The Promise of Raw Camel's Milk, and Its Admirers at the FDA
The ongoing controversy about raw milk generally has to do with cow's or goat's milk.
But every once in a while, the controversy ratchets up in its exotica quotient when camel's milk moves into the picture, as it has just recently, via a young California entrepreneur, Walid Abdul-Wahab.
If you ever watch the TV series, “Shark Tank”, where budding entrepreneurs try to grab investment funds from seasoned investors, you can see where Abdul-Wahab would be a great candidate. He could just take his Linked-In pitch and read it aloud:
“My name is Walid Abdul-Wahab…I started Desert Farms right out of college as the first company in the U.S. to capitalize on the sale of camel’s milk, based on the idea that American consumers are constantly searching for the ultimate healthy beverage. America’s health-conscious consumer appetite has lead to the rise of many dairy alternative beverages, but each has been met with unique flaws.
“Unlike other milks, camel’s milk is a complete food that can be consumed exclusively while meeting all your nutritional requirements. It has been used for centuries as a natural remedy in the Middle East, Asian and North African cultures. Nomads and Bedouins rely on its nutritional and medicinal properties and have lived on camel milk for months in the harsh desert without apparent loss of health.
“In the U.S we have already created demand for camel milk both as a cultural product and as a medicinal beverage in the autism community. We want to expand our audience and share the natural goodness of camel milk to health enthusiasts.
“I am currently seeking investors to be a part of this start-up company. This opportunity has a huge financial return potential for shareholders, as we promote the healthy benefits of Camel’s Milk.”
The really interesting part would be the reaction from the “Sharks,” the four investors who quiz the presenting entrepreneurs about the feasibility of their ventures. No doubt, one of the first Shark reactions would be something like this:
“Very interesting, Walid. I have a good friend who has a child with autism, and I know that autism is a huge problem in this country. If camel’s milk could help counter this terrible condition, it could be a terrific product. Can you tell me how the FDA feels about raw camel's milk as a treatment for autism?”
Walid, of course, would be hard pressed to capture the full spirit of the FDA’s views on raw milk of any kind, let alone raw camel's milk. But I can tell Walid Abdul-Wahab, Shark Tank investors, and anyone else so interested that the FDA definitely is intrigued by raw camel's milk.
Before I get to the FDA’s take on raw camel's milk, I should say that the subject only just came up because of a story about the California entrepreneur and his raw camel milk company, Desert Farms, on a site known as Munchies. Though the overall story and interview are pretty enthusiastic, the writer, Lauren Rothman, oddly begins her article, “It seems like every other week someone gets ill from raw milk.” No, not exactly.
But back to the FDA’s attitude on raw camel's milk. Back in the fall of 2010, the Colbert Nation comedy news show did a report on the Rawesome Food Club raid. Early on in the five-minute segment, James Stewart was asked to explain "the complex etimology behind the buying club's name."... "Awesome with an R in front of it," he deadpanned.
"Why did the government thugs raid Rawesome?" the announcer asked ominously. A pause... "To seize their raw milk."
A smiling blond Lela Buttery, one of Rawesome's young volunteer operators, then intoned, "Here at Rawesome, we have a choice of cow, goat, sheep, and most recently...camel milk." Film clips of milk spurting from a goat or camel's teats followed.
Of all the digs at government bureaucrats and raw milk aficionados in that skit, the one that caught the FDA’s attention was the mention of raw camel’s milk. In research for my book, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights, I gained access to a number of intriguing email exchanges about the enforcement efforts against raw milk, and one such exchange had to do with the Colbert Nation Rawesome skit, and raw camel’s milk. (Unfortunately, space considerations prevented me from including everything I obtained, including the information about the FDA’s interest in the Colbert Report and raw camel’s milk, in my book.)
Twelve days after the Colbert segment aired, the director of the FDA's Division of Plant and Dairy Food Safety, John Sheehan, fired off an email to a California-based FDA colleague, "Regional Milk Specialist" Randy Elsberry (and copied in three other colleagues): "On the Stephen Colbert Report skit about raw milk--one of the Rawesome people mentioned that they were selling camel's milk. Randy, where would they be getting that from?"
Elsberry replied to the email by cc'ing Stephen Beam, the chief of the Milk and Dairy Food Safety Branch of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
"Not sure. Steve, do you happen to know?"
To which Beam answered, "I'm not aware of camel's milk being found during the (June 30) inspection of Rawesome conducted under the search warrant. There is only one camel dairy in California that CDFA is aware of (Oasis Camel Dairy, Ramona, CA); however, they are in no way approved for production of milk for human food. To our knowledge, they are only manufacturing soap. If they are distributing milk for consumption, it is without CDFA licensure and authorization. We do check in with them from time to time, and can follow-up on that. Imported camel's milk is another possibility."
Sheehan thanked Beam, and added in a return email, "If you get a chance to check out the video, the Rawesome lady says that they just recently started offering camel milk. FDA would be very interested to learn of any IC in raw camel milk. Thanks again, Steve." [I’m not sure what "IC" means, and if anyone knows, please share that info.]
A check of the Oasis Camel Dairy's web site indicates its owners, described on the site as "a 40-something married couple with a BIG idea and a small bank account," know they are under scrutiny--that their BIG idea of selling camel's milk must await more favorable regulatory conditions.
In my experience, camel's milk is available around the U.S.....for a price--on the order of $15-20....per PINT. So you read about these two budding camel’s milk enterprises, and you get just an inkling of the entrepreneurial energy out there—in terms of health improvement possibilities, job opportunities, and financial growth—all perking under the heavy boot of the FDA and its state enforcers. It makes for some incongruous and humorous exchanges, but in the end, it's a challenge to the corporate dairy cartel, and so it's got some pretty daunting challenges before we see camel's milk widely available.