Friesian Cows
Creative Commons License photo credit: idleman

BIAS AND INACCURACIES IN WISCONSIN REPORTS ON RAW MILK ILLNESS

According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, a non-profit nutrition information organization, a September 16, 2009 news release from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is typical of official anti-raw milk statements, replete with bias and inaccuracies to create the impression that raw milk should be singled out as a dangerous food.

The report alleges 35 confirmed cases of Campylobacter jejuni infection among shareholders of the Zinniker Family Farm, Elkhorn, Wisconsin.  Although DNA test results allegedly found the same strain of C. jejuni in 25 of the patients and manure samples obtained from 14 out of 30 milking cows on the farm, the agency did not find C. jejuni in any of the raw milk from the farm.

The Zinnikers provide milk to nearly 200 families; thirty-five individuals became sick and, of those, not all 35 drank the milk during the time period in which the illnesses originated.  DATCP has not provided information regarding other individuals in the area who may have contracted C. jejuni; most seriously, DATCP failed to test the water at the farm and also failed to investigate other possible vectors of disease, including attendance at the recent Walworth County Fair.

According to the DATCP release, this is the third outbreak tied to raw milk in recent years.  The agency cites a December 2001 outbreak in northern Wisconsin, in which 30 cases of C. jejuni were allegedly associated with a cow-share program, and a 2006 outbreak, in which 19 laboratory-confirmed cases were traced to cheese curds made from pasteurized milk.

CLEARVIEW ACRES CASE – December 2001

In the 2001 incident, 70 of 75 persons confirmed with illness drank unpasteurized milk, according to a report issued by DATCP and accepted without further investigation by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The dairy, Clearview Acres, disputed the official numbers, citing widespread cases of illness in the area. Independent reports gleaned from emergency room nurses estimated that campylobacter infection afflicted as many as 800 individuals–most of whom did not drink raw milk–throughout Northwest Wisconsin during the twelve weeks following November 10, 2001. Reports of illness continued for eight weeks after provision of raw milk to cow-share holders had ceased.

The discrepancy in government figures and those of Clearview Acres was due to interview tactics of local officials. Afflicted individuals admitted to Hayward Area Memorial Hospital, serving Sawyer County, were questioned as to whether they drank raw milk.  Medical personnel tested only those who had consumed raw milk.  All others were given Cipro and sent home without further investigation.  Reports of illness in other hospitals were ignored. By omitting cases of illness by those who had not consumed raw milk, officials inappropriately created a statistical association of illness with raw milk.

Clearview owners reported that only 24 members of 300 cow-share families became ill, most of whom had consumed hamburger at a local restaurant. No illness occurred in the remaining 361 individuals who consumed raw milk from Clearview Acres farm.

Clearview Acres had an excellent history of cleanliness. In October 2001, just a month before the alleged outbreak, Clearview Acres received the second highest rating of all farms receiving federal inspection. The rating was 99 out of a possible 100. The dairy regularly tested its milk for presence of pathogens. All tests, including those for campylobacter, had been negative. After DATCP claimed that a test for campylobacter in State laboratories came back positive, Clearview Acres’s requests for additional performed tests were refused.

ASHLAND CHEESE CASE – 2006

The Ashland cheese case involved an elderly couple who had made fresh curd cheese for decades without incident.  Many people became sick at a graduation party where the cheese was served, along with many other foods.  DATCP did not test other food served at the party and it is not known how the cheese had been handled after purchase.

CDC REPORT ON RAW MILK OUTBREAKS

In their press release, DATCP cites a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on alleged outbreaks of foodborne illnesses from raw dairy from 1998 to 2005. This report is posted at http://www.foodsafety.ksu.edu/articles/384/RawMilkOutbreakTable.pdf.  While DATCP claims that the report shows 45 outbreaks tied to raw dairy consumption, the report actually lists 33 outbreaks.

Some of the outbreaks are based on press releases or newspaper reports rather than published articles.  Ninety-four percent of the reports either had no valid positive milk sample or no valid statistical association. One of the outbreaks (two reports) was traced to pasteurized milk and one of the reports (cited twice) was traced to pasteurization failure.  In three of the reports, the source of information was unpublished or not verifiable.

Most significantly, the one death claimed in the report (reported as two deaths by DATCP) was not cited in any of the reports in the table.

RECENT OUTBREAKS FROM PASTEURIZED MILK
In 2007, three people died from drinking pasteurized milk in Massachusetts. In 2000, 93 cases of Salmonella Typhimurium were linked to pasteurized milk in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. A 2005 outbreak in a Colorado prison resulted in 200 cases of illness due to C. jejuni. In 2006, pasteurized milk was linked to gastrointestinal illness in 1,300 inmates and 14 employees at 11 California state prisons.

IS ALL RAW MILK AT RISK?
Given DATCP’s failure to fully investigate all possible causes of the illness, the state’s history of bias in sampling techniques, the agency’s undercover activities, inaccuracies in citing cases of illness and lack of focus on cases involving pasteurized milk—as well as the growing popularity of the raw milk movement in Wisconsin and pressure on lawmakers to make raw milk more available—we anticipate that DATCP will attempt to use this incident as a pretext for establishing an outright ban on all sales of raw milk in Wisconsin.

A double standard is evident. Only raw milk is singled out for removal from the food supply, not pasteurized milk, peanut butter, spinach, green peppers, cookie dough and hamburger, all of which have caused widespread illness nationwide in recent years.  Wisconsin raw milk consumers are at risk of losing their freedom of choice.

The Weston A. Price Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., is an international nutrition education non-profit, with over 11,000 members and 400 chapters world wide. See the Campaign for Real Milk website, www.realmilk.com, for further information about the Weston A. Price Foundation’s battle for safe, legal raw milk.