I was reading the “Raw Milk News” on the just-launched realrawmilkfacts web site, and noticed some missing items. There’s a big proposal just in the last few days by Massachusetts to change its dairy regulations to ban raw milk buying clubs–this after four such clubs received cease-and-desist orders from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. In fact, there’s going to be a hearing by the MDAR May 10 at 10:00 a.m. in Conference Room A on the second floor of 100 Cambridge Street, Boston.

As I understand it, if this regulation passes, Massachusetts will become the first state in the country with legalized raw milk to ban buying clubs, which essentially act as the personal agents of consumers to obtain their raw milk from licensed dairies.

Now, if this isn’t news in the world of raw milk, I don’t know what is. From the viewpoint of the originators of realrawmilkfacts.com, why not try to mobilize all the anti-raw-milk consumers to attend the hearing and show their opposition to allowing deliveries of raw milk to people who may not have cars or may be disabled and unable to travel to farms to pick up their milk?

Of course, we all know the reason: there aren’t enough real people out there who want to put other real people out of work for making real raw milk available to real consenting paying adults. If the realrawmilk.com people put such news on their site, they will only add to what is likely to be a flood of opponents to the new regulation, and they definitely don’t want to see that happen. They know that from what happened when Framingham, MA, held hearings late last year about whether to approve a local farm to sell raw milk. Only one opponent showed up, and he was a consultant for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The discrepancy between what real people want and what the public health community wants is what’s at the heart of this site. It seems to be a skillfully conceived follow-on to the sledgehammer fear-mongering approach exemplified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The more they fear mongered over the last few years, the more raw milk grew in popularity. It’s almost as if people would read a government warning and say to themselves, “Gee, if the government is saying this is bad for me, it must be great stuff. Just look around at all the people out there who get sick taking government-approved drugs. Let’s go get ourselves some raw milk.”

So now we have what seems to be a semi-official site that takes a much gentler and softer tone toward raw milk. There’s mention a couple times of large-scale European studies that show raw milk benefits children with allergies and asthma. There’s acknowledgment in the Q&A section that today’s cows are “virtually free” of the most serious diseases carried by milk during the late 1800s and early 1900s. “We also have better refrigeration and sanitation for storing and transporting milk.” And it acknowledges that people can get sick from pasteurized milk, and specifically mentions the three deaths in Massachusetts in 2007. It even includes in its Commentaries section, articles by Steve Bemis (11 Great Thoughts) and by me.

Okay, that’s progress. But then it says, “Even with careful sanitation, it is nearly impossible to keep all dirt and fecal matter from getting into the raw milk.” By that measure, the hundreds of thousands or millions of us regularly drinking raw milk should be falling ill from all that bad stuff. But, of course, we’re not. That’s because it is possible to keep dirt and fecal matter out of milk, and many dozens of dairy farmers are doing it every day.

And I love this answer to the question about whether raw milk tastes better than pasteurized milk: “Impartial researchers who conduct blind taste tests have not compared raw milk and pasteurized milk, in part because it would not be ethical to intentionally expose research participants to a high-risk product such as raw milk.” Sure. Our medical and public health communities are just so ethical that they couldn’t be part of a taste test of raw milk. I nearly had my raw milk coming back through my nose I was laughing so hard the first time I read that one. If nothing else, you have to give the people who did this site credit for having a sense of humor, or rather, black humor.  

As several comments following my previous post point out, there’s lots more that’s striking to a raw milk advocate. For example, there’s not a single mention of the two most vocal parties in the debate over raw milk: The Weston A. Price Foundation and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (except for a couple links). Not a single mention of this past weekend’s Second Annual Raw Milk Symposium, with its many research and position papers.

But then, this site isn’t addressed to us raw milk consumers. It’s targeted at potential newbies, and as such, it’s a skillful piece of propaganda, since it seems to at least give some credibility to “the other side,” by linking to certain foodie blogs that only very occasionally write about raw milk (like Ethicurean and La Vida Locavore), and leaving out, shall we say, other sites. It concludes that it’s nearly inevitable that raw milk contains dirt and manure. It tops that conclusion off with videos of individuals who became very sick, likely from raw milk. So in the end, it hopes the more subtle approach will be more effective than the previous sledgehammer approach.

What’s missing are the videos of the individuals it alludes to who say raw milk improved their health, or were part of the research studies showing benefits from raw milk. And that’s where this site is treading on dangerous territory, from the viewpoint of the anti-raw-milk crowd. By acknowledging that people may well experience improved health from raw milk, they are suggesting a more difficult choice for consumers. As the site says in its Q&A: “Before trying raw milk in a child with allergies or other conditions, parents should proceed with caution and talk to their pediatrician or health care provider about the possible risks of serious bacterial infection such as E. coli O157:H7.” “Proceed with caution” is a lot different than “playing Russian roulette with your health.” I mean, you should proceed with caution before putting your child on asthma or allergy medications. Once you acknowledge that raw milk has benefits, it’s a slippery slope. Better watch out, realrawmilkfacts guys (and gals)!