HomeFood RightsHow I saw the Raw Milk Debate

I was one of about 2,400 people that listened to the livestreaming of the Raw Milk Debate at the Harvard Law School Food Law Society.  There wasn’t really much debate but each side was given a reasonable time to present its arguments.  Sally Fallon Morrell, President of the Weston A. Price Foundation, was the first speaker and gave a good overall summary of the health benefits of raw milk.  David Gumpert, author of the Raw Milk Revolution and blogger at The Complete Patient, the second speaker, spoke primarily about the safety of raw milk, citing government statistics as his backup data.

Those speaking against raw milk were Fred Pritzker, food safety attorney, and Dr. Heidi Kassenborg, Director, Dairy & Food Inspection  Division, Minnesota Department of Agriculture.  Fred Pritzker talked about the sad plight of victims of food poisoning and the potential liabilities of raw milk dairy farmers.  He also implied that we as citizens have no basic right to choose to eat the foods we believe are healthy and beneficial.  Dr. Kassenborg apparently assumed that if something was already written into law or regulations, it must be accurate.  As proof of the dangers of raw milk, she cited specific laws, court decisions, and the claims of health organizations against raw milk such as the outlawing of the sale of raw milk across state lines.  Neither Fred Pritzker nor Dr. Kassenborg refered to any research or documentation in support of the risks of drinking raw milk.  They both seemed to think that their position–drinking raw milk is dangerous–was a given and didn’t need to be proved, in other words,  “everybody knows” drinking raw milk is risky; therefore, nothing further needs to be said.

It is legal to sell raw milk in Massachusetts, and the makeup of the audience, and, therefore, the questions after the debate were more pro raw milk than anti raw milk.  One person asking a question mentioned he had noticed that neither Fred Pritzer nor Dr. Hassenborg addressed the government data used by the pro raw milk speakers.

I enjoyed the debate but, like some of those asking questions, I admit I was surprised that neither of the anti raw milk speakers seemed interested in trying to counter the safety data presented by the pro raw milk team.  Both Fred Pritzker and Dr. Kassenborg seemed to rely more on the “everybody knows” stance about the dangers of raw milk, as if it wasn’t necessary for them to have any proof or backup data.  It was refreshing to learn that the pro raw milk side had the data, studies, and raw milk safety facts, whereas the anti raw milk side depended, at least in this debate, on emotional stories and childhood memories of ‘dirty’ farms to support their position.

Especially enjoyable was the glass of local raw milk I was drinking with my supper while listening to the debate.

The debate will be archived on YouTube if you missed it: http://www.youtube.com/user/HLSFoodLawSociety

David Gumpert has a more detailed and interesting post about the raw milk debate on The Complete Patient.

You might also be interested in these other posts on Real Food Houston:

John Sheehan, the Man Behind the FDA’s War on Raw Milk
I Want to Drink Raw Milk
Drinking RAw Milk Is Safe — Based on Government Data
Milk — Why Homogenized, Pasteurized? Follow the Profit!


How I saw the Raw Milk Debate — 3 Comments

  1. You were listening to a different debate from the one I heard. Ms. Fallon’s studies from the 1930s (when doctors thought smoking was good for you) were irrelevant. Mr. Gumpert’s statistics were wrong. For instance, he said there were 146 illnesses from raw milk over ten years. That is completely incorrect; there were 2649 illnesses from raw milk from 1998 to 2008, according to GOVERNMENT STATISTICS. That means that, according to his data, 11% (2649 divided by 23,000) of foodborne illnesses were caused by a product that only 3% of Americans drink, making raw milk the most dangerous product of all. Meanwhile, Mr. Pritzker and Dr. Kassenborg had data, statistics, and the sciences of microbiology and epidemiology behind their reports, along with facts from the USDA and FDA AND with the correct numbers.

    Mr. Gumpert’s presentation, showing pictures of people who were sickened by other products, was laughable. Comparing outbreaks from other foods to raw milk outbreaks does not prove that raw milk is safe. Ms. Fallon’s statement that increasing asthma rates are caused by pasteurization is a non sequitur; it does not follow.

    • I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment on my post. Your comment deserves a response. It’s unclear where you found your government statistics, but I am open to consideration of that data if you could provide the source. My position on the safety of raw milk is based on the research of Ted Beals, MD, board certified pathologist, retired from the medical school at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, who has done extensive research on food-borne illnesses related to raw milk. He admits that any food can be contaminated; however, he maintains that drinking raw milk is not more risky than eating other foods.

      In a summary of his research he says, “I have combed all available information including scholarly articles, reviews of foodborne illnesses, media reports, public health announcements, listings of outbreaks compiled by numerous government agencies, special interest groups and litigation lawyers. . .” He is primarily focused on the four major pathogens that cause food-borne illness—salmonella, listeria monocytogenes, E. coli O157:H7, and campylobacter jejuni. For the period 1999 through March 2011, he found 502 cases of illness attributed to drinking raw milk, for an annual average of 42. He specifically states that he did not exclude any reported illnesses even though some of them were merely “presumed” and not “confirmed” to be caused by raw milk. Many of the data sources he used, such as litigation lawyers, are highly biased against raw milk, and it would not be improbable to assume that some cases are included that really should be excluded. His summary does mention another set of data compiled by Stephen P. Oliver and others, published in Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, which found only 246 cases over the period 2000 to 2008, or an average of 27 cases per year.

      Dr. Beals looks at all foodborne illnesses and compares the incidence to that of drinking raw milk. The data for all illnesses are taken from a 2011 publication compiled by a team of researchers at the CDC FoodNet Surveillance Center, titled “Foodborne Illness Acquired in the United States—Major Pathogens.” That report estimates the total number of foodborne illnesses annually in the U.S. to be 48 million, which would be about one in every six people. Assuming that more than nine million people drink raw milk, the 48 million cases versus 42 illnesses per year would indicate that “you are “about 35,000 times more likely to become ill from other foods than you are from raw milk.”

      I myself have no evidence that drinking raw milk cures any disease; however, many competent people have found that drinking raw milk improved their health. Although anecdotal cases may not carry the weight of scientific studies, there are so many such stories that they cannot be totally discounted and surely won’t be by those who have been helped. My own health has improved greatly since changing my diet a few years ago; however, drinking raw milk was only one of those changes, and all of the changes probably contribute to my better health.

      I do know that unpasteurized milk was the only milk available for thousands of years before processed milk was invented, and that farmers in this country have never stopped drinking their own cows’ milk without processing and still do now. I do, however, strongly believe that we ‘are what we eat’ and that we should carefully prepare our foods to preserve all possible nutrients. Our bodies can only use the nutrients that we consume. If the food we eat has been damaged by processing, our bodies and health suffer proportionately to the loss of nutrients.

      Simply because a study was done in the 1930’s or any other period does not automatically invalidate the results. It is unfortunate that there is little interest today in performing studies to determine the nutrients in foods and how to prepare foods to ensure the greatest availability of nutrition, but, then, there’s probably little, if any, profit in providing nutritious foods, so where would the study funding come from?

      I can’t comment about David Gumpert’s pictures because I was only listening to the livestreaming and did not see any of the pictures or slides the speakers presented. Also, while it is true that citing other cases of foodborne illness does not in itself prove drinking raw milk is safe, most of us believe that there will always be some risk of illness from the foods we eat and that it is important to understand the relative risk of drinking raw milk compared to eating other foods.

      I personally don’t believe it is necessary for an adult to drink milk to be healthy; however, unprocessed milk is a very nutritious food and could be beneficial to many people who might lack other adequate sources of nutrition. I myself wouldn’t recommend drinking processed milk, especially homogenized milk (which is all most people have access to), because it seems to have been damaged so extensively that it has become harmful, not just no longer as nutritious.

  2. I agree with Carolyn. I would rather drink raw milk than eat strawberries, (and I eat a lot of strawberries.) When one knows how strawberries are grown conventionally, and seen the data of all of the people who have become ill from eating strawberries, and compare this to raw milk, the data is crazy! I am very glad to have my own cow from witch to get my milk. Store milk has no value, except it is good to cook with sometimes.

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