To end the risk hypocrisy
There are many risky foods on supermarket shelves, but somehow it has become common practice to have different definitions of what safe food is and acceptable for different standards to apply. This is a complex issue that this article will try to address.
New Zealand Cheesemaker Biddy Fraser-Davies who makes award winning Cwmglyn Farmhouse Cheeses was in the news late last year for her efforts going to Parliament to fight for fairer regulations. She has been battling with MPI and the Food Safety Act for years because of what she says are ridiculous and unaffordable testing regimes that are driving small scale cheesemakers away from a simple and sustainable lifestyle. She spends about $20 000 a year on testing her raw milk cheese produced from four cows according to this article. Current regulations are not size appropriate and favour only large scale operations. They are not risk appropriate either.
Two days before this article, another article of interest was published. It's about a New Zealand watchdog (Consumer New Zealand) who tested nearly two thirds of fresh chicken and found it contaminated with campylobacter. Even worse, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) said its standards are safe. Consumer New Zealand chief executive Sue Chetwin said they detected the infection in 26 of 40 chicken products bought from supermarkets. She said that the bacteria's presence did increase the chances of people getting sick. If chicken is not properly cooked the campylobacter can survive. It can also spread to other foods or contaminate preparation surfaces. According to the article Poultry Industry Association chief executive Michael Brooks said the consumer watchdog's methods were highly sensitive and did not reflect the levels needed to make a human sick. Does that mean that some levels of campylobacter at the time of the raw chicken reaching the supermarket can be overlooked?
This level of risk seems to be perfectly acceptable and manageable. It may even be called 'safe' despite the risk.
According to this article campylobacter is still commonly found on the surface of raw chicken meat and the juices around it, and in sufficient numbers to cause illness. It is a survivor. The same article said that New Zealand was wryly referred to as the "campylobacter capital of the world" in 2006 by international food safety experts.
Exploring Risk, Two Sets of Standards and Food Safety expectations
At the recent IAFP Raw Milk Debate both Dr. Ted Beals and Dr. Joseph Heckman made a great case for the food safety of raw milk that is produced to high standards. They spoke about how it is unfairly targeted compared to other more risky foods and why no food can be deemed a 100% safe. Dr. Joseph Heckman said:
"There is no way to guarantee the safety of any food. So my question is why is less than perfectly safe a manageable risk for every kind of food, except in the case of fresh unprocessed milk? No other food is held to a standard of a perfect safety record. So when the largest newspaper in New Jersey called to interview me, I was compelled to say, if you are going to criticise raw milk on the basis of safety, then lets look at pasteurised milk and its record. It's not a perfect record. Raw milk is not in the list of the top most risky foods."
"There are no anus on a lettuce plant, yet leafy green vegetables are at the top of the list of food safety risk. If raw milk really was a high risk food, humans would have stopped consuming it a long time ago."
"Prohibition of a 10,000 year old food tradition is not a safety program, it is bad policy."
There is an expectation for raw milk and raw milk cheese to have a perfect safety record. There is a zero tolerance for pathogens in raw dairy.
This is reflected in the very high production standards and testing regimes for raw milk and raw milk cheese where it is regulated.
Why is raw milk held to a standard of a perfect safety record, yet pathogen contamination of leafy greens or raw chicken are allowed to go unnoticed for periods of time? Is this not hypocrisy? Why is one considered risky food excessively targeted for perfection but other risky food sold in supermarkets are allowed to slip under the radar? Why is one food's risk exaggerated and the pathogen contamination of another is dismissed as low risk? Pathogens grow and spread. They don't live in stasis.
Media Coverage and other Inconsistencies
It is also evident to observant consumers that when raw milk is linked to an illness or a pathogen is found in raw milk, the case receives maximum media coverage, if not a media frenzy. Social media is flooded with stories about the dangers of raw milk. Some times these stories are sensationalist in nature. In cases where other high risk foods like leafy greens, meat, seafood or frozen berries etc. are responsible for illness or death, it does not accompany the same kind of media attention. This 2007 listeria outbreak from pasteurised milk resulted in the death of three people, yet it is a risk that is considered manageable. It is highly unlikely that anybody suggested the permanent ban of all pasteurised milk because pathogens in it killed three people.
In the video below at time marker 45:00 and 54:00, Mark McAfee (chairman of the Raw Milk Institute) talks about seven children with allergies who have died from anaphylactic shock (an immune response) due to the presence of dead bacteria in pasteurised milk.
In 2013 in Australia Jindi Cheese was linked to the death of two adults and a child and caused 18 cases of listeria infection but they were back in operation within weeks with the help of the health department.
For more discussion on the application of the words safe and low risk and the inconsistencies, listen to this video.
Consumers want raw milk that is produced to high standards. They see the inconsistencies in the way food safety, health agencies and the media around the world respond to rare incidents where illness is blamed on raw milk, compared to other risky foods (more). Consumers also know that foods produced by large scale farming operations are often linked to illness and food poisonings. These cases rarely result in the same harsh restrictions or punitive measures applied to raw milk. This bias leave a bad taste in the consumer's mouth. Consumers clearly see that there is an agenda to minimised access to, to demonise and target raw milk produced for human consumption.
Raw milk's built-in anti-microbial properties
Raw milk from healthy grass-fed animals contains components like lactoperoxidase and lactoferrin that kills pathogens that may have contaminated milk. This raw milk also contains beneficial lactic acid producing bacteria that create an environment when milk is soured/clabbered that discourages growth of pathogens, read more about it here.
These anti-microbial properties and the lactic acid producing bacteria are destroyed by pasteurisation.
Raw milk from healthy grass-fed animals have an extra layer of built-in protection that no other food (except raw honey) has. Raw chicken or raw beef cannot boast with this innate protection. For more information about this see Sally Fallon Morell's video presentation or the Campaign for Real Milk powerpoint presentation. Australian ex-microbiologist Dr. Kristian Ronacher also talks about it in this video about raw milk's safety. Also read the chapter "One reason why food poisoning from raw milk is so rare" in this article.
The Standard America Diet and Immune Health
Mark McAfee says that another reason why raw milk can be safe but not perfect is because the immune system of people consuming the Standard American Diet is so weak. He says that a pathogen that would not normally make a healthy person sick, can make a person who has this tremendously depressed immune system very sick (source).
This is another example of the complexity of risk and why deciding to ban raw milk all together, because it can make some vulnerable people sick, is illogical.
Many countries where raw milk is regulated (like New Zealand and England) require wording on the label of the milk container to warn the immune compromised not to consume the product. This is seen by some as a fair approach to manage risk, while still respecting consumer choice.
Mark also said at the 2015 Raw Milk Symposium that having a healthy microflora actually protect people from pathogens that they may ingest from the food system. According to Dr. William Winter, raw milk contains large quantities of beneficial bacteria which help "crowd out' pathogens. He says the only way a pathogen can gain a foothold is if there aren't enough beneficial bacteria in the gut (source). Also see article: Friend or foe?
Another important factor discussed at the Raw Milk Symposium 2014 video time marker 236:22, is that one bad bacteria does not trigger illness.
"Just because you may have a pathogen in your milk does not mean that that will make someone sick. It's alarming to see, because we don't want them there, but we have to have three stars aligned to get someone sick. First of all, there has to be a virulent pathogen present. A virulent pathogen, not just any pathogen, one that has a virulent behaviour to it. Two; there has to be enough of them. There has to be a pile of them, a load present. So it is not just one, it's got to be more than one; many. Different pathogens have different loads... There is different load required. And number three; you have to have a susceptible host meaning the immunity of the host have to be depressed or somehow accomodating to that pathogen. If those three stars don't align, you don't get sick. So my job as a raw milk producer is to make sure that you don't have a load of them, you don't a virulent one... "
The Secrets of Raw Milk
In the video below Mark talks more about campylobacter and the inconsistent treatment of raw milk compared to other more risky foods that he says is political at heart, starting at the 5 minute time marker.
He also talks about how campylobacter was not considered a human pathogen until 1972 in America. It was considered normal to have campylobacter immunity once you've had it. However due to our ever decreasing gut bacteria bio-diversity, which is our immunity, it has became a problem.
Consumers now experience a decimated microbiome and the loss of immunity and health because of a modern lifestyle removed from the farm. They are now desperate to get back to real, farm foods like raw milk.
Mark also questions the definition of safe food? Is only sterile food safe? Where does bio-diverse and whole foods fit into that definition? Why can there be two polar opposite definitions of safe foods? Why are raw milk dairies excessively targeted and campylobacter supermarket chicken swept under the rug?
Scientists need to learn to discriminate between two types of Raw Milk
In a recent newsletter by the Raw Milk Institute, Dutch Professor and researcher Dr. Ton Baars said that he has come to the realisation that scientists always talk about raw milk 'in general', not knowing that they need to discriminate between milk and milk. Dr. Ted Beals use the terms 'fresh, unprocessed milk meant for direct consumption' versus 'pre-pasteurised milk needed to be heat treated to get rid of all its zoonotic dangers'.
Agencies like the FDA reject raw milk consumption because scientists are warning against it. Dr. Baars suggest that we start discriminating and showing the difference between general raw milk and raw milk produced by farmers connected to organisations like the Raw Milk Institute (in California) or the German Vorzugsmilk-farmers.
Low Risk Raw Milk
Raw milk from healthy, grass-fed animals is considered a low risk food by many raw milk advocates around the world and those directly involved in various raw milk industries. When quality controls and testing are in place for these boutique dairies it is possible to produce a high quality, low risk, pathogen-free product. We have shared many examples of dairies who have been in existence for many years. They show that safety can be managed well. For many examples search our website or Facebook Page.
Consumers can accept that fresh raw milk has the potential to make a small number of people with compromised immune systems sick (if the milk contains pathogens). However they know it is not the huge public health risk that anti-raw milk campaigners want everyone to believe. There are two kinds of raw milk: one for human consumption and one for the pasteuriser. Consumers want authorities to stop being in denial of this reality (more).
Food Voters and Competition
Raw milk consumption in the USA have been described as explosive.
Health conscious consumers who drink raw milk often seek out the foods produced by the small scale farmer because they seek high quality, nutrient dense foods. See the article The Grass-Fed Raw Milk Movement to learn why grass-fed milk and animal products are superior to grain-fed products often produced by large-scale agriculture. These consumers are often disillusioned with the quality, lack of transparency and ethics of supermarket supply chain. This growing trend to seek direct relationships with the small-scale producer in Australia is seen as a threat to Big Agriculture. It is a sign of what is to come. Food processors want to be the only winners in the food market and they don't want competition from small-scale farmers.
The USA have seen a huge migration away from conventional milk. This article say that US consumers are turning away from 'traditional dairy' in droves and leading the push towards plant-based milks. What the article does not say is that raw milk consumption in the USA have been described as explosive (source). For more discussion on why some say pasteurised milk is dying in the market place see this article or listen to this interview.
Food choice means competition. Consumers vote with their dollars against food they no longer wish to consume. Big Agriculture is ill equiped to deal with the loss of profit and market share.
Big Agriculture can diversify by investing in plant-based milks, but they cannot compete with raw milk's popularity and demand. Perhaps that is why the global milk market oppose raw milk. Perhaps Australia choose to ignore consumer choice as a strategy. The USA raw milk revolution is a good example of what may happen here. The more authorities push against raw milk, the more consumers demand it and the more raw milk access expands. Experience has shown the risks associated with allowing raw milk access; raw dairy is the fastest growing sector in the dairy industry where it is allowed to flourish.
To learn more about why milk is politically and legally sticky, see these interviews with raw milk advocate Michael Schmidt and Ron Schmid.
"Raw milk saved the colonies; they were floundering in the 1600's... The cow was absolutely essential in the early settlement and development of America. Raw milk was an essential part of a natural foods diet that would reverse the course of disease and doctors knew that at the turn of the 20th century, around 1900." Ron Schmid
"And there were hospitals in Europe where they specifically have therapies based on raw milk." Michael Schmidt
"Raw milk is a way for you to be strong and healthy. It is freedom from disease, it is freedom from political oppression... It is freedom to live the way humans have historically lived, not the way they live today under the yolk of corporate power." Ron Schmid
Consumers have been questioning the censure of raw milk for a very long time. The raw milk revolution in the United States have given raw milk supporters a front row seat to see the dynamics at play.
Can the censure of raw milk be because of the American example of what happens when raw milk access is introduced? Raw milk consumption in the USA has been described as explosive. Is certified raw milk censored by the establishment in Australia in a political move to bar the consumer from leaving supermarket for a more desirable milk, sold directly from the farm? If certified raw milk is legalised in Australia what consequences will this have for the profits of international dairy conglomerate interests? Raw goats milk is legal to produce and sell in four Australian states. Is it true that risk has little to do with raw cow's milk prohibition in Australia? Is it more about protecting the profits of big empires and eliminating competition? Is it about ensuring big food processors are the winners and the small-scale farmer the loser?
Food safety and health agencies say they cannot guarantee the safety of raw milk, therefore the public cannot enjoy access to it. However they cannot guarantee the safety of any food. There are many foods in the supermarkets that when questioned, are defended as 'safe', in order to enjoy ongoing commercial value and to bring profits in for its industry.
To quote another article: "The processed milk industry fosters the paranoia which surrounds the risks associated with raw milk at every opportunity for commercial advantage".
Australian small scale dairy farmers are the most vulnerable and hard hit in the current Milk Crisis. This is a disaster because these family farmers do not have the option to diversify with certified raw milk to save their livelihoods. They are the losers by design.
Consumers see through the misinformation and they want the risk hypocrisy to end.