These are frothy days for the debate over access to unpasteurized milk. Business-reporter-turned-raw-milk-blogger David Gumpert has a new book out, "The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America's Emerging Battle Over Food Rights"; Ethicurean review coming soon. And friends o'Ethicurean Jill Richardson and Amanda Rose have each been engaging in raw-milk battles this month.
Round One: Jill Richardson v. Mark Mcafee
Richardson, who blogs indefatigably at La Vida Locavore, offers a provocative article this week on Alternet arguing that we “ditch the hysterics” over raw milk and work with regulators to form some sort of regulatory compromise whereby consumers can access raw milk more easily if they choose. As an example of difficulty in regulation, Richardson points to the large California raw milk operation Organic Pastures, which has drawn regulatory fire in the past. Among Organic Pastures' offenses, Richardson writes, have been relying on other producers but not disclosing this practice: “He outsources some of his production as his demand outstrips his supply. However, that means that he does not have direct control over all of the dairy products sold under his label, and it also means that his customers have relatively little information about where their raw dairy products come from,” she writes.
“Organic Pastures Dairy has never ever bottled one ounce of another dairies raw milk...not one drop. This is a blatant lie and an untruth spoken to try and hurt OPDC and mislead our consumers. I ask you to print a retraction or face a letter from our attorney,” shot backdairy owner Mark McAfee in the comments section.
Round Two: Amanda Rose v. Ted Beals
Rose’s scrap began this summer in her Ethicurean post "Memo to raw milk advocates: Improve information, or get sued," which remains the most-commented post for this blog. In it, she describes how food injury attorney Bill Marler had threatened to sue the natural-foods advocacy group the Weston A. Price Foundation over inaccurate information. For an example of this, she cited the idea of competitive exclusion – the advocates' claim that raw milk has components that kill pathogens thereby rendering raw milk “uniquely safe.” The scientific research behind the claim is poor and offers consumers no guarantee of safe milk, she argued in a white paper she wrote on the topic.
Within weeks of Rose’s paper, WAPF self-styled raw-milk expert and retired physician Ted Beals wrote a response to Rose in the fall issue of the WAPF journal Wise Traditions [PDF], posted prominently on the RealMilk.com homepage.
"One of the basic myths of the anti-raw milk folks is that it doesn’t make any difference how few pathogens get into the milk…even one bacterium will rapidly multiply until everything is overwhelmed with bad bugs. All of the publications Amanda Rose selected demonstrate this scare tactic. Pathogens do not rapidly multiply in milk that is fresh and unpasteurized, they do not grow, in fact they die off." [p 102]
In a detailed response Rose wrote on her other blog, Rose noted that Beals provides no data to support the claim of raw milk’s unique safety and responded that “raw milk, like all other food on the planet, offers no safety guarantees. It might kill pathogens; it might not kill pathogens…. Each pathogen…behaves differently in raw milk: some populations die-off over time, some grow for awhile then die off, some show no growth or death when put in raw milk. Temperature is also important; most pathogens will grow in raw milk left out on the counter at room temperature; Listeria may die."
And what do we think? That ALL food carries risk, whether pasteurized or unpasteurized, organically grown or industrially grown. Raw milk can be provided, sold, and consumed as safely as hamburger — many would argue more safely. However, groups like the WAPF do no one a service by minimizing the very real risks. Consumers who want to be able to buy raw milk should be able to do so, just as they can choose to cook their farm-raised, grass-fed hamburger bloody if they like. (For now: many would like to see our entire meat supply irradiated in the name of consumer safety.)
With all of the threats of lawsuits flying around, we asked Rose if she has secured representation. “It’s really too soon for that. However, we do have a club, Raw Milk Sue-age," she joked. "The way this is going, we may offer t-shirts on Café Press.”