By Nick Hughes and Dr. Ron

February 20, 2012

The Raw Milk Debate TeamIn recent decades there has been a resurgence in drinking raw milk in many parts of the world, most notably, in the U.S. Dr. Ron and Elly (my uncle and aunt, and my employers) traveled with me to Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, yesterday for a first hand glimpse at what all the commotion is about. The occasion was a debate about raw milk between Sally Fallon Morell, President of the Weston A Price Foundation, David Gumpert, journalist and author of The Raw Milk Revolution (both raw milk proponents), and Fred Pritzker, a lawyer who litigates against raw milk farmers, as well as Heidi Kassenberg of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (both raw milk opponents). The seats in the hall were full - over 150 people strong, with more standing in the back. Finally, the issues of raw milk benefits and safety may be receiving the attention they deserve.

The debate was not actually a debate but rather a series of four ten-minute presentations, one by each participant, followed by questions from the audience.

Sally Fallon Morell presented an incredible summary of what raw milk does for a living organism. Her evidence included several slides detailing animal testing on rats done in the 1930’s and 1940’s that distinguished amazing physical differences between animals fed raw milk and those fed pasteurized milk. Raw milk rats were bigger, stronger, had better fur coats, and were actually very friendly. Pasteurized milk rats were smaller, sickly, had patches of fur missing and agitated easily. Sally also showed slides of cats fed raw and pasteurized milk. The differences were equally compelling. Her argument made it very clear that raw milk has enormous nutritional value over pasteurized milk.

Sally Fallon Morell and Dr. Ron holding raw milk on the Harvard podium.

David Gumpert presented a study aimed at determining the percentage of people who drink raw milk in the U.S. Three percent of the study group of 8,000 said they drink raw milk. That number may not sound impressive, but some quick math suggests that some nine million Americans drink raw milk. That is not an insignificant number of people.

Next Mr. Gumpert presented evidence that raw milk causes only one-half of one percent of all food-borne illness in the United States. The study was done by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Yet the government insists on the need to outlaw raw milk and to aggressively pursue farmers and distributors. The government does not prosecute consumers, realizing the public relations crisis that would cause. This certainly raises serious questions about motives. Mr. Gumpert’s arguments were so convincing that it seemed to this observer, futile to oppose them. One assumes that is why the opposition did not in fact respond to them, choosing instead to stick to their own talking points.

Fred Pritzker covered many of the legal aspects of the story. He has represented a number of people who allegedly became ill from drinking raw milk. He presented several different cases. The information he presented indicated that in the last ten years two people may have died from illness resulting from drinking raw milk. He had nothing to say about the thousands of others who have died from eating other foods. He cited, and agreed with, the FDA’s assertion that the United States Constitution does not guarantee the right of an individual to consume raw milk or any other particular food. His position is that food choice is legitimately regulated by the law.

Heidi Kassenberg was the final presenter. She spoke mostly about pathogens that may be found in tainted raw milk, declaring that all raw milk is inherently dangerous and a threat to public safety. She maintained that everyone should be forbidden by law from drinking raw milk. Mr. Pritzker agreed with her on these positions, declaring that he believed in freedom, but that we must accept “science-based evidence” about foods and must obey the law.

Dr. Ron SchmidDr. Ron asking the panelists “If freedom does not include the right to choose what foods to put into your own body, would you please define for me just what freedom is?”

The Q&A that followed was provocative and compelling. Many questions were about the conflicting data presented by the two sides. Dr. Ron asked the last question.

“If freedom does not include the right to choose what foods to put into your own body,” he asked, “would you please define for me just what freedom is?”

Sally and David expressed that freedom to choose one’s foods was a basic human right. Fred and Heidi wisely chose not to attempt a definition of freedom that did not include the right to choose one’s foods, and instead talked around the question.

The closing comment came from a young mother of five, a Weston Price Foundation chapter leader, who was in the audience. She told the story of how her infant son suffered with terrible eczema, and how he became completely well when she changed to a Weston Price style diet and gave him lots of grassfed raw milk. Mr. Pritzker responded by telling us about his handicapped son, now 25 years old, but with the functional capacity of a two-year old. He said he would do anything to help him…but not if it meant turning his back on “science-based evidence” to embrace something as inherently dangerous as raw milk.

I could not help but think that this man had made a decision many years ago that precluded his ability to have an open mind about the subject of raw milk today. Suppose he were to decide that indeed raw milk and other nutrient-dense foods could have prevented or alleviated his child’s handicap? How guilty would he feel? Similarly, Heidi Kassenberg appeared locked into a position she could not contemplate questioning. How could she face her agricultural establishment colleagues (and keep her job) if she were to actually study the issues surrounding raw milk and come to the conclusion that raw milk should be available to everyone?

This is how well-meaning people become stuck in positions that are in fact wrong-headed and indefensible by any reasonable, truly fact-based standard. The problem for us, however, is that their side of this debate advocates extreme violence. That is, they are sending in their henchmen, guns drawn, to arrest and imprison our farmers and distributors. Perhaps consumers will be next.

Raw Milk Debate on YouTube - 1hour: 36 minutes

For more information on the history of raw milk, its use in traditional cultures as well as its safety and health benefits, see Dr. Ron's book The Untold Story of Milk: The History, Politics, and Science of Nature’s Perfect Food: Raw Milk from Pasture-Fed Cows (Revised and Updated)