Want Serious Discussion About Raw Milk Safety? Better Be Careful
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has had no hesitancy about spending taxpayer dollars to promote its viewpoint that raw milk is a mortal danger. A couple years back, I called the FDA on its practice, after it spent nearly $2,500 with a press release service to put out single warning on a slow-news weekend about possible illnesses at a private food club from raw milk, long after any possible threat had passed.
The hidden agenda behind the press release was clearly propaganda. It had nothing to do with safety or science.
The people in the academic community who feed off the FDA’s largesse with grants and such understand what is going on in such cases, which is why it is vaguely amusing to see one of them genuflecting about "PR stunts" in connection with a press release issued about the work of researcher Nadine Ijaz, which actually encourages serious discussion about the risks associated with raw milk.
Ijaz made a well-received evidence review on unpasteurized milk at the British Columbia (Canada) Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC). Her research debunks raw milk health and safety claims across all sides of the debate. It was picked up by the Wall Street Journal thanks to a media release from the Weston A. Price Foundation. This kind of exposure represents a wonderful opportunity for sincere scientific debate based on actual evidence…or so Ijaz thought.
But, of course, discussion is the last thing some food safety professionals in the academic and government orbit seem to want. Anyone who advocates such a rational approach tends to be shot down, such as in this case, with terms like ‘astrology’ and ‘conspiracy theories’ and ‘scientifically-sounding garble.' This arrogant academic said he decided to `leave it to others to comment on the uh, unique interpretations of risk assessment`. So much for scientific rigour.
Ijaz is an independent researcher with expertise and training in the transdisciplinary analysis of integrative health care issues. She has taught at professional schools in her field since 2001, including courses in scientific research methods. She was previously staff nutritionist at Canada's premiere integrative medical cancer care centre. Ijaz has pursued a scholarly interest in questions around unpasteurized milk and industrial dairying over the last fifteen years, and her current work represents a synthesis of this research. Her work on unpasteurized milk is currently under consideration for peer-review publication.
What follows is Ijaz’s rebuttal to the academic’s post, offering accurate detail on the contents of the BC CDC presentation.
By Nadine Ijaz
In my BC CDC Grand Rounds presentation of May 16, 2013 entitled Unpasteurized milk: myths and evidence, I reviewed a substantial number of peer-reviewed studies to deconstruct myths propagated on various sides of the raw milk debate. In that presentation, I employed evidence-based perspectives towards a balanced critique of raw milk consumer claims as well as those presented by North American public health bodies. My goal is to begin depoliticizing the raw milk debate and to bring a higher standard of scientific rigour to this long-controversial subject.
My evidence review concluded that while little evidence substantiates several common raw milk consumer claims, neither is raw milk as uniquely hazardous today as it was in the 1930s. While acknowledging the ongoing value of pasteurization as a public health intervention, I systematically deconstructed what appears to be a fundamental and unprecedented bias against unpasteurized milk in the scientific literature and by public health bodies. I also critically examined recent evidence around the proposed protective effects of raw farm milk on the development of atopic conditions in young children, as well as evidence pertaining to industrial milk processing`s possible health impacts.
I received the invitation from the BC Centre for Disease Control to present Grand Rounds, after Dr. Tom Kosatsky attended a previous lecture I gave on similar subjects.As I disclosed in my presentation to the BC CDC, my research is independent and unfunded; although I do personally advocate for regulatory reform on this issue in Canada. My advocacy on this issue is informed both by scientific evidence, as by my civil liberties concerns regarding Canada’s absolute prohibition on raw milk access for non-farmers, unique across G-8 nations.
In my BC CDC presentation, I certainly did not use evidence to promote raw milk consumption per se as implied in a recent BarfBlog post; I regard this as a matter of personal choice. The only ‘cause’ I scientifically advocated in my presentation is evidence-informed public health policy, as should be clear to those who view the online Grand Rounds video from May 16th, 2013. The evidence I reviewed suggests that Canada’s absolute prohibition on raw milk sales and distribution is no longer supported by a substantive body of recent, high-quality, peer-reviewed science. I did additionally cite a single non-peer-reviewed paper in the presentation – my own, very recent (2013) working paper analysing U.S. outbreak data for raw milk – for which I am currently awaiting consideration for peer-review publication.
The Barfblog post further reports that while the BC CDC found my talk to be ‘fairly presented,’ its policy on unpasteurized milk remains constant. Given how recently the agency has become aware of the evidence I presented, and how significantly this evidence challenges existing Canadian public health perspectives, one would not expect any rapid changes to policy.
Evidence-based public health policy recommendations must be carefully considered, scientifically consistent, and rigorously evidenced – and certainly not skewed towards an ideological bias. I sought to employ the highest standards of research and analysis in my recent evidence review. I sincerely invite those working across relevant fields to examine my work and the conclusions I draw, for errors, omissions and inconsistencies; and to bring these to the light of day so we might honestly discuss them in an environment of scientific integrity. I urge BarfBlog, and others – whether ‘for’ or ‘against’ raw milk being accessible for those who prefer it – to commit to a respectful, dignified tone for such future discussions.
I assure you that we share a common vision of a safe, healthy, accessible, delicious and sustainable food supply.
As long as we're discussing the nature of criticism being leveled on food rights, I'll take the opportunity to note a couple of reviews of my book.It's always strange, as an author, to see your book reviewed--it's your baby, after all. Even more difficult is to know whether or how to respond...but I'll give it a shot... These new reviews are in addition to those noted on the Amazon site from places like Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.
In my judgment, food rights lawyer Amy Salberg captures well the book's efforts at historical and political interpretation. She also raises the fundamental question, "Why is small food such a big threat?"
Another review, by food blogger and writer Jill Richardson, is critical about some of my choices about people to focus on (too many weirdos, in her judgment) and some of the things I say about them (like food safety lawyer Bill Marler). I disagree with her assessments on these and a few other things, but appreciate these are legitimate points of discussion. What bothers me is when reviewers are inaccurate--for example, the Publishers Weekly review quoted at the Amazon site says I didn't provide the food-safety side of the debate, when in fact I quoted at length from at least half a dozen food safety professionals, via their writings and testimony in various cases--that tells me the reviewer didn't read very carefully.
One of my goals with the book has been to get discussion and debate going on an issue that many in positions of power would just as soon ignore, keep secret. So, stellar or less than stellar, I'm glad to see the reviews happening. (And here's a tip: Chelsea Green has the book available right now at the lowest price I have seen anywhere.)