Friday, February 17, 2012

Raw Milk Debate at Harvard Food Law Society

Hi All – I just watched the live stream of the Raw Milk Debate at Harvard Food Law Society. There were 4 speakers and each side made some great, rational points. I have tried to capture the gist below – but forgive me if I missed some points or misquoted – the powerpoint slides were flashed up very quickly. Hopefully a transcript or video will be available soon.

The debate took place in Massachusetts – a state where it is legal to sell raw milk.

Sally Fallon Morell, President, Weston A. Price Foundation
  • Both raw and pasteurised milk contain the same nutritional content (eg, percentage of calcium, protein etc are the same), BUT pasteurisation destroys ‘carrier enzymes’ which determine how ‘available’ or ‘efficient’ the minerals are – for example, lactoferrin which aids in absorption of iron
  • Therefore, raw milk ‘healthier’ because the nutrients are more bio-available
  • Cited rat studies which showed rats consuming pasteurised milk had deficiencies in iron and vitamin B6
  • Cited recent studies from Europe showing reduction in asthma and allergies in children drinking raw milk
  • Cited anecdotal stories about improvements in behaviour and less infectious diseases in children drinking raw milk
  • Raw milk is better because
    • naturally present microbes reduce potential pathogens
    • stimulates natural immune system
    • encourages healthy gut flora
    • ensures assimilation of nutrients
  • Argues that we should be able to produce ‘safe’ raw milk considering we now have:
    • sophisticated testing for somatic cell counts and pathogens
    • Reliable refrigeration systems
    • Ability to create sanitary conditions
  • Advocates FULL FAT raw milk from PASTURE FED animals only – not from confinement dairies
  • Made some references to propaganda from ‘pasteurised’ camp, in particular an ‘fake’ article in Coronet magazine in 1945 about a whole town of people that had died from drinking raw milk – the town didn’t even exist
  • Cited
  • Mentioned raw milk vending machines in Europe, apparently soon coming to Tesco in UK


David Gumpert, Author, The Raw Milk Revolution
  • David’s presentation was titled ‘Raw Milk Safety vs Rights – Striking a Balance’
  • Claims that in the name of ‘safety’ and ‘protection’, the government is taking away consumers’ rights to decide what food to put in their own mouths
  • Presented a lot of information from the CDC about sources of food borne disease – in particular recent outbreak of listeria from rockmelon that killed 32 people: Proposed that no-one is saying that these foods should be banned, so therefore why should raw milk be?
  • Noted that FDA states: An individual has no absolute right to consume or feed children any particular kind of food
  • This was a recurring theme, as the next speaker (a lawyer) also pointed out that according to the constitution, people DON’T have the right to eat whatever they want
  • David cited some examples of Raw Milk Civil Disobedience by ‘Raw Milk Freedom Riders (NB: Upcoming rally on March 2nd) and also discussed recent arrests of retailers and farmers distributing raw milk (one retailer faces up to 8 years in jail and has a $60k bond – which was higher than the bond for other inmates incarcerated for drug dealing and prostitution)
  • What I think was he was basically getting at was – it SHOULD be (but isn’t) everyone’s right to access raw milk. Yes there are risks, but there are with other foods too

Fred Pritzker, Pritzker & Olson Law Firm – represents victims of food borne illness, including people effected by outbreaks of illness caused by raw milk
  • Asserts raw milk poses a high risk to health and safety
  • Asserts we must look at data, not subjective beliefs or anecdotal studies
  • Had quotes from FDA, CDC etc about the fact that raw milk is risky and should not be consumed at any time  - a position supported by many other bodies including the AMA, World Health Association, Department of Agriculture etc
  • Debunked many of the studies the previous 2 speakers mentioned, quoted the FDA: “there is no scientific benefits of drinking raw milk. Overall results revealing high quality scientific evidence to support potential benefits of raw milk consumption are lacking and the public should interpret them with caution.”
  • Discussed the fact that food safety regulation is a responsibility of government
    • Constitutional challenges will fail, as there is no right in the constitution for people to consume whatever they want
  • Discussed one of his clients who contracted Guillain–Barré syndrome via campylobactor in unclean raw milk – will be paralysed for life
  • Proposed raw milk only possible if:
    • producer has a license, which is obtained following training and certification AND they have to continue their training and education ongoing
    • Rigorous SSOP (sanitation standard operating procedures), HACCP and regular inspections in place
    • An absolute ban for children, pregnant and people with compromised immune systems
    • Requisite insurance for producers
    • Appropriate criminal penalties and deterrents
    • Appropriate Consumer Protection Law
    • Complete science-based information and disclosure at point of purchase AND consumer must consent to risks and their own responsibility
    • Government has ability to order recalls, prohibit or suspend operations
    • Burden of proving safety is solely with milk producer
  • Reading between the lines – it is unlikely the above will happpen

Dr. Heidi Kassenborg, Director, Dairy & Food Inspection Division, Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture
  • Took pains to tell us how she grew up on a farm, worked on a dairy farm, trained as a vet and drank raw milk and a child, but never would now
  • Her presentation was titled: ‘It’s not about the milk…it’s about the pathogens’
  • Discussed figures for outbreak of food borne illness from raw milk (figures from CDC). From 1998 – 2009, 93 outbreaks resulting in: 2 deaths, 195 hospitalisations, 1832 cases of illness.
  • Discussed traditional and modern pathogens – historical: TB, Brucellosis, Scarlet Fever, Q Fever. Modern: E Coli 0157:H7 (apparently a fairly new strain), Campylobactor, Salmonella, Listeria
  • Debunked pre raw milk studies as having flawed methodologies, and that any benefits had to be weighed against the potential pathogen risks
  • Suggested some alternatives to pasteurisation: UV, microfiltration, Pulses Electric Field, Ultrasound, High Hydrostatic (treatment) Cold Plasma (treatment)
  • High risk of pathogens getting into milk because the udders and the anus are so close together, and that it is a bit like Russian Roulette
  • Testing is not enough – ‘the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’
    • Contamination is sporadic
    • Pathogens are unequally distributed in the milk
    • it only takes a couple of pathogens to cause contamination
    • Contamination can occur during bottling etc
    • Bacteria may multiply during transportation
  • Argued consumers have limited time, energy and inclination to conduct their own research about food safety, and it has been a government responsibility since colonial times
  • Food Safety is Size Neutral – a small farm is not necessarily safer than a large farm
  • Cited

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