Wisconsin Campylobacter Outbreak Falsely Blamed on Raw Milk

July 14, 2002

HAYWARD, Wis. — Public officials have falsely blamed an outbreak of Campylobacter jejuni, causing diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever in hundreds of people, on the consumption of raw milk obtained in a Wisconsin cowshare program.

According to a report issued by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and accepted without further investigation by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 70 of 75 persons confirmed with the illness drank unpasteurized milk from Clearview Acres Farm in Sawyer County. Clearview Acres disputes the official numbers, citing widespread cases of illness in Sawyer and adjoining counties. Independent reports gleaned from emergency room nurses estimate that campylobacter infection afflicted as many as 800 individuals–most of whom did not drink raw milk–throughout Northwest Wisconsin during the 12 weeks following November 10, 2001. Reports of illness continued for eight weeks after provision of raw milk to cowshare holders had ceased.

Clearview owners report that only 24 of 385 cowshare owners became ill–8 confirmed cases and 16 probable family members of the 8 confirmed. Most had consumed hamburger at a local restaurant. No illness occurred in the remaining 361 individuals consuming raw milk from Clearview Acres farm.

The discrepancy in government figures and those of Clearview Acres is due to interview tactics of local officials. Afflicted individuals admitted to Howard Area Memorial Hospital, serving Sawyer County, were questioned as to whether they drank raw milk. Medical personnel only tested those who had consumed raw milk. All others were given Cipro sent home with out further investigation. Reports of illness in other hospitals were ignored.

Clearview Acres is a Grade A dairy with an excellent history of cleanliness. In October 2001, 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 tests its milk for presence of pathogens. All tests, including those for campylobacter, have been negative.

Clearview Acres disputes DATCP claims that a test for campylobacter in State laboratories came back positive. Clearview Acres’s requests for additional, properly performed tests were refused.

The Clearview Acres cowshare program began in June of 2000, with the blessings of DATCP, which suggested a format used by another state-authorized cowshare inWisconsin. However, Clearview owners Gleta Martin and Tim Wightman were not satisfied with the two-page contract that DATCP suggested, finding that it did not contain enough provisions for testing and safety. Martin and Wightman revised the contract to allow for greater safety protocols and their program was soon supplying milk to 300 individuals.

Documents released in the court case involving Clearview Acres indicate that the state instituted an undercover operation shortly after the cowshare program began, with the express purpose of shutting down the operation. When state tests of Clearview Acres milk consistently came up negative, the state attempted to take away the farm’s Grade A permit, but was stymied for lack of jurisdiction. Finally, DATCP blamed Clearview Acres milk on the local campylobacter outbreak and issued a cease-and-desist order.

Similar undercover operations and deceitful practices have been used against other raw milk dairies, notably Altadena and Steuve’s dairies in California. Although there were no cases of illness caused by Altadena and Steuve’s milk, the high cost of legal defense eventually prevented these dairies from supplying the product. However, raw milk, now supplied by two other dairies, continues to be sold in stores in California without reports of illness. During the same period, numerous outbreaks of foodborne illness have been caused by pasteurized milk, causing thousands of cases of illness and several deaths.

Many individuals seek out raw milk because of its health benefits, and because they are unable to tolerate commercial pasteurized milk. During the 1930s and 1940s, health officials recommended clean, certified raw milk as the ideal food for babies and growing children. A diet composed exclusively of raw milk was used with excellent results to treat a variety of diseases including cancer at the Mayo Clinic during the 1920s and has been used throughout Europe up to the present time. Studies have shown that raw milk is superior to pasteurized milk in preventing tooth decay, asthma, allergies, influenza and serious diseases like tuberculosis.

Farmers are turning to cowshare and direct milk sales as a way to save the family farm. In Wisconsin, four dairy farms per day go out of business, due to rising costs and reduced revenues for liquid milk. Consolidation in the dairy industry has allowed the major processors to cut payments to farmers, forcing many into bankruptcy. Cowshare programs are used in states where direct sales of raw milk is illegal. Such contractual arrangements, similar to those for bulls or race horses, are guaranteed by the US constitution.

Kimberly Hartke
The Weston A. Price Foundation
Cell: 703-675-5557

One thought on “Wisconsin Campylobacter Outbreak Falsely Blamed on Raw Milk

  1. I drank raw milk for almost five years, until the scariest week of my life. In the middle of the night, my husband woke me up complaining of terrible diarrhea; he was rummaging in the dresser to get a clean pair of underwear. A couple hours later, his fever was 102.5. When I got home from work that day, he was almost completely helpless. That night, the diarrhea continued after every intake of fluids, with the addition of vomiting, and by the next morning, his fever was 103.2. He told me he felt like he was dying. He told me that every time he went to the bathroom, he felt like his body was trying to commit suicide and failing. The fever went down, but Imodium and Pepto had no effect. Every liquid intake resulted in and equal or greater amount of diarrhea, often bloody. We finally ended up in urgent care. Two liters of IV fluid, a CT scan, and a stool culture later, we were on our way with a bottle of Cipro. This is all very expensive for individuals without insurance.

    I don’t know if the milk was the source of the confirmed campylobacter. I didn’t get sick, and neither did anyone else consuming milk from this farm. I know that nutritionally, raw milk is healthier. I know that our ancestors consumed it freely, without issue. The problem is, we’re not our ancestors. As a formula-fed infant who consumed mass amounts of processed food and chlorinated water and has gone through multiple rounds of antibiotics, my husband’s system is about as similar to his ancestors’ as it is to someone’s in Mexico or India. What I realized, is that as much as a 21st century American body needs nutrition from a few centuries ago, that body might not always be able to handle what comes with it. I certainly want to nourish his body to health, but I now also feel strongly that it is my responsibility to protect him from infections like this, which means from now on, pasteurized milk.

    Campylobacter is pretty difficult to pin down, given its 2-5 day incubation period and often isolated cases. It even passes routine tests, but still makes people sick.

    When the health dept. called because the lab had reported the campylobacter case to them, my husband did not reveal information about his raw milk consumption or the farm we got our milk from. I was completely honest with them when I wrote and apologized for discontinuing our weekly milk deliveries. I don’t think anyone who has experienced campylobacter first hand could blame me for my decision, as it truly strikes terror into your heart.

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