Real Raw Milk Facts’ Mary McGonigle-Martin Talks on Raw Milk
By Jenny Rogers
TBD All Over Washington
After much anticipation, many speeches, and much sign-waving from raw milk fans today on Capitol Hill, the rally’s star finally showed. A Maryland Jersey cow was led into Senate Park, in view of the Capitol, and milked. She also ate a fair amount of Senate Park grass as rally organizers toasted the American farmer with glasses of her milk.
It was the latest move by the pro-unpasteurized movement, recently galvanized by the arrest of Amish farmer Dan Allgyer for selling raw milk across state lines. For people like Judith Mudrak, who traveled to the rally from New Jersey, the fight has been going on for 10 years. She grew up drinking raw milk in Switzerland and “was so disappointed not to have the real stuff here.” Like most of the people I spoke to at the rally, Mudrak believes unpasteurized milk is healthier than drinking pasteurized, a claim vigorously disputed by the FDA, CDC, and several states where the sale of raw milk is illegal.
Gail Houze, New Jersey mother of seven, also believes in the healthfulness of the raw stuff and feeds nothing else to her kids. “Never had a single ear infection,” she says. “We are just so pleased.”
Indeed, beautiful, able-bodied kids swarm the event, waving signs and eating snacks and in general being adorable. Hard to argue that raw milk is hurting them, but at least one parent is concerned.
“If it’s not produced with 100 percent accuracy at all times, a goof can happen,” says Mary McGonigle-Martin. “And it can kill you.”
Five years ago, McGonigle-Martin decided to try raw milk to deal with her son’s digestive problems (a common tale among raw-milk supporters). Chris seemed to get congested when drinking pasteurized milk, so Martin did some research and thought it was safe. Selling raw milk was legal in the family’s home state, California, and McGonigle-Martin herself had consumed it in her late teens with no problems.
But less than three weeks later, her seven-year-old son was deathly ill, hooked up to a ventilator and on dialysis. He’d contracted Hemolytic-uremic syndrome, a disease associated with food-borne E.coli. The diagnosis sent the Martins through a nightmarish ordeal of transfusions and treatment, throughout which their son’s death seemed probable.
Five years, hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, and one lawsuit later, Chris is healthy, but McGonigle-Martin says it’s likely that he’ll experience long-term effects from the damage sustained by his kidneys.
McGonigle-Martin says she was vaguely aware of the risks of contracting a food-borne illness from raw milk, but she thought pathogens would cause at worst minor illness. “I did not know salmonella could kill you,” she says. Her objection to the raw-milk movement is that it doesn’t acknowledge the risks of drinking unpasteurized milk.
“I don’t mean anyone harm who drinks raw milk,” she says. “I don’t want it to be illegal. I don’t want to tell people what to do in their lives. I just want them to have information.”
The CDC puts the number of raw milk-related incidents between 1998 and 2008 at 85 outbreaks, 1,676 reported illnesses, 191 hospitalizations and two deaths, figures that some within the raw-milk movement dispute. Much of the online conversation in favor of raw milk touches on supporting small farmers, civil liberties, and the right to make choices about food without government interference, a topic brought up many times at today’s rally.
“It’s actually quite scary to me that I’m 50 years old and I’m at a rally in D.C. to protect my right to eat and drink what I want,” says Rebecca Pitre. “We should have the right to eat and drink food that we want.”
Tara Holste agrees, and disputes the notion that people who drink raw milk are somehow uninformed about the risk. “I think you’ll find that people who drink raw milk are more educated,” she says. “We put a lot of thought into our food.”
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