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Raw milk program ends after 15 people get sick

August 20, 2008 |  5:55 pm

Raw, or unpasteurized, milk is a popular alternative for consumers concerned about the chemicals and hormones used in traditional dairy farming but has its own risks too.

A Del Norte County dairy has ended its raw milk program after more than a dozen people fell ill, including a woman who became partially paralyzed, the Crescent City-based Daily Triplicate reports.

The raw milk came from Alexandre Family EcoDairy Farms, which supplied the product to 115 customers. The county's Department of Public Health suspects at least 15 people were sickened by Campylobacter, a common bacteria found in domesticated animals.

Nicholas Grube of the Triplicate has a thorough take on the story, explaining the challenges of even getting a raw milk program off the ground:

It is illegal to sell raw milk in California, but it is not illegal to get it from your own animal. The Alexandres devised a cow-share program that allowed people to buy stock in an Alexandre cow. That gave them personal ownership of the animal and allowed them to legally take raw milk from Alexandre EcoDairy.

Cow-share customers had keys to a storage area where they could also obtain organic eggs, beef, ice cream and cheese.

Before customers could join the cow-share program and get the raw milk, owners Blake and Stephanie Alexandre gave them a three-ring binder full of information. In the first section are a number of articles relaying the dangers of consuming raw milk.

"I wanted people to be very clear on the risks," Stephanie Alexandre said, adding that many times people would take that chance. "They're realizing that the risks are there and they'll realize that the benefits outweigh the risks and they'll come begging for it."

To join the cow-share program, customers signed an agreement relieving the eco-dairy of liability in case of health problems caused by raw milk.

The raw milk program constituted less than 1% of the company's total organic dairy business.

"We've never done any of this for money," Blake Alexandre said. "This is a thing we were doing for folks who thought they needed access to raw milk."

But as Grube reports, not all the company's raw milk drinkers are left with a sour taste in their mouth:

Christine Mitchell of Crescent City, 42, drank Alexandre's raw milk for almost two years. Before she started the program, she said her joints ached, especially in her knees.

"I started drinking it and about four months later all of my joint pain was gone," Mitchell said. "That was a huge change in my life."

She asked her doctor why raw milk would get rid of her pain, and she said he told her that the enzymes in the product—the ones normally taken out during the pasteurization process—help her body digest the calcium in the milk.

Now Mitchell is struggling to find a new source of raw milk. For nearly two months she hasn't had it and her joints are starting to hurt again. Pasteurized milk, she said, just doesn't compare.

"What's the point of drinking pasteurized milk," she asked, "if you can't use the good stuff that's in there?"

--Francisco Vara-Orta

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