Farewell to (Raw Milk at) Whole Foods
I was shocked to hear Friday night that Whole Foods Market had pulled raw milk from all stores. Turned out it wasn’t all stores. Saturday I learned from David Gumpert’s The Complete Patient that it was just stores in California, Washington, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Well, I live in California, home of Organic Pastures Dairy and Claravale Dairy, and this is a big deal for raw milk drinkers here. UPDATE: Kimberly Hartke has been in touch with OPD’s Mark McAfee, and apparently there is hope the issue with WFM’s insurers will be resolved. See WFM’s notice to customers here.
UPDATE 2: Whole Foods has since made this raw milk ban permanent, and they have also removed raw kombucha tea drinks from their stores, “temporarily,” to work out new labels, perhaps to warn that if they sit around for a long time, the alcohol level could creep up above the 0.05% that requires an alcohol warning on the label. Thanks, FDA, I feel so much safer now.
Not that it will make any difference, but I just sent this e-mail to Whole Foods:
I used to love Whole Foods and was a defender of it (and shopper) for many years, but no more. I will go out of my way to go elsewhere now. With the move today to remove raw milk from all stores in California and at least 3 other states, Whole Foods has now removed any need for me to ever shop with you again. The recent pro-vegan, anti-animal foods campaign has not gone unnoticed, and by removing raw milk from your stores you’re proclaiming hostility to what I value: sacred food from sacred animals that have been cared for properly and humanely. I can get all other products, including coconut oil, butter, supplements, nuts and other foods from small, local health food shops or Internet merchants just as easily as I can get them from Whole Foods, and probably cheaper. Likewise I can get my meats, vegetables and other fresh products from local farmers markets and co-ops. The real food eaters are a large part of your base clientele; you’d be wise not to spurn us. This policy change will only benefit smaller, local retailers.
The initial action at WFM went into effect the morning of Saturday, March 13. You may be wondering:
Why Should I Care About Raw Milk?
First, what do we mean by raw (real) milk, exactly? Nonpasteurized, nonhomogenized milk from healthy grass-fed cows, that’s what we mean. Good quality raw milk from healthy cows on green pasture is full of nutrients, beneficial bacteria, and the enzymes needed to help digest it—clever!—just the way humans drank it for many thousands of years, raw or cultured. It’s the way mammalian mothers have been feeding their babies forever. Many people who cannot drink regular milk find they can digest raw milk just fine.
I personally don’t drink a lot of raw milk anymore, because my nearest retail outlet is a 30-minute drive away. More importantly, I really do better on cultured milk products. The issue of biochemical individuality is relevant here; some people thrive on raw milk, some don’t. But the choice of what foods or other substances we put in our bodies is a fundamental human right. How absurd is it that various state governments have ruled that you cannot drink milk unless it has been heat-treated first, to make up for the poor sanitation of the large, conventional confinement dairies. I own my body, I’m responsible for what goes into it. It just ain’t the government’s business.
But Is It Safe?
Certified raw milk from quality dairies has an excellent safety record, and there is nothing inherently dangerous about raw milk any more than any other fresh food. Since any food can be contaminated (including pasteurized and irradiated “food”), it all comes down to how it is handled. Where they are allowed to exist, raw milk dairies are held to a higher standard. One of the great things about Organic Pastures Dairy is their transparency; they have for years posted their bacterial counts on their website. Do you think Dean Foods or Land o’ Lakes would ever do that? Here’s a sample:
|Product||Bottle Cap Date||Bacteria Count | E.coli 0157|
|OPDC Raw Milk||Cumulative Avg.||2536 | Negative|
OPDC raw milk far exceeds California Department of Food and Agriculture raw milk standards for market Grade A milk. You can’t sell your raw milk unless the bacterial count is below 15,000 per milliliter; OPDC’s cumulative average for their milk is 2,536! And it’s negative for E. coli 0157.
The Organic Pastures site has a chart showing at a glance the difference between conventional, USDA certified Organic, and raw certified milk. Confinement dairies keep the cows inside, standing on concrete for hours while they eat their unnatural soy and corn chow. Cows eating their biologically appropriate diet—growing green grass in the fresh air and sunshine, seasonally supplemented with quality hay—are way ahead. (Opinions vary on whether cows should get some supplemental grain, but there is little doubt that, as ruminants, they are highly adapted to eating grass and hay and are not well adapted to eating grain, so it should never predominate in their diet. For climate reasons, there are few places where dairy cows could be solely on pasture year-round, and that’s not how they’ve traditionally been managed, according to Claravale Farm.)
Kimberly Hartke brought up the possibility of FDA involvement in WFM’s decision to pull raw milk from some states:
And, after what has been happening in Wisconsin and other states lately, it seems that there may be some FDA involvement in this corporate “decision.” Unlike ground beef, spinach, peanuts, peppers, and the other obvious sources of mass foodborne illness, the FDA singles out raw milk as “inherently dangerous,” in spite of a lack of evidence. This hostile regulatory climate seems to inform corporate decisions, makes insurers leery and also directs the actions the state regulators.
When Florida stores stopped carrying “pet milk,” callers to Whole Foods Corporate were told everything from “it was a profit driven decision” to “call the USDA if you want more information.”
The Weston A. Price Foundation and its Campaign for Real Milk (RealMilk.com) has covered the whole raw milk controversy extensively. They’ve pointed out the FDA and CDC bias against raw milk. See also: CDC Report on California Illness Shows Continued Government Bias Against Raw Milk. Basically, when any food-borne illness is reported, they ask whether any raw milk was consumed by the patients. If so, the investigation stops there. I know, stupid, right?
Yes, Whole Foods Market is not the government and this is not a government ban, but it is a step in the wrong direction. WFM has become increasingly pro-vegan and anti-animal fat in its policies (see the comment by Chandrelle, below). I question whether they are the defenders of food freedom I once thought they were—although Mark McAfee credits their chief operating officer with supporting raw milk in California, even testifying at hearings. I at least will patronize local stores and Internet shops for my food and supplement needs.
Resources on Raw Dairy
My pal Kelly the Kitchen Kop has some terrific blog posts about real milk. WAPF’s Wise Traditions published this article on Milk: It Does a Body Good? If you’re wondering whether raw milk is safe for babies, read this. An informative book, recently updated, is The Untold Story of Milk, by Ron Schmid. Raw-milk-facts.com simply presents pro-raw milk information in a straightforward fashion, with a handy section of scientific references.
In addition to writing The Complete Patient, David Gumpert recently published The Raw Milk Revolution. WAPF publicist Kimberly Hartke blogs about raw milk at http://hartkeisonline.com/. Elizabeth Walling, who writes The Nourished Life, recently went on a three-week raw milk diet, drinking a little over a gallon a day of raw milk and nothing else, with positive health changes. Organic Pastures has a terrific raw milk FAQ. The wonderful Claravale Farm, with its all-Jersey herd, has a raw milk FAQ as well.
Both Kelly and Kimberly can be found at Real Food Media Network, along with Ann Marie, better known as Cheeseslave, who founded RFMN. Her recent post on Top 10 Reasons to Drink Raw Milk is must reading. Another favorite blogger is Jenny from Nourished Kitchen; here’s a lovely post on Jenny’s food philosophy, which puts all the pieces of Real Food together. I am a subscriber to her wonderful recipe card series.
So before you believe the anti-raw-milk fear-based propaganda, read the above references with an open mind and you’ll learn a lot. For fear-based propaganda, I mean the other side of the debate, you could always go to http://www.foodpoisonjournal.com/. The name says it all.