David Gumpert in a recent post on The Complete Patient discusses the politics behind the FDA’s press release about a possible outbreak of campylobacter from raw milk in North Carolina. He points out that the FDA used an expensive public relations firm, PR Newswire, to announce the outbreak. He asks if the FDA pays as much attention to other food-type illnesses. The FDA cites examples of other related press releases; however, as noted, all the other cases “involved public distribution, via retailers or restaurants, of products found to be currently contaminated.” The North Carolina raw milk was only distributed through a private club, from a source in South Carolina that had not been found to be contaminated. The incident had occurred a month before the press release.
According to Mr. Gumpert, the FDA “tends not to issue press releases in cases in which the threat from illnesses is thought to have passed.” Why would the FDA issue a broadly released announcement about a “small, locally confined outbreak” that occurred a month earlier? He cites two primary reasons for the publicity about the raw milk incident.
The FDA has filed a case against an Amish farmer Dan Allgyer ”seeking a permanent injunction against him serving a private food club that brings raw milk from Pennsylvania to Maryland.” That case has received a lot of attention, including a demonstration in Washington, D. C., sponsored by Grassfed On The Hill, and supported by The Weston A. Price Foundation.
Also the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund has filed a lawsuit against the FDA challenging the “legality of FDA’s ban on the interstate distribution of raw milk for human consumption.” The FDA has not been successful in having the case thrown out. On August 18, 2010, the judge denied the FDA’s request to dismiss the case.
Most of the FDA’s press release is devoted to a general discussion of the dangers of raw milk, not a detailed account of the specific incident. In addition, the FDA does not mention that the farm which was the source of the raw milk had not been found to be contaminated. The press release looks more like an opportunity to oversell–once again–the supposed dangers of raw milk.
Update 7/27/11: The North Carolina Heraldonline says that “A spokesman for the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control said Tuesday “all raw milk samples” from the Tucker Adkins Dairy off S.C. 5 between Rock Hill and York are free of Campylobacter, a bacteria known to cause diarrhea, cramping and fever. The FDA said the milk from a June 14 sample was negative for Campylobacter.” Note that this is not the FDA releasing the information, and, according to FDA spokesperson Stephanie Yao, the FDA is “continuing its investigation to pinpoint where the bacteria formed. It could have been at the dairy or in the transportation of the milk.” Read more from Heraldonline . . .