpasteurized whole milk from pasture-fed cows; and as secretary of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which provides legal defense of farms engaged in raw milk production and direct farm-to-consumer sales. Most importantly, I am testifying here today in my capacity as a mother.
And it is as a mother that I will start with three testimonials typical of those we receive almost every day. One comes from a physician who prescribes raw milk to his patients, often with remarkably beneficial effects. One dramatic case involved a 9-month-old boy who had had three ear infections in three months. The child had been fed a number of formulas based on processed cow's milk and soy protein, and the mother had even tried pasteurized goat milk. With each formula, the child suffered recurrent vomiting, diarrhea, and failure to gain weight and thrive; and he had been ill with either viral or bacterial infections almost continuously since early infancy. After the mother switched to a formula based on raw goat milk, however, the diarrhea and vomiting ceased and the child began to gain weight. One year later, he has normal growth and is perfectly healthy.
The second comes from a Weston A. Price local chapter leader who reported on a 2-year-old boy with very serious asthma. After the mother put the boy on raw cow's milk, the child went through the entire winter without a visit to the doctor for any reason and no asthma attacks – except for one, a serious attack that occurred after the boy consumed pasteurized milk while on a family trip.
The third involves an autistic 8-year-old boy who had not spoken a word since the sudden onset of autism at the age of 2. After two months on raw cow's milk, all autistic behavior disappeared, and the child began to babble as a prelude to speech. The only dietary or treatment change was a switch from pasteurized to raw milk.
Now please imagine the joy and relief that raw milk has given to the families of these children – an end to suffering, an end to worry. Family life can be normal and happy again. It is testimonials like these that make us so passionate about having access to raw milk and so concerned about the manner in which access to raw milk has been undermined in the state of California with the stealth passage of AB 1735, a law that mandates standards so strict that commercial production of raw milk will become impossible. Our experts here today will testify to the fact that the 10 coliform limit is not only unnecessary for the safety of raw milk, but would actually make raw milk more vulnerable to pathogens.
Make no mistake, those who worked behind the scenes for the passage of this law, and our opponents testifying today, do not want the sickly, asthmatic, or autistic child to have access to Nature's perfect healing food. Although couched in terms of public safety, AB 1735 has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with protecting California's annual $4.5 billion industrial dairy industry, which has to be propped up with an average of $1.6 billion in subsidies every year. This is a modern day example of sacrificing our children on the altar of Baal.
The 10 coliform standard is a "test of sterility," designed not to ensure the cleanliness of a farm but to verify the effectiveness of a processing facility. The Pasteurized Milk Ordinance allows 100,000 coliforms per ml in raw milk from the dairy farm. This 10 coliform standard was not designed to test the cleanliness of a farm, but the effectiveness of the sterilization process at the milk processing plant. It is inappropriate to use a "test of sterility" on raw milk, which is not a sterile product, but a probiotic product. Nonpathogenic coliforms are what consumers are seeking when they choose a raw milk product. Coliforms protect us against pathogens and produce many important nutrients in the digestive tract. They are our friends, not our enemies; and they are being increasingly used by doctors to treat everything from intestinal problems to wounds.
Obviously, it is unscientific to claim, as our opponents do, that these same coliforms in milk are dangerous. The medical paradigm has changed; germs are no longer the enemy.
You have, of course heard many arguments painting raw milk as a deadly poison, one that has no health benefits. These arguments can only be made on the basis of extreme bias against raw milk, found in numerous articles published in the scientific literature and on government websites. The committee needs to be aware of the double standard applied to raw milk compared to other foods. The most glaring example of this double standard can be found in the FDA Powerpoint presentation on raw milk prepared by Mr. John Sheehan.
The Weston A. Price Foundation has presented to this Committee a slide-by-slide response to this document. In it, Mr. Sheehan cites 15 studies to support his statement that "drinking raw milk is like playing Russian roulette with your health." In analyzing these studies, we found that not one of them proved that pasteurization would have prevented the outbreak. In almost half the studies, Mr. Sheehan misrepresents the conclusions of the study, and in fully 80% of the studies, there was no valid positive milk sample to implicate raw milk. One-third of the studies ignore other more probable vectors of disease in what constitutes clear examples of bias. In one of the studies, the "outbreak" blamed on raw milk did not even exist. The public deserves better from our public servants.
Lately, we have seen many reports in the media about outbreaks attributed to raw milk. On inspection, we find a clear pattern of bias, double standard and possibly even fraud regarding these reports. The modus operandi is as follows:
- When testing raw milk, use cultures to promote pathogen multiplication and highly sensitive milk-testing techniques that find pathogens in extremely small numbers, levels that would not cause illness. (Any substance you test will show pathogens if the test is sensitive enough.)
- Use new rapid testing techniques developed for the food industry, which err on the side of finding false positives. This method is currently being used in Pennsylvania to harass raw milk dairies. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture then issues an inflammatory press release, which is not retracted with the dairy's own appropriately carried-out tests come back negative.
- When there is an outbreak, use food questionnaires that leave out likely vectors of disease but always include raw milk. In a recent outbreak in Pennsylvania, one member who got sick reported receiving a call from the health department. The department wanted to know whether she had drunk raw milk. She replied that she hadn't but that she suspected undercooked chicken from a local restaurant. But once she replied negatively to the question on raw milk, the department was not interested in pursuing the questioning further, not interesting in tracking down the chicken.
- When there is an outbreak, test raw milk products first, and test them in the home setting rather than from the shelf. If a person is infected and has handled a raw milk product, the product will test positive for the organism. Omit testing other foods or raw milk products on the shelf (not handled by the consumer) but report a positive lab result for the raw milk product. This method has been used to implicate Mexican-style raw milk cheese in numerous reports.
- Omit subjects who got sick but did not drink raw milk. The 2001 Wisconsin outbreak cited on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website is a good example of this. People who got sick but did not drink raw milk were not admitted to the hospital and did not become part of the official record.
- Ignore equally likely or more likely sources of infection, such as visit to a farm or petting zoo, tap water, or other foods.
- Assume that statistical association constitutes proof. It is easy to create a statistical association with raw milk using the above techniques.
- Issue inflammatory press releases accusing raw milk, which are not retracted but left on government websites when the dairy is exonerated.
The industry has used these techniques to make raw milk the whipping boy for outbreaks caused by other foods. It is clear that in recent months government agencies are making a well-coordinated effort to blame some of their most serious problems, such listeria and E. coli O157:H7, on raw milk. The fact that only raw milk was quarantined during the 2006 California E. coli outbreak attributed to spinach is an excellent example of these biased tactics.
Meanwhile, problems with pasteurized milk tend to be glossed over or underreported. Recently three people died from listeria in pasteurized milk in Massachusetts. On February 24, 2006, Wal-Mart in Vidalia, Georgia pulled pasteurized milk from shelves due to foul odor. At least one child was seriously sickened, a fact that was not reported in news releases. A voluntary recall was announced three days later – there was no sense of urgency. In fact, Wal-Mart was applauded by [Department of Agriculture] Commissioner Tommy Irvin. There were no government recalls, and no warnings to the public to avoid drinking pasteurized milk. More of the double standard. In 2006, pasteurized milk caused illness in 1300 inmates in 11 California state prisons, yet we heard no outcry to remove this dangerous product from the market.
Another example of the double standard comes from the CDC website, which warns against raw milk as a source of salmonella. Yet a few points later, the same document states that unpasteurized milk (in the form of breast milk) is the safest food for infants and that raw breast milk prevents many health problems, including infection by salmonella. Everything that we have learned about the health benefits, immune support, probiotic qualities, and antipathogenic components of raw human milk over the last 40 years applies equally to the raw milk of other species. Studies showing that babies given pasteurized breast milk have more infections, more health problems, and do not grow as well compared to raw breast milk apply equally to the milk from other species.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) calls drinking raw milk "risky behavior." A 1999 FDA survey involving 19,356 adults in eight states found that 50% consumed uncooked eggs, 20% consumed pink hamburgers, 8% consumed raw oysters, while a mere 1% consumed raw milk. A 2008 study of 4,548 young college students reported that 53% consumed raw cookie dough; 33% consumed eggs with runny yolks; 29% consumed raw sprouts; 11% consumed raw oysters, clams, or mussels; and 7% consumed rare hamburger. The study did not report raw milk consumption. Yes none of the common "risky behaviors" has prominence on FDA's website for food safety – only raw milk is singled out – and there are no pasteurization requirement for common "risky behavior" foods.
Government officials also insist that raw milk provides no health benefits compared to pasteurized and ultrapasteurized milk. (It should be pointed out that most milk today is ultrapasteurized, a process that rapidly takes the fragile milk proteins to a temperature well above the boiling point.) The evidence for the superior health benefits of raw milk comes in the form of scientific studies published in peer-reviewed journals, and it corroborates the hundreds of testimonials that we have received on the benefits of raw milk from young and old, some of which you will hear today. Opponents of raw milk are uniformly condescending towards individual testimonials, dismissing them as anecdotal. Yet for the individuals and families involved, these testimonials are pure science – objective conclusions drawn from before-and-after observation of conditions incumbent on a single variable, the addition of raw milk to the diet.
The second document presented to the committee is a Powerpoint presentation prepared by the Weston A. Price Foundation, which addresses the safety, health benefits, and economic considerations of raw milk. This document is fully referenced and contains all the scientific studies that we know about. In it, we provide the math for that $64,000 question – what is the safety record of raw milk vs. pasteurized and vs. other foods on a per-serving basis? The CDC estimates that on a per-serving basis, one is ten times more likely to become ill from Listeria monocytogenes from eating deli meats than from consuming raw milk – and this estimate is based on the exaggerated and biased reports mentioned earlier, which blame raw milk but do not prove that it caused an illness. Here we have yet another example of the double standard applied to raw milk. Where are the FDA's charges that deli meats are "inherently dangerous and should not be consumed?" Where is the FDA's exhortation to "everyone charged with protecting the public health" to "prevent the sale of deli meats to consumers?
By our calculations, pasteurized milk is 1.1 and 15.3 times more dangerous than raw milk on a per-serving basis. Even using government statistics that inflate the danger of raw milk, it is easy to calculate that one is over 2,000 times more likely, on a per-serving basis, to contract illness from other foods than from raw milk. In fact, the only way to reduce the risk of food-borne illness to zero is to stop eating and die of starvation … or to consume raw milk on a regular basis to ensure immunity to pathogens.
Our Powerpoint presentation details the health benefits of raw milk in studies going back over 80 years. Raw milk is superior to pasteurized milk in building strong bones, preventing tooth decay, supporting normal growth and development, preventing asthma and allergies, and providing protection against infectious and chronic disease. The latest study comes from Europe, where investigators found, in a study of 14,893 children aged 5 to 13, that consumption of raw milk was the strongest factor for reducing the risk of asthma and allergy, whether the children lived on a farm or not. The benefits were greatest when consumption of raw milk began during the first year of life. About 5 million children are afflicted with asthma, and 5,500 people in the US die from asthma each year. About 1,250 people in the US die from food-borne pathogens from all sources with virtually no deaths from raw milk. Thus, the risk of dying from asthma is over four times greater than the risk of dying from food-borne pathogens from all sources, and infinitely greater than the risk of dying from raw milk. Yet defenders of the dairy industry insist that children should not have the right to consume raw milk, even hinting that parents who love their children enough to give them raw milk are guilty of neglect.
Our opponents today will insist that raw milk is inherently dangerous and that there is no way to make it safe. These arguments are based on 40-year-old science and a discredited medical paradigm. Raw milk is inherently safe, safer than any other food, and we have the technology and knowledge today to get safe raw milk to children in every part of the country. Our opponents will insist that raw milk has no health benefits compared to pasteurized. They will omit mention of the many studies that show that pasteurization destroys the vital qualities of milk, reduces nutrient assimilation, and renders it allergenic and difficult to digest. In response to this, I quote Sinclair Lewis: "It is very difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it."**
A final argument against raw milk goes like this: if raw milk results in an outbreak, this would cause people to stop drinking milk altogether and adversely affect the whole milk industry. I hope your intelligence is not insulted with such an argument today. The industry does its best to publicize any possible problem caused by raw milk in an effort to staunch the declining sales of pasteurized and ultrapasteurized milk, a product that fewer and fewer consumers can tolerate.
In summary, I urge the joint committees to work towards overturning AB 1735 and doing everything in their power to support raw milk in California. Opposition to raw milk is illogical, it is unscientific, it is expensive, it is heartless and cruel. The child who benefits from raw milk – perhaps even whose life is saved by raw milk – may be your own child, or your own grandchild, or even a child or grandchild of our opponents – our efforts are dedicated to all children. We have the knowledge and technology today to get safe raw milk to every child who needs it, and we ask that you work with us, not against us, to achieve this important goal.
**Editor's note: Actual quote was by Upton Sinclair, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"