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Farewell to (Raw Milk at) Whole Foods

March 13, 2010

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
Sample Count 484
Standard Deviation 3868
CDFA Standard Benchmark 15,000
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.)

Regulatory Bias?

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.

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16 Comments
  1. I really liked reading your post!. Quallity content.
    althought i havenot tried raw milk before,
    i’m a big fan of natural foods. blessing…. from Lisa

    • Jeanmarie permalink

      Thanks so much, Lisa! I’m trying to find time to write more regularly.

  2. pjnoir permalink

    Nobody needs Whole Foods- don’t buy a single thing from them, get friends to stop buying. Help them get what they need somewhere else. Help a boycott instead of crying about it. Wholefoods needs to feel money loss.

    • Jeanmarie permalink

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I think the situation is a little more nuanced. For some people, WF is their introduction to organic and sustainable, even if it isn’t the best example out there. For some people, it may be the most convenient way to get real foods, and some of those people will go on to discover CSAs and local farms. Some people may not have many alternatives. For many, Whole Foods IS the alternative — to Safeway, or the liquor store or convenience store. I don’t feel that I can decide for everyone else whether they need Whole Foods. WF does serve a purpose, but I agree, I’d much rather support local growers and producers where I can, and I do.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Hi Jeanmarie! I am glad you and Kimberly posted this information about the raw milk, even if it is on its way to becoming resolved (which remains to be seen, still), because it’s so important to get people’s awareness up about these issues. It’s too bad it’s an insurance issue too because it proves that our health care and law systems are still completely antiquated and are continuing to rely on reactive measures to solve problems – besides the fact that it’s just incorrect that people get sick from drinking clean raw milk from a healthy source.

    If more people drank raw milk we’d likely see a massive change in overall health profiles of our population and there would, in theory, be less reason for medical costs to remain as high as they are since there would hopefully be less doctoring going on.

    Great post, thanks much for your work to fight for real food! 🙂

    • Jeanmarie permalink

      Thanks, Raine! Yes, as I learned more about the situation (mainly from Kimberly) it looked like this could well be a temporary situation, so I revised my post considerably from the original one. I do think we consumers/citizens need to speak up about what we care about, so if I helped to inspire anybody to communicate with Whole Foods on this issue, I’m very glad. My local WAPF lists had quite a round of discussion on this over the weekend. Cheers!

  4. RadiantLux permalink

    I really liked your email to Whole Foods.

    • Jeanmarie permalink

      Why, thank-you, RadiantLux! (Brilliant name!) Do you shop at Whole Foods? If so, please let them know what you think! And see Chandelle’s comment about John Mackey and WF’s business model. As I just commented on Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s site (she linked to this post), there are still good, whole, traditional foods to be found at Whole Foods. I’m not aiming to incite a national boycott so much as to remind us all to think consciously about our food choices and realize that no food retailer can make our decisions for us. If we go for the agave-sweetened chocolate-covered oat-krispy soynut bars, they’re happy to sell them to us. If we stick to fresh (or even frozen) produce, whole dairy, quality oils and fats, raw nuts (so we can soak and dry them), humanely raised meats and pastured eggs, they’ll find a way to get those to us. We are more powerful than we realize.

  5. Lynette permalink

    Bill Marler is a lawyer and one of the most prejudiced, vocal and vehement campaigners against raw milk, so quoting his website or blog is like quoting Mao to support the views of the communist party. (Could it be that his law firm specializes in lawsuits against raw milk producers??)
    There are a lot of people who like the taste and health benefits of raw milk and have been drinking it for years with no ill effects. I’m not sure why a few people have such an ax to grind about raw milk, but I’m offended that they think it’s their right to deny others access it. Thank goodness they aren’t vegetarians and want to deny the rest of us the right to buy and eat meat!
    From now on, I’ll shop at the local Mother’s Markets and avoid Whold Foods like the plague!

    • Jeanmarie permalink

      Hi Lynette,
      I agree on Marler. I just discovered him yesterday. I only included him in case anyone wants to read the arguments of the other side for themselves. I don’t find him persuasive. And I assume his practice must involve representing people who are suing raw milk dairies, so he is the enemy.

  6. This seems to indicate that raw milk will return to WF:

    http://twitpic.com/18dl3l

    I went to Ft. Bragg last weekend and I think you’re right – more like 90 minutes. But it would still be great to meet you!

  7. We recently joined some friends’ goatshare. They raise goats on their homestead nearby. The goats have been dry for the winter but we have yogurt and cheese. In the next month we should start getting milk again, but like I said, mostly to process into cheese or through fermentation. Being vegan ruined me on actually drinking milk, but I still love fermented dairy and cheese and I just recently learned to love butter!

    It looks like the primary issue is with liability, some problem with the insurance company, so maybe it’s not really a Whole Foods problem so much as the broader implications of mass raw dairy sales. I also read elsewhere that this is likely to clear up in the next few weeks and WF will carry raw dairy again. We don’t have a WF anywhere nearby so it’s not so much an issue for us, but I’m hope it will be more available to others.

    I live in the Ukiah area, about an hour away from you. It would be wonderful to meet up!

    • Jeanmarie permalink

      Could you forward to me the information about WF possibly carrying raw milk again? Thanks!
      Wow, it takes me closer to 90 minutes to get to Ukiah! or 75 mins if I’m really pushing it. I’ll e-mail you directly.
      Cheers!

  8. Jeanmarie permalink

    Hi Chandelle,
    Do you have goats? Where are you getting your raw goat dairy products?

    That’s interesting that you used to work at WFM. I suspected Mackey was a vegan. Seems a bit hypocritical they rely on processed “organic junk” to make a profit.

    The only other reference I have on this story, aside from the link to The Complete Patient, is this blog by Bill Marler:
    http://www.foodpoisonjournal.com/2010/03/articles/food-poisoning-information/whole-foods-in-california-washington-pennsylvania-and-connecticut-to-stop-raw-milk-sales/
    He talks about a couple of the cases where people got very ill and it was blamed on raw milk. As you’ll see if you follow the FDA/CDC bias links in my post (or elsewhere on the RealMilk.com or WAPF sites) is that once they know there is raw milk in the picture, they assume that’s the cause and drop all other investigation.

    Where in Mendocino are you? Would love to meet up. We’re outside Fort Bragg. Cheers!

  9. Having milk raw made intuitive sense to me long before I actually started using raw (goat) dairy products. I use raw goat yogurt and cheese – can’t stand to just drink milk – and I find them much more digestible and flavorful than pasteurized.

    I used to work at Whole Foods. The CEO, John Mackey, is vegan. The vast majority of WF’s income is derived from processed foods – not vegetables, meat, dairy, bulk, or other real foods. So I don’t expect WF to have any real impact on the way their customers eat. Their low-fat emphasis is just a “good faith” measure to pretend like they care about what their customers buy. But even Mackey has admitted that his customers “eat a lot of junk” and for WF to stay viable, that will continue to be the case, because what’s most overpriced at WF is the packaged food that comprises the majority of what they sell.

    Do you have an article that discusses WF’s choice to remove raw dairy? Is it related to their low-fat campaign or is it for another reason? Just wondering why they’d only remove raw dairy and not all full-fat dairy products if it’s related to the low-fat emphasis.

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