Reporting Double Standard for Pasteurized Milk

By David Gumpert

From thecompletepatient.com, June 1, 2014.
Reprinted with permission.

In official reports, you’d never know it was pasteurized dairy making people sick. It seems that almost any outbreak of illnesses potentially involving raw milk products prompts handwringing by the media, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), not to mention state and local public health agencies. I have yet to see a mainstream media article about raw dairy that doesn’t include warnings from federal or local public health officials about its dangers.

Yet when people get sick from pasteurized dairy products, it’s a whole different ball game. We saw that in the article discussed following my previous post, about illnesses from bad milk among children at a Henrico County school in Virginia (see below). There wasn’t even a mention that the milk was pasteurized. And can you imagine any media reporting on illnesses from raw milk, that the victims “exhibited ‘mild gastrointestinal symptoms’ that passed quickly”? Certainly if I said it, I’d be excoriated by raw milk opponents as totally insensitive and biased, especially since it was children who were sickened.

This minor example of the reporting double standard turns up repeatedly. I just examined official government reports (one from CDC and the other from FDA) on two of the most recent pasteurized-dairy outbreaks, involving cheese, one from a Wisconsin producer and the other from a Delaware producer. Here are a few things I noticed:

  • The reports never mention pasteurized milk. It’s just cheese that got the people sick. At the end of one of the reports, it mentions potential problems in the production facilities that could have led to the contamination.
  • The illnesses, all from Listeria monocytogenes, were very serious. In the case of the Wisconsin illnesses from Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, each of the six people sickened was hospitalized, and one of them died. In the case of the Delaware cheese illnesses, from Roos Foods, seven of the eight people made ill were hospitalized, and one died. Gee, two deaths in two pasteurized dairy outbreaks within the last year, and very little fuss. And outbreaks in which more than 90 percent of those made ill wind up in the hospital is highly unusual.
  • They downplay illnesses involving children. The description of the Roos Foods outbreak from the FDA is particularly interesting in its wordsmithing. The reality is that three infants became very sick, but here is how the FDA describes the eight illnesses: “Five of the illnesses were related to a pregnancy; two of these were diagnosed in two mother–newborn pairs, and one in only the newborn. The three other illnesses occurred among adults. One death was reported in California.” So two illnesses in newborns are air-brushed as occurring in “mother-newborn pairs.” And how old was the individual who died? No word on that, so I suppose you have to use your imagination; my guess is that if it had been an adult, FDA would have said so.

One other thing: there’s no mention at all that illnesses from listeria in raw milk cheese are quite rare. And there hasn’t been a listeria illness from fluid raw milk in at least a decade.

And can you imagine if there had been two deaths from raw dairy products within the last year? Why, you’d never hear the end of it.

Now, Real Raw Milk Facts, the anti-raw-milk website, to its credit, breaks out illnesses and deaths from pasteurized dairy products. The Crave Brothers and Roos Foods outbreaks have pushed pasteurized cheese illnesses since 1998 to over 600, and total pasteurized dairy deaths to ten. Not exactly the safety guarantee we have been led to expect.

All goes to show that you have to read the media and government reports on raw and pasteurized dairy much differently. I think it’s called a double standard.

David’s Previous Blog Post: Pasteurized Milk Sickens School Children

“Milk sold to Henrico schools spoiled early” is the headline describing an outbreak of illness in a Virginia school district. The article (Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 30, 2014) dances around critical information. It assures readers that the students exhibited “mild gastro-intestinal symptoms,” which passed quickly. How many children got sick—the article doesn’t say. Anyone hospitalized? No information on that. In which school did the outbreak occur? That information is withheld.

And here’s the kicker: Anyone affected by the tainted milk is instructed to phone the dairy! Not the FDA, not the CDC. Only the dairy seems to be keeping records of this one.

And why did the kids get sick? “Simply put, the milk spoiled before we expected it to,” said a company spokesman. State and local health inspectors were at the plant, not to shut it down, but to “investigate the issue.”

This article was reprinted with permission in the Summer 2014 issue of Wise Traditions, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

David E. Gumpert is author of The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights (September, 2009, Chelsea Green Publishing Co.). He writes a popular blog, The Complete Patient (www.thecompletepatient.com), which over the last two years has aggressively covered the health and regulatory issues surrounding the availability and legality of raw milk, as well as the implementation of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

David is also author or co-author of six books on various aspects of business, including the best-selling How to Really Create a Successful Business Plan. He also co-authored the book Inge: A Girl’s Journey Through Nazi Europe, the story of his family’s experiences during the Holocaust, which was selected as a finalist by the Independent Publisher Book Awards for 2005. Prior to his book-writing and entrepreneurship career, he spent nine years as a staff reporter with The Wall Street Journal and seven years as small business editor of the Harvard Business Review. He was also a senior editor of Inc. Magazine.

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