Posted: Friday, April 13, 2012 2:46 PM
By JONATHAN J. COOPER
SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- Lab tests confirmed that four children under the age of 15 have contracted E. coli linked to raw milk from a small Oregon farm, state health officials said Friday.
Three of the Oregon children have been hospitalized, officials said, two of them with kidney failure, and Foundation Farm near Wilsonville has voluntarily stopped distributing milk. Health officials said 11 other customers of the dairy are reporting recent diarrhea and other symptoms typical of E. coli.
Federal regulations outlaw interstate sales of raw milk, but 30 states allow it to be sold within their borders. Oregon law prohibits retail sales, along with other restrictions, but allows on-farm sales.
State officials say Foundation Farm distributed to 48 households that were part of a "herd share" -- an arrangement in which people own a portion of a herd of cows. The Associated Press left a message at a Foundation Farm phone number listed on state corporation records.
Public health officials have long battled with raw milk advocates over safety and health benefits.
"Raw milk can carry harmful bacteria that can make you very sick or kill you," said Dr. Katrina Hedberg, the state epidemiologist. "Pasteurized milk has many health benefits. Raw milk is not any healthier than pasteurized milk and can carry illness-causing bacteria."
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that raw milk can be contaminated with listeria, salmonella and other bacteria. Unpasteurized milk from a Pennsylvania farm was linked to more than 40 illnesses in four states earlier this year, and three children were hospitalized with E. coli linked to raw milk in California last year.
Investigators are still awaiting test results from samples taken from the farm but have not found any other food common to the patients that could be a source of the E. coli, Hedberg said.
Pasteurized milk is heated to kill bacteria. Raw milk drinkers say the process also kills bacteria beneficial to human health. Some say they want to be sure they're drinking milk from cows fed grass and not treated with antibiotics or hormones. Advocates point out that traditional food supplies aren't immune from pathogens that sometimes contaminate fruits, vegetables and meats.
"We believe that people should be able to choose what they eat, and that it is not the government's role to tell us what we can and cannot eat," said Michele Knaus, director of Friends of Family Farmers, an Oregon-based advocacy group for small farmers. "We do not believe that access to raw milk should be eliminated, and are saddened by this singular episode."
More than 60 Oregon farms are listed as raw milk producers on a website maintained by the Weston A. Price Foundation, which promotes the consumption of "nutrient dense" foods.
Careful controls can give raw milk drinkers confidence they won't get sick, said Chrissie Zaerpoor, who left her job as an engineering manager at Intel to work full-time on safely producing fresh foods on her Yamhill farm. Zaerpoor said she worries every day about the safety of her food. She thoroughly cleans her cows before every milking and regularly tests her animals and their milk, she said.
"We really run our raw dairy in a very controlled way with a lot of testing and validations and strong process control systems," Zaerpoor said.
A federal judge in Iowa this month threw out a lawsuit challenging the federal ban on interstate sales of raw milk.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.