This past weekend, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put out a press release stating it had epidemiological evidence connecting three illnesses from campylobacter to raw milk distributed in North Carolina. Possibly five other people might have been affected, the release stated.
The consumers obtained the milk via a private food club that arranged delivery of the milk from South Carolina, where raw milk can be legally sold, to North Carolina, where it can’t.
A couple things were notable about the press release. First, it was issued on a Saturday, which isn’t normally an FDA workday. That suggested it was an urgent public safety matter … except that the illnesses occurred in mid-June.
Second, it was put out on PR Newswire, the largest, and most expensive, news release distribution service. Press releases on this and other services are priced [PDF] based on length: $715 for the first 400 words, and $195 per each additional 100 words — or $2,470 to issue that release. (According to an FDA spokesperson, the FDA has a contract with PR Newswire that presumably discounts the cost some, but she says it would take a Freedom of Information Act request to possibly elicit the details of that contract.) The FDA’s press release ran 1,214 words, not because the North Carolina situation was so complicated to explain, but because the FDA chose to include lengthy statements warning about the dangers of raw milk, and seeking to answer raw milk proponents. “Proponents of drinking raw milk often claim that raw milk is more nutritious than pasteurized milk and that raw milk is inherently antimicrobial, thus making pasteurization unnecessary. There is no meaningful nutritional difference between pasteurized and raw milk, and raw milk does not contain compounds that will kill harmful bacteria.”
The fact that the release was put out on a slow news weekend during the summer, by the most prominent PR news distribution service, increased the chances it would get picked up by the mainstream media, and indeed, a number did pick up the story, beginning with local newspapers and television stations.