Pathogens Vs. the Plaintiff’s Bar

Published on: 08:11AM Jul 29, 2008

My last blog posting a few months ago on the topic of raw milk referenced a pro-raw milk blogger who said on the Daily Kos with an extraordinarily straight face that raw milk “is full of probiotics increasingly missing in our pasteurized, sterilized, degraded, overprocessed diets. Raw Milk is considered not only safe but especially wholesome, not only wholesome but UNIQUELY rich in pro-biotics that help keep people healthy.”


I asked the rhetorical question in my posting “is the fervor for raw milk a situation where the facts matter at all?”  For its feverish proponents, the obvious answer remains no.


In my surfing of the blogosphere, however, what’s interesting to note is that there is another class of folks who are paying keen attention to the raw milk market…and they represent the beginning of the end of the movement.  I’m referring to members of the legal profession, aka the plaintiff’s bar, aka trial lawyers looking to sue producers and processors of raw milk on behalf of people allegedly sickened by consumption of unpasteurized milk.


As I reported in that April blog posting, hundreds of people have been infected by bacteria sometimes present in raw milk – a fact that raw milk aficionados seem to blithely ignore.  But lawyers are paid not to ignore the facts in these matters.   And they see money in those same headlines.


Here are a couple of recent examples of law firms – with their own blogs, no less – who are out soliciting business from people who may have gotten the bad end of a bacterium in a glass of milk: 

Food Poisoning Law Blog

Marler Blog


The latter blog, in particular, references some of the same cases that my blog posting had mentioned – the suit against Organic Pastures in California, for example – as well as more recent cases in Connecticut and Missouri where raw milk has been linked to some bad illnesses in people.


I’ve never been comfortable with the degree to which the legal community can pursue tort litigation against product or service providers, so let me be clear about that fact.  At the same time, however, this isn’t a situation like, say, the silicone breast implant controversy in the 1990s, where the evidence was clear (and has gotten still clearer) that those implants don’t cause systemic illnesses in their hosts….yet there was lots of money made by pursuing lawsuits against the implant makers in spite of data indicating there wasn’t really a problem.


This situation, however, is the inverse:  the data do provide a link between consumption of raw milk, and the ingestion of pathogenic bacteria.  Fans of raw milk, at least some of them, claim either that raw milk’s palliative properties negate pathogens, and/or that they can, by patronizing the raw milk from a local dairy farm, be assured that the product is impeccably pure and without germs.  Yet the body count of people infected grows, in spite of these allegations.  The facts speak otherwise.


The facts don’t always matter the most in court, of course.  But as more of these medical cases become legal ones, I’m certain we will see the debate over raw milk be dominated by lawyers, not farmers.