State research comes year after local outbreak
The California Department of Public Health is conducting a research survey
in Del Norte County to learn more about people’s attitudes and beliefs
regarding raw milk.
In particular, researchers want to interview residents who were involved in
Alexandre Family EcoDairy Farms’ cow-share program that was the vehicle for
distributing unpasteurized milk to its customers. Health officials say it
also was the source of a campylobacter outbreak that sickened more than a
dozen people, including one woman who was paralyzed and placed on a
ventilator shortly after drinking the product.
“The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) surveys people
frequently on the various public health issues to better understand these
issues from the people’s point of view,” California Public Health
Spokesperson Norma Arceo said in an email. “Raw milk is one of those issues
where the public have various viewpoints regarding its health effects.
Therefore, CDPH would like to better understand these various viewpoints
through this survey.”
seems to be a growing fad amongst health-food afficionados and so-called
localvores, who try to buy food as close to home as possible to cut down on
the environmental impact. Some believe raw milk carries curative properties
for ailments such as allergies and asthma, while others say they just like
the taste and the idea that it is a probiotic similar to yogurts that have
active cultures in them to aid in digestion.
But raw milk can contain
a number of foodbourne pathogens, including E. coli, salmonella, listeria
and campylobacter because it has not gone through the pasteurization
process meant to kill these harmful bacteria. This has caused the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration, as well as many other government agencies, to urge
consumers to stay away from the product as it can pose serious health
California Public Health
officials said the survey information collected in Del Norte County will
eventually be used to improve teaching mechanisms for telling people about
“The results of the
survey will help us better understand what people know and think about raw
milk,” Arceo said. “The results will be summarized in a report in the
future. The report will be used to inform the public and the public health
community about the knowledge and thoughts of the people surveyed regarding
Arceo refused to comment
on the details of the survey, saying that could bias the responses. She
also said there are “no plans” to work with the state Department of Food
and Agriculture to change any of the regulations regarding raw milk.
Currently, there are only
two dairies in California that meet state regulations and are licensed to
sell raw milk. The Alexandre dairy was able to side-step these regulations
through its cow-leasing program because it allowed customers to buy a share
of a cow and therefore have partial ownership of the animal and its milk.
In October 2008, the
California and Del Norte County Departments of Public Health, along with
other state and federal agencies, produced an investigation report
regarding the local outbreak of campylobacter and its association with raw
A recommendation in that report was
to survey all other California dairies in the state to find out if there
were other cow-sharing programs, and consider measures to prevent future
outbreaks. That report also included a recommendation to “continue public
education efforts regarding health risk associated with consuming
unpasteurized milk and unpasteurized milk products.”
One of the authors of
that document was Dr. Amy Karon, an epidemic intelligence service officer
with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She is also named on a
letter sent to survey candidates as the main person to contact with
questions about the study being conducted in Del Norte.
Karon did not comment on
the research survey, and referred all questions to the California
Department of Public Health’s public affairs office.
The letter sent to former
cow-share members states that the county health department is working with
the state to conduct this research. But local health officials have said
they haven’t had any involvement.
Del Norte County Public
Health Officer Dr. Thomas Martinelli, who co-authored the October
campylobacter report with Karon, said he only learned about the survey last
week through an email.
“They’re just wanting to
get the information about the attitudes of people in Del Norte County about
raw milk,” Martinelli said. “I think they’re just trying to get a little
idea of the psyche of people who would put themselves in the position of
drinking raw milk when there are obvious dangers.”
A number of people who
were involved in Alexandre’s cow-share program have already received phone
calls from researchers. The questions, they say, are general and tend to
revolve around whether people know the various dangers associated with with
consuming unpasteurized milk.
Sarah Valley, of Crescent
City, was one of the people who was interviewed recently as a part of the
survey. She was a member of the local cow-share program before it shut
down, and she said she was not one of the people who became ill during the
Valley said she hasn’t
been able to find another source for raw milk since the Alexandre’s
discontinued their operation and is a loyal proponent of the product.
“It’s just a better whole
food,” she said. “You haven’t killed all the enzymes and all the
Even though she
participated in the survey, Valley said she didn’t really trust that it was
objective, saying it seemed like the interviewers “had their own agendas”
and were trying to “get their own answers.”
“They just want to tell
you a list of all the things that could be a problem with raw milk, and
asked if I would still drink it,” she said. “I told them, ‘Yes I would.’”