The Promise of Raw Camel's Milk, and Its Admirers at the FDA

Photo from Desert Farms web siteThe 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. 

 

D. Smith's picture

IC means information concerning.

Camel milk, donkey milk, yak milk, it's all been around just as long as cow milk - which is why the FDA and Sheehan in particular are "interested". Don't tell them jack.

D. Smith's picture

I should add: IC can mean various things but in this case it probably means information concerning. Sheehan is, after all, on a hunting expedition.

David Gumpert's picture

The fact that he says "IC in raw camel milk" suggests it's a component, but may be just awkward expression, and he means "information concerning," as you say. 

ingvar's picture

Interstate Commerce

mark mcafee's picture

I was at the NCIMS meeting in Florida when Camels raw milk was discussed. It is not regulated by the FDA or CDFA becuase it does not come from a hoved animal. Camels have pads on their feet as a direct result of this physical charactaristic it is not subject to raw milk laws or regs....

The FDA would love to seize control over this area of food, but as of now, they do not have control as far as I know.

I have tasted the stuff and it is awesome. It is creamy and delicious. I know that their are a few Amish doing Camels raw milk as well.

I vote for IC meaning Interstate Commerce. I suggest that the FDA does not mess with Camels milk...the NSA and CIA have enough popularity challenges as it is...pissing off Al Queda and all of the Arabs and Muslims at this level really is not a smart or humane use of Drone technology. Lets just leave the Camels alone....

David Gumpert's picture

Mark, now that you mention it, I remember that discussion about camels/non-hooved animals at NCIMS.  I recall FDA was wondering if there was some way to get around the limitation that kept them focused on hooved animals. Seems from the email exchange I quoted from that CDFA thinks it has authority over sale of camel's milk. Maybe the two California producers of camel's milk I mentioned need to speak with Gary Cox, or some other smart ag lawyer. 

And I agree with you, IC is interstate commerce. Sheehan was/is afraid of being outflanked by camel's milk producers who know the law and are willing to assert their rights. 

D. Smith's picture

It probably does stand for interstate commerce in this instance. It cracks me up because he is searching for information but he doesn't REALLY want to do the work himself, he wants others to sorta kinda do it for him. How typical. Which is another reason I said don't say jack about it.

Mary McGonigle-Martin's picture

Mark, if camels are not in the hoved animal category, I wonder if they carry shiga toxin producing E.coli in their intestines?

Mary McGonigle-Martin's picture

Sorry typo....hooved.

Mary McGonigle-Martin's picture

A friend sent me this. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/22081366/?i=3&from=camel%20O157

So I guess the answer is yes. Camels can carry shiga toxin E.coli in their intestines.

Sylvia Gibson's picture
mark mcafee's picture

David,

I remember very distinctly the private discussion I had with the camel milk producers that were petitioning the FDA for some type of recognition or regulation. I remember telling them to immediately withdraw their petition and to please...please...please just shut up and not say another word. They just did not get it at all. Those camel guys were asking the fox to enter their hen house and eat their chickens!!! They were so virginal and naive !!! They "had it all" by being outside of FDA authority and here they were asking the FDA to regulate them! That is the definition of really stupid....in my most humble opinion. I remember the FDA taking full advantage of their nativity and trying to pass motions to regulate raw camels milk, but the actions did not make much material progress as I recall.

When something ain't broken do not try and fix it...especially when the agency being asked to help is the biggest raw milk hater on planet earth.

mark mcafee's picture

One more thing. I really think that the Camel guys do not take regulation serious enough. If I saw CDFA coming my way if I was a Camel raw milk guy...I would fight on no uncertain terms to make darn well sure that CDFA was not able to extend their authority beyond what is defined under current law. CDFA did not used to have authority over camels raw milk. If they gain authority over camels raw milk...that was a failure of the producers to protect their rights and a failure to control the limits of CDFA authority.

David Gumpert's picture

According to Christina Adams, a writer and mother who uses camel milk (with favorable results) on her autistic child, "The FDA states: 'In 2009 the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shippers (NCIMS) voted to include camel’s milk as a Grade A product under the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO). However, no milk can enter interstate commerce until there is a validated test for drug residues in camel milk. Products in intra-state commerce are regulated by state authorities.' 

"California's position: 'California allows camel dairies and the sale of camel milk, provided it is produced and distributed from a properly permitted and licensed facility.'

"The FDA leaves most non-interstate regulation of camel milk production up to the states."

http://www.ageofautism.com/2012/03/autism-file-presents-article-on-camel...

Mark, the NCIMS action came the year after we attended their meeting, or may have been an outgrowth of the meeting we attended in 2008.

Sylvia Gibson's picture

I guess the adulterations of the walnuts didn't prevent contaminates. Too bad all weren't named.

http://news.yahoo.com/two-u-companies-recall-walnuts-hummus-over-possibl...

mark mcafee's picture

David,

Nice digging. I did not know about the 2009 Camels milk action at NCIMS. What was the position taken by the FDA regarding pasteurization prior to interstate commerce? Is it also banned like cows raw milk?

RAWMI held a all day long RAWMI Listing workshop near Mt Shasta today. It was attended by five RAWMI Listing applicants. The community that grew out of the close mentoring, great questions, the grass to glass tour of a Listed dairy and subsequent discussion was awesome!! Each of the raw milk producers was very serious about the RAWMI program and the RAMP safety plans and testing that flows from being Listed. The meeting was also remarkable because of who attended. We had DVM Doctors representing bridges of trust that RAWMI had built that reach all the way into the highest levels of state and federal regulatory agencies etc....sharing was open and highly constructive! Names will stay off the blogs to preserve the trust and progress that has clearly been built.

Sincerely....thanks to all. Nothing like real educational action to bring serious raw milk safety forward.

David Gumpert's picture

Mark, I couldn't find anything more about FDA policy regarding pasteurization, or interstate commerce rules. Congrats on the RAWMI workshop. Hopefully the beginning of a wide move to provide food safety education to raw dairies. 

rawmilkmike's picture

Ag-Tourism Limited Liability:

 On April 16, 2014, Governor Walker signed the ag-tourism limited liability bill (AB 746) into law as 2013 Wisconsin Act 269. Today, more and more consumers want to know where agricultural products come from, and as a result Wisconsin farms continue to be growing tourist attractions. The ag-tourism bill was spearheaded by the Agriculture Tourism Association whose members expressed concern about the inherent risks of being on a farm and being sued by those who visit their farm property to engage in agricultural tourism activities.

http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=61bf0b07-7a12-4dc6-a814-17...

D. Smith's picture

This is the sort of thing that practically begs people to get into trouble. It's become a sickness in this land. Talk about nanny-ness. People can get hurt walking out their front door. If they cannot take responsibility for themselves to walk around a farmyard, they shouldn't out without a keeper in the first place. If I were a WI farmer, I'd tell people to stay off my land. Who wants to run the risk of being sued because people put one foot in front of the other. It's total insanity. We're so overprotected, we're at risk. Yes, I know, people can be stupid and do dumb things but this overweening gubmint of ours is just ridiculous.

rawmilkmike's picture

If an unknown group like “the Agriculture Tourism Association” can push through a bill like this, why can't we get a simple raw milk exemption for our farmers? An exemption for the sale of raw milk products directly to consumers would just be a clarification of the obvious, to insure that our food regulation in this country remains in line with the intent of the law.

Shawna Barr's picture

It was a great workshop for California raw milk farmers serious about RAWMI listing. Good information flowed freely and generously, and was received by farmers eager to learn. My favorite comment of the day was shared by one of the attending mentors who said that just showing up to a training accounts for about 50% of developing a good on-farm plan. Knowledge and mindset are so key. Every time we gather for training and collaboration, I learn so much, and its always an excellent use of my time.

I will also mention that all the attendees were California herdshare operators...not yet licensed or acknowledged in our state. We talked a lot about the obstacles along the path to licensing, and how those could be potentially overcome for the very micro-size, pastured based operation. Small herds still have work to do in California, to be sure. But in the meantime, some farms are not waiting to put excellent food safety protocol in place, voluntarily, for their herdshares. Perhaps the regulations will follow.

We also discussed camel-friendly milking parlor designs. OK...just kidding about that last part...

David Gumpert's picture

Hey, Shawna, at $100+ per gallon, the camel-friendly parlor may not be such a crazy idea. 

mark mcafee's picture

It appears that the FDA has stopped interstate commerce of raw milk not based on biological safety issues, but based on drug residue testing technology validation. That is an NCIMS issue. OPDC is subject to NCIMS inspections because we sell off extra skim milk to other organic processors and that milk gets pasteurized and sent over state lines. All of that skim milk is required to be tested for antibiotics even though it comes from an organic source and antibiotics are never ever used. I guess there is more than on way for the FDA to effectively block commerce over state lines. Lack of a validated FDA approved camel milk test for drug residues is really a stretch.

Mary McGonigle-Martin's picture

Insert raw milk instead of raw sprouts and it is the same argument. http://blogs.seattletimes.com/allyoucaneat/2014/05/23/are-raw-sprouts-sa...

Sylvia Gibson's picture

Krogers in Arkansas sells sprouts.

Sylvia Gibson's picture

Current recalls: Ban them all!! Hope no one needs an ambu bag...

http://www.fda.gov/Safety/recalls/default.htm

mark mcafee's picture

One of the things we discussed at our RAWMI Listing workshop training day was the essential requirement of sustainable pricing. Cheap raw milk can not support a RAMP program or testing to verify compliance or safety. I was in SF over last weekend and visited one of the stores in SF that carries our OPDC products. Right next to our OPDC Raw Kefir sat a quart of Marin RAW almond milk for $13 per qt. that is more than $ 52 per gallon plus glass deposit.With OPDC raw milk at $ 16-17 per gallon at retail I feel absolutely no guilt at all. Claravale is not organic and retails its quarts at about $26-28 per gallon...now I feel not only sustainable but doing something very right...organic raw milk cheaper than conventional raw and RAWMI Listed to boot. Camels milk at $30 per pint??? Wow and ouch!! That is $240 per gallon. To quote an opening speach comment from the most published raw milk researcher in the world at UC Davis ...."when pasteurized milk is cheaper than bottled drinking water" ...something is wrong.

Sylvia Gibson's picture

Being a large dairy, I would assume that you need to have more equipment, etc than a small cow share, so your overhead would be much hirer than a less than 5 cow farm. So I would expect your costs would mandate higher prices. It's too bad the average family couldn't afford $16-17 per gal on any regular basis.

I would pay more for Calaravale because his milk is from Jerseys and has a richer flavor.

Shawna Barr's picture

I'm not sure that $240 a gallon would induce me to a camel. For some reason, they just don't seem as agreeable to the whole milking arrangement than the cow or goat. But, to each (brave soul) their own!

True story about the milk pricing. This is an issue that the mini-micro producer often misses, and it directly connects to safety. It cost money to produce raw milk well...to cool it properly, to wash and store even basic equipment properly, to run your milk tests and livestock screenings...to properly provide feed. Sustainable pricing in Northern California will be different than other parts of the country, but the point is that farmers need to be realistic about pricing if they are to sustain quality.

Shawna Barr's picture

...induce me to "milk" a camel that is.

D. Smith's picture

An informative 3 1/2 minute vid on camel milking. The vid is done by a reporter from the WSJ.

http://www.seriouseats.com/2009/07/video-how-hard-is-it-to-milk-a-camel....

All I know about camels is that they stink, they make gruesome noises and they have big teeth!

churchlanefarm's picture

…and they spit at you.

Ken

mark mcafee's picture

Sylvia,

Size effects economics. In general a larger operation can spread costs over more gallons. Smaller operations have fewer gallons to spread costs over. Of course there are many variables to consider for sure. I spent 4 hours at the Marin County San Rafael Farmers Market today. As I stood and spoke with many customers....they all said that they prefer the taste of OPDC because it is fresh and does not have lingering favors and has a long shelf life.About 50% of OPDC cows are jerseys and the rest are jersey crosses with other breeds. I did not ask our customers about other raw milks, I just asked why they drink OPDC. This flavor preference comes directly from our RAMP program and very low Bacteria counts. As far as cost is concerned...Claravale costs $10 per gallon more than OPDC, Clarvale has no pasture...none...and they feed all conventional grain and alfalfa. If that rocks your boat....go for it. They also refuse to answer their phone and generally do not tour their facilities.

I am so sick of self centered raw milk producers that refuse to stand up along side other raw milk producers for the good of all raw milk. Raw milk deserves a team approach with a higher purpose and calling. Claravale has done very little if any educational outreach or market building. In the past I have been supportive of Claravale....for that, they post a video bashing OPDC and our pasture grazing practices and slam our organic status. This world is too small and life is too short for this kind of negative garbage. You will not find one negative comment about Claravale at the OPDC website...not one. Just had to spill my guts on this issue.

hunter's picture

Good morning Mark,

I was wondering if you would substantiate your claims about Claravale with concrete evidence?

Would you also please post a link to the video which is bashing OPDC?

Claravale is an integral farm and business within its community, owned and run by open, most generous, and kind hearted people.

For some reason you are not being challenged and that's changing now.

For complete transparency: I am training as a new milker for Claravale and I'm quite fond of the owners and management. Beautiful people. I'm acting ing upon my own behalf to speak up for Claravale.

In fact, I think we could build a bridge here. I have no intention of being your enemy. Of course I have nothing against you personally, I don't know you.

Sincerely, Hunter

Sylvia Gibson's picture

Hunter,

I had not bothered to respond to Mark's post as I felt it has been rehashed at least a dozen times on this blog. Repeating oneself gets tiring. To me, Jersey milk tastes better than Holstein milk and I feel Claravale's owner has been open with his dairy and yes, I would recommend it to others, just as I would inform that there are two raw dairies in Ca that sell raw milk in the stores.

I also feel that both Claravale and OP both want to produce clean healthy milk. They both do it successfully their own way and each has different goals for their future. Since they both produce clean milk, they both must be doing things right.

Your intention is very correct, building bridges will only make the strength of the raw milk movement that much stronger in the communities. Producing clean healthy raw milk is not a one size fits all and would be ridiculous to try and make it so.

Some people have a hard time accepting anyone or anything that is different from their beliefs. They haven't learned that they don't need to compromise their convictions to be compassionate and accepting.

Sylvia Gibson's picture

Perhaps it was one of these videos by healthy Traditions, that he was referring to?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKxKRwwFbNE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnN2cPLG31U

churchlanefarm's picture

“’Clean means not having harmful chemicals or GMOs,’ Slayden said. “A lot of people say eating clean is eating the way your great-grandparents or your great-great-grandparents ate.”

http://www.carrollcountytimes.com/news/neighborhoods/here-s-to-clean-coo...

I agree with Slayden. His description of cleanliness is what we should indeed concern ourselves with, rather then the current counterproductive, cleanliness obsession that focuses on avoiding bacteria in our day-to-day lives.

Ken

Dr. Stephanie Seneff appeared recently on the One Radio Network internet radio show, and her discussion about so-called pathogenic bacteria supports your and Miguel's argument about their potential beneficial roles. Yes, our current cleanliness obsession can be counterproductive. Listen at http://oneradionetwork.com/health/dr-stephanie-seneff-glyphosate-either-.... The pathogenic bacteria discussion occurs in the first 15 minutes of her interview.

mark mcafee's picture

David,

I am not sure I understand what Abdul is doing. Is he distributing raw milk into CA over s state line or is he producing raw milk and distributing it inside of CA?

LadyFarmer's picture

Mark - I dream about a portable pasture based milking parlor for my sheep. Can you point me to information and advice regarding what it takes to get one approved by the CDFA? I have talked to them about permanent milking parlor construction and the $100K price tag is too high for my 10 milking sheep plans.
Lisa