People love to say “There ought to be a law” and, unfortunately, it’s often said based on emotion more than on fact. Here’s a good example of another overwrought, incorrect “there ought to be a law” harangue: There Ought to Be a Milk Law, posted August 18 by Dr. Richard Raymond. Dr. Raymond, who was USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety, from 2005-2009, is currently an industry consultant and food safety blogger. While doing a Google search on Dr. Raymond, I found an interesting comment in one article that says about Dr. Raymond “he is fond of using facts, and that’s too often a rarity in the usually emotional debate about our food supply.” That statement seems at odds with his over-the-top and unsupported comments in his article “There Ought to Be a Milk Law.” For example, he says “America is seeing more and more outbreaks and illnesses from people drinking raw, unpasteurized milk. This phenomena has been on the rise over the last 15 years or so.” Yes, raw milk consumption has been on the rise the last few years, but, no, there have not been “more and more outbreaks and illnesses.” In fact, based on research by Dr. Ted Beals, from 1999 through 2011 (which includes most of the last 15 years that Dr. Raymond refers to) there were only “an average of 42 per year [cases of illness attributed to raw milk].” Dr Beals’ research also did not find a trend of increasing incidents of illness from drinking raw milk during that time. It is important to note that Dr. Beals used government data for his research and did not exclude any cases even when the incidents were only presumed but not confirmed to be caused by raw milk. If only confirmed cases are included in the calculation, the average number of cases per year falls to 18. Based on the current estimated number of people drinking raw milk, 9.4 million, Dr. Beals’ calculations reveal that we are “about 35,000 times more likely to become ill from other foods than you are from raw milk.” For example, a person is 10 times more likely to become sick from eating deli meat than from drinking raw milk. Has Dr. Raymond ever recommended banning truly high risk foods like deli meat?
In a gross overstatement, Dr. Raymond says that parents who feed their children raw milk “Might as well lock them in your car on a 100 degree day while you stop by the casino to try and win the jackpot.” That is an extreme exaggeration—millions of people drink raw milk with an average of only 18 confirmed cases of illness per year. Whereas, leaving a child in a car on a hot day while you gamble, shop, or visit friends, etc., is almost guaranteed to harm the child if left for more than just a few minutes. How is this a fair comparison? What about the parents who give their children deli meat like ham or bologna, which is 10 times more likely to cause illness than drinking raw milk? Shouldn’t they be 10 times more culpable than parents who give their children raw milk? And this doesn’t even consider the potential harm caused by the nitrates, nitrites, artificial colors, and other additives in deli meat. How can that be safer for children?
Another misleading assertion by Dr. Raymond: he excuses not recommending a ban on raw spinach where there is also a risk of illness by saying “those products do not have a proven kill step yet, and milk does.” He is apparently alluding to pasteurization, which, however, is not really a “kill step” because it does not eliminate the chance of illness. Pasteurized milk has been the source of numerous outbreaks of illness because the milk can easily become contaminated after pasteurization, and, since the pasteurization process has killed the inherent anti-microbial components of the milk, the pasteurized milk has no resistance to the subsequent contamination. Reference: http://www.realmilk.com/rawmilkoverview.html. None of these statements about risk take into consideration the benefits of consuming a true Real Food that has not been degraded by the pasteurization, and usually also the homogenization, process. Real unprocessed milk has all of its vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fat molecules, and anti-microbial components intact.
In conclusion, I have always thought that people in positions of power, authority, or respect should be held to a higher standard of expectation than ordinary people. Dr. Raymond is a medical doctor, a former Under Secretary at the USDA, and now a consultant on food safety. He represents himself as, and is assumed to be, an expert on the subject of food safety. Shouldn’t we have the right to expect his statements to be based on thorough and impeccable research since they are not made anonymously? However, in this article he does not support his statements with facts or data and provides only one reference to other sources of facts or data, www.realmilkfacts.com, a website which states it is “supported in part by Marler Clark, the nation’s foremost law firm with a practice dedicated to representing victims of food poisoning. The firm works actively with academia, industry, government, and consumer groups to end foodborne illness.” Yes, his only reference for facts about raw milk is to a website supported by firms whose income is derived from lawsuits over foodborne illness. [To be fair, David Gumpert of www.TheCompletePatient.com says about this website: “This site does a nice job of presenting the pro-raw-milk side, in clear language, with little of the emotion common on other sites.”] And Dr. Raymond denigrates even that source by saying it’s “For those who rely on the Internet, accurate nor not [sic], for their informed sources.” His statements contradict research based on government data, such as that of Dr. Beals, and the way he exaggerates the risks of drinking raw milk even insults our common sense.
Update 8/23/11: Here’s another good post about Dr. Raymond’s unsupported stand on raw milk: “Government Protects ‘the Children’ From Parents and Raw Milk”