Media Recognition to Michael Schmidt for Role in "Microbiome Revolution"; The Danger of Food Safety Fear Mongering
There is quite a remarkable article in the October issue of Readers Digest Canada, which credits Michael Schmidt's nearly twenty-year struggle on behalf of raw milk with helping usher in the new scientific fascination with the "microbiome."
In a ten-page spread, "Clean Freak", which focuses heavily on Schmidt's 2011 hunger strike as well as his court cases over the years, Schmidt makes the case that many here, like Dave Milano, Miguel, and Mark McAfee, have made here for years, most recently following my previous post. The Readers Digest article, unfortunately, is only available for those willing to pay $4.50 to access the entire October issue of Readers Digest. It's worth reading simply to get a view of the breadth of research going on in this arena, and to see how far the media have come in making the connection between raw milk, the microbiome, and pathogens.
Here are a few quotes:
"Schmidt argues, moreover, that we can't fully predict the consequences of wiping out the naturally occurring bacteria in milk, which have evolved alongside us for thousands of years...His master's degree in agriculture doesn't qualify him as a bacteria expert. Nonetheless, new research suggests his theories may be dead-on. Scientists are now focusing their attention on the 'microbiome'--the menagerie of microbes that reside inside, and on, our bodies. Research has already linked microbiome breakdowns to ailments as varied as mental illness, obesity and cancer. At the moment, the concept of the microbiome isn't taught with any depth in medical schools. In fact, Western medicine considers the relationship between bacteria and humans to be less a balancing act than a war."
Epidemiologist have begun "to explore the link between the explosion of auto-immune disorders in developed countries and our obsession with cleanliness. One U.S. study, published in 2007, found that kids who were exposed to animals and drank farm milk had lower rates of asthma and allergies than kids who mostly drank pasteurized milk and weren't raised on farms. Schmidt wonders how much longer we can afford to ignore such evidence...The fear of food poisoning, while justifiable, is short-sighted. Our concern, he argues, 'should be about laying a nutritional foundation in early childhood."
The article also describes the benefits of fermentation, quoting Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation. It then states: "The theory behind Schmidt and Katz's ideas is simple: We aren't at war with bacteria--we are bacteria. Nearly 1,500 varieties inhabit our bodies, outnumbering our cells ten to one...we've discovered these micro-organisms help us digest nutrients, regulate perspiration, convert glucose to muscle, overrun pathogens and repair cells. Collectively, bacteria are our single most important--if unheralded--organ."
The article credits work from the International Milk Genomics Consortium at the University of California, Davis, (cited here recently) with "a surprising realization:...Breast milk's job, in other words, doesn't simply feed the baby; it educates its digestive system...They also found that, to date, there is only one industrially viable food source able to replicate many of breast milk's functions: bovine milk."
"Schmidt doesn't believe all milk should be sold unpasteurized...Schmidt argues that the milk from small-scale organic dairies, which usually maintain better conditions for cattle, doesn't need to be pasteurized to be safe. He claims that in 38 years as a dairy farmer, he's never had a problem with food-borne illness, and he points out that Canada is the only G8 country that doesn't allow citizens access to raw milk. France has twice the population of Canada and produces three times the amount of raw milk we do, but its last dairy-related listeriosis outbreak was in 1997 (ours was in 2008). In Italy, Poland, the U.K. and Germany, raw milk is even sold in vending machines. 'Canadians,' he says, 'ought to be given the choice."
Finally, this, according to Readers Digest: the number of academic papers and articles on beneficial bacteria was "well over 7,000" last year, versus a few hundred a year in the 1990s.
Almost as if on cue, a new article in America's mainstream media, from the Boston Globe. It begins: "Seven decades after penicillin revolutionized the treatment of infections by killing bacteria, medicine is poised for another revolution.
"The central idea: Many bacteria, rather than creating disease, actually protect against it. So, rather than indiscriminately killing all bacteria, a growing number of researchers say we should be taking an ecological approach — by supporting good bacteria, either in addition to, or instead of destroying the bad...
Even as the Microbiome Revolution takes hold in segments of the scientific community, you know there is going to be huge resistance to the threat it poses to the conventional wisdom--that we have a food safety crisis created by pathogens out of control...a crisis that can only be resolved via sterilization of our food production environment.
A recent enterprising article in Bloomberg Markets Magazine illustrates the problem via its headline: "Food Sickens Millions as Company-Paid Checks Find It Safe". The actual guts of the reporting done by the writers points up a serious problem among corporate food producers--that private auditors give passing grades to facilities and food that has proven to be tainted by pathogens.
But the article's authors, unfortunately, also rely heavily on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to do their fear mongering that "food sickens millions..."
It's not really data, but wild estimates from the CDC that 48 million people are sickened, 128,000 hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from food-borne illness. All indications are that it is a terribly inaccurate estimate, on the high side.
The actual figures from the CDC, based on reports from state public health departments, shows 22 deaths from foodborne illness in the most recent year for which data is available (2008).
Media people, though, are taken with the estimate of 3,000 deaths. Here is what one of the writers of the Bloomberg article told NPR: "I was surprised that there are 3,000 deaths a year in the United States from foodborne illness and I’m surprised the extent to which that is sort of acceptable...That’s as many people as were killed in the World Trade Center, but yet 3,000 is not something that gets a lot of attention unless you’re right in the middle of an outbreak.”
Now, why would the government insist on repeating wildly estimated data when the real data is easily obtainable on the number of deaths from foodborne illness? There is only one reason I can think of: to justify huge budget expenditures from Congress for the CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration. If you have 3,000 deaths and 48 million illnesses, you have a "crisis." And crises draw big $$$. If you have 100 or 200 deaths, well, that doesn't arouse the fear you need to get the $$$ you want.