by Pete Kennedy, Esq.
Dr. Theodore (Ted) F. Beals, MD, passed away on August 19, 2021 at the age of 87. He had lived a rich life dedicated to public service. He spent the last 20 years of his life working on issues pertaining to raw milk science and safety. All raw milk producers and consumers owe him a huge debt of thanks.
A decade or two ago there were more enforcement actions against raw milk producers and distributors than there are today; there were also more foodborne illness outbreaks blamed on raw milk consumption. If there was an allegation that raw milk was responsible for an outbreak, stories on the outbreak would appear on the Internet for days. Public health officials made comments like, “Drinking raw milk is playing Russian roulette with your health,” and “Raw milk should not be consumed by anyone at any time for any reason.”
There was a stronger campaign back then to restrict raw milk access and even ban sales of the product. Opponents criticized any evidence of raw milk safety and health benefits as unscientific and anecdotal. The alphabet soup government agencies and health organizations (FDA, CDC, AMA, etc.) all had their credentialed experts reinforce each other’s opinion on what a dangerous (harmful) product raw milk was.
Raw milk opponents and their experts had a major problem, however, and that was Ted. He had a CV that was over a hundred pages long that included training in microbiology, epidemiology and pathology in addition to his status as a medical doctor. Even worse for the opposition, Ted never took a dime for his efforts, spending thousands of uncompensated hours establishing the fact that raw milk is a safe, nutritious food. Raw milk critics would have jumped on him for taking any pay at all; he never gave them that chance.
Ted taught courses in pathology to University of Michigan graduate and medical students for over thirty years. He finished his career by serving as the national director of Pathology and Laboratory Services in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), having oversight and responsibility for some 700 labs in the VA system. He also had the largest database on foodborne illness outbreaks attributed to raw milk consumption in the U.S., spanning 1999 to 2019. Ted said that the raw milk illnesses in his database were so few in number that it wasn’t possible to establish any pattern on what caused illness from consuming the product.
Ted served the raw milk movement as an expert before courts, legislatures and government agencies; as a speaker, author and educator on raw milk science and safety; and as a valued consultant for raw milk farmers suspected by government agencies of producing unsanitary milk or being responsible for illness. He was an expert witness in both the California courts and legislature for Claravale Farms and Organic Pastures Dairy Company when stealth legislation threatened the viability of both dairies. His testimony for Morningland Dairy in a Missouri court was the high point in a case where the judge ultimately ordered the destruction of over 30,000 pounds of raw cheese without a valid positive pathogen test. Ted was a key witness in an Ontario Court for Michael Schmidt’s successful defense of the legality of his herdshare program, a case where a judge made the landmark ruling that there was a legal distinction between the public and private distribution of food and that informed consumers had the right to waive the protection of public health laws. Ted said that he and fellow expert witness Ron Hull were able to get a draw on the science of raw milk safety with the government’s experts—something that rarely happens—with the courts usually deferring to the government’s version of the science.
On the legislative front, Ted testified for raw milk bills in Iowa and New Jersey; met with Texas regulators to make the case for raw milk legislation in that state; and was part of a working group that was instrumental in passing a raw milk bill in South Dakota, being largely responsible for whittling down a provision on coliform testing in the legislation that threatened to trip up producers with little corresponding benefit to the public health. He was a master at crafting language for proposed bills and regulations, opting to keep the wording as general as possible and leaving people to fight over specifics once the bill or proposed regulation became law.
For over 10 years, Ted worked directly and indirectly with farmers under investigation by the government for producing adulterated raw milk, never turning down a request for help. If there was a flaw in the government investigation or evidence exonerating the farmer against charges of producing unsanitary milk or making people sick, Ted would find it. If the producer was responsible for producing adulterated milk, he would provide the farmer a path forward, if asked, on producing a safer product.
In his home state of Michigan, Ted was a leader of a working group that wrote a groundbreaking report on raw milk science and safety. The report led the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to adopt a written policy legalizing herdshare agreements. The group, which met monthly for over five years before issuing the report, consisted of regulators, academicians, a member of the dairy industry and raw milk producers and consumers. As far as is known, this level of cooperation between groups with divergent views on raw milk access hasn’t occurred before or since the report’s publication. Ted was a principal drafter of the document, taking it word by word until he could forge the consensus he wanted.
Ted served on the board of the Farm-to-Consumer Foundation (FTCF) for 14 years. Ted and his wife Peggy were the drivers behind books FTCF published on the production of raw cow milk and raw goat milk, publications that were timely with continually increasing demand and expanding legal access. Ted also worked with Peggy on her consumer guide to safe handling of raw milk, a publication that has thousands of copies in circulation. He wrote numerous articles and made several PowerPoint presentations on raw milk safety.
Ted worked nearly until the end of his life, recently writing a story for Wise Traditions (Summer 2021) that included a comparison of milk samples from licensed raw milk dairies versus milk samples from dairies producing raw milk for pasteurization. Ted had accumulated and analyzed thousands of state-collected data on raw milk test results for pathogens around the country, convincingly showing that the positive pathogen rate for milk samples from licensed raw milk dairies was extremely low and much lower than dairies producing raw milk for pasteurization. His final work provided strong proof for a contention he and others in the raw milk movement had long made—that there are two raw milks, one for direct consumption and one for pasteurization.
Ted was a formidable presence; with his intellect and thorough preparation, he had command of the room in many a discussion. He loved helping dairy farmers; he reveled in the challenge of finding a solution for farmers going through adversity. He was a great teacher and could make complex subjects like product testing and foodborne illness understandable for the layperson. He was a strong supporter of freedom of food choice and unregulated local food commerce direct from farmer to consumer. Raw milk producers and consumers are in a much better place today thanks to Ted and Peggy Beals. Educator, mentor and friend, Ted was a giant and one of a kind.
It was Ted’s wish that those wanting to honor his memory make a contribution to either the Farm-to-Consumer Foundation or the Weston A. Price Foundation