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F.ood & H.ealth : & P.olitics Last Updated: Dec 2nd, 2006 - 15:34:18

Enforcing raw milk ban is counterproductive
By food safety network
Dec 2, 2006, 15:31

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Owen Sound Sun Times (ON)

Freeman Boyd, Walters Falls, Ontario, writes that on November 27 your paper carried two essays on the raw milk controversy. Independently authored by an MD and a food researcher, the two essays present the case for the ban on the sale of raw milk. The case for this ban rests on the evidence for two propositions: that there are significant health risks from drinking raw milk and that there are insignificant health benefits from drinking raw milk.
What follows, says Boyd, is a common sense perspective on the issue, merely urges that science does not generate the only stream of information pertinent to the design of programs to improve the nutrition and health of the citizens of Ontario.

In assessing the risks, no one denies the significant health risks involved in drinking raw milk. The tremendous public health benefits of pasteurization are a matter of public record. But much has changed since pasteurization was made mandatory in Ontario in 1938. Then, we had no antibiotics, no public health units, and no electricity on Ontario farms. Today we sell hundreds of food products - sushi, bean sprouts and dressed potato salad, to name just three - that would constitute grave risks if produced, stored and prepared using the technologies available in 1938.

Both authors, in compiling evidence for health risks from raw milk today, appeal to small case numbers in far away jurisdictions: two in Washington State, four in San Diego, four in Scotland. In Ontario, both authors cite cases of E coli 0157:H7 that have been "linked to", rather than "caused by", consumption of raw milk.

The point is that the significant health risks posed by raw milk are manageable with the technologies currently available in our food system. That is why many, many jurisdictions, including but not limited to 38 states in the U.S. and all of Great Britain - allow the regulated sale of raw milk.

In assessing the benefits of drinking raw milk, we can confidently assert that the many jurisdictions that allow the regulated sale of raw milk do so because there is a significant segment of consumers that actively want to consume raw milk. A survey of raw milk consumers would generate quite a list of claimed benefits (some of which will be gastronomic rather than health related). I am unwilling to dismiss all these claims as myth, because I am unwilling to make the leap from the fact that there is no scientific evidence for these benefits to the proposition that there are, therefore, no benefits. There is, after all, a plausible alternative explanation: the scientific instruments which cannot distinguish between raw and pasteurized milk are not yet as sophisticated as the array of human senses which prompt the claims that there are differences.

Note in the earlier quote that the CMA's position is carefully stated: it does not claim that there are no benefits from raw milk, only that there is no scientific evidence of these benefits. Mr. Surgeoner should consider the merits of such circumspection, as a cursory study of the art of cheesemaking reveals the error in his claim that the only components pasteurized milk lacks are pathogens. (that' Ms. Surgeoner -- dp)

To put the common sense case against the ban on the sale of raw milk as mildly as possible: the health risk of raw milk are manageable; the health benefits, while widely claimed, are unproven.

How do I assess the relative merits of the case for and against the ban on the sale of raw milk?

The science available does not dictate a ban on the sale of raw milk. If it did, surely every jurisdiction would uphold such a ban.

More, I object to the corollary of affirming a science-based ban on raw milk, which is that the food system is best controlled by experts and does not require the interest or participation of consumers.

If science does not provide us with enough knowledge to regulate the food system on a product by product basis - i.e. ban the consumption of raw milk, force the consumption of broccoli, modulate the consumption of sugar and salt - then the fallback position must be to rely on consumer decisions about what to eat.

Presently, we have many levels of regulations - import permits, government inspections, HCCAP and ISO standards, mandatory labelling, and so on - designed to improve choice by supplying information, and assurances, about food products that would otherwise be unavailable to consumers.

In today's massive and impersonal food system these regulations are acutely needed. But in our regulatory enthusiasm let's not overlook that the best environment of all for nurturing informed food choice is direct contact between farmer and consumer. Few would disagree that face-to-face transactions between food producers and food consumers offers a much enhanced potential for informed choice over reading nearly inscrutable lists of ingredients.
Current laws in Ontario that ban the sale of raw milk squelch consumer/producer contact and invalidate informed consumer choice. They send the wrong message and enforcing them is a counterproductive investment of public health resources.

We need a more creative approach to the issue

Owen Sound Sun Times (ON)

Judith Turner of Durham writes in response to Dr. Hazel R. Lynn and Brae Surgeoner, The Sun Times, Nov. 27, to say that people who try to choose a healthier lifestyle are generally very careful about the food products they purchase - where and how the food is grown and all the other conditions relating to its production. I believe that they are intelligent, have enquiring minds and are capable of doing their own research. They investigate first before acceptance of the product. However, our government's attitude seems to be that those of us who are interested in healthy food can't be trusted to make the right decisions on our own - the message I'm getting is, "we know what's best for you."

As one of Michael Schmidt's customers and shareholders, I support his efforts and commitment 100 per cent. I know, too, that his facilities are scrupulously clean, that everything he does on Glencolton Farm is to benefit others and that his integrity is above reproach.

I can't help but ask; can 150 families be wrong in making the choice to drink raw milk?

Where incidents of illness are allegedly connected to the consumption of unpasteurized milk, as cited in Dr. Lynn's and B. Surgeoner's letters, I have to be suspicious of such phrases as "linked to", "attributed to" and "associated with", and would like to see good scientific data to support the use of these vague words - otherwise I remain unaware of direct proof of the cause of illness. There may have been such cases; we can ingest bacteria from many sources (for example, from imported fresh green produce and chocolate chips).

But it seems that judgment falls too swiftly in the condemnation of raw milk; immediately the red flags are raised once it's discovered that it's part of the affected person's diet - it must be the milk!

And when it's been found to be otherwise, we never hear the true ending of the story.

It would be wonderful to see a more creative approach to the issue. That would mean considering a different path from the track we usually run on. It would require a different kind of investigation - a shared dialogue between those who wish to exercise their right to choose what they eat and those who have been given the responsibility to protect the consumer.

Wouldn't this be a more intelligent approach than invading a farm with armed men? It might enable voices on both sides to be at least heard. Wouldn't this be more constructive than simply reacting? Wouldn't this be the democratic way?

Republished from food safety network

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