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E. coli Lawsuit Filed Against Missouri Raw Milk Distributor

A lawsuit was filed yesterday in the Circuit Court for Barry County, Missouri against Soni Copeland and the Herb Depot and Organic Market. The petition was filed on behalf of Monett residents Brian and Angela Pedersen and their young son, Larry. The Pedersen family is represented by Marler Clark, a Seattle law firm dedicated to representing victims of foodborne illness, and by Aleshire, Robb, and Sivils of Springfield, Missouri.

The lawsuit states that in April 2008 Angela Pedersen purchased raw milk from the Herb Depot and Organic Market in Monett, where she was encouraged to give it to her son Larry, then one year old. In late April, Larry Pedersen began to suffer from symptoms including vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. He was admitted to the hospital in Aurora, Missouri, where he tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 and subsequently developed HUS, or Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, a severe and life-threatening complication. On May 10, 2008 he was transferred to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where he remained until May 29. As a result of his infection and illness, he has suffered severe and permanent injuries.

Raw milk regulation is determined at the state level and varies widely across the country. In Missouri, raw milk can legally be sold at the point of production (the dairy farm) or delivered personally by the farmer, but may not be sold by retail establishments such as the Herb Depot. As a state law was violated, the Missouri Attorney General’s office has also filed suit against Soni Copeland and the Herb Depot.

Raw milk is at the center of a nationwide controversy over its potential value as a nutritional food versus the severe illnesses that can result from contaminated product. Pasteurization was developed to rid dairy products of pathogens like toxic E. coli, as well as to assure a longer, safer shelf life. Proponents of raw milk believe that pasteurization also eliminates healthful benefits of the dairy product.

“Raw milk is too often suggested to those who have the least resistance to food borne illness—the very young, the very old, and the very sick.” said David Babcock, the Pedersen’s attorney. “Their immune systems just can’t fight off any pathogens that are present, and terrible illnesses can ensue. The Pedersons gave their son what they had been led to believe was a beneficial food, and now he will have health issues for the rest of his life.”

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