Clowning around at raw milk symposium: from l, Michael Payne of UC Davis, Amanda Rose, yours truly, and Mary McGonigle-Martin doing the rabbit ear honors.There’s a temptation when people with opposing views on a divisive topic get together to think that the solution lies in compromise of some sort. I’ve certainly been guilty of that kind of thinking.

But after reflecting further on last Sunday’s raw milk symposium in Seattle sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association, I’m definitely not thinking that way. What I’m thinking is that some barriers were approached, and people who’ve seen each other as dire enemies got to see each other as real people. That has to be positive, even if political positions didn’t necessarily change. The fact that I am saying such things is a commentary on just how bitter the divisions are over my right to access the most basic of foods—raw milk.

As I said in my Monday post, there were some positive statements in several of the presentations. And after a number of audience members mocked Amanda Rose when she told them that raw milk drinkers value both the taste and good bacteria in raw milk, food poisoning lawyer Bill Marler scolded the mockers. “I’m appalled that people are laughing,” he said. “You don’t engage people by calling them stupid.”

But that assumes “engagement” was the intent of many speakers. It’s hard to know because, despite some signs of dialog, only two people I’m aware of have posted anything publicly about the symposium—Amanda Rose and myself, the two raw milk proponents to speak at the session. Not a word of observation, reaction, criticism, or encouragement from any of the eight or so other speakers, who generally spoke in terms of preserving or extending the status quo on raw milk limitations.

I’m also concerned about a term that was tossed around here and there: “education.” Now, to me, education is about enlightenment, and exposing people to different views on a topic. But I’ve come to realize from attending a few anti-raw-milk conferences that the focus on “education” from the government’s perspective is code for fear mongering. Kind of like the way the old Soviet Union and China used to use that term, as in “re-education” of citizens who had the temerity to differ with official positions on one subject or another.

So as you can tell, I find myself kind of going back and forth on the thing. Overall, I’d say the news was good for the simple reason that people were energized and even, dare I say, touched, by happenings, and that has to be a good thing.

The bad news is that most of the speakers and attendees wouldn’t, even if their lives depended on it, be able to relate to most of the wonderful comments following my previous post, like Miguel’s explanation about inflammation affecting cow’s milk, and Gwen Elderberry’s dualistic approach to milk, and Dave Milano’s nearly poetic explication of the “dairy industry.”

As refreshing as it was to have some sense of dialog, it’s important for those who believe in our right to consume the foods of our choice to not be deluded into thinking that anything fundamental changed. It’s so easy to lose rights, as we’ve seen with the steady encroachment on our rights to access nutrient-dense foods—and more restrictions likely upcoming via “food safety” legislation. And it’s very difficult, once rights are lost, to gain them back without a serious fight. Because the John Sheehans (FDA Milk Czar) of the world value control over rights.

Then again (more uncertainty), maybe the key is repetition, bring the parties together again, and again, and again. Let them butt heads and hear each other out. Today’s intransigence need not eliminate the possibilities for tomorrow’s flexibility. Remember, this is a political problem, not a health problem, and once participants decide to settle political problems, actions can come pretty quickly.

Before moving on from the symposium, a few odds and ends:

— This blog seems to be sort of read by public health types. Michael Payne of the University of California, Davis, Western Institute for For Food Safety and Security, highlighted a posting I did on his testimony before the California Senate in April 2008. While he didn’t seem to think my use of a photo of a ventriloquist to depict his testimony was all that funny (“Even my mother was upset”), he did allow, “I felt like a rapper.” Now, that’s the right spirit.

— Speaking of people with a sense of humor, there was Bill Keene, the Oregon public health official, who said this about the raw milk market: “The world is divided into two groups: those who drink raw milk and those who don’t care…Raw milk is a niche product for a few nut cases.” To which I’d say, I’m okay with being classified as “a nut case,” just let me go my own nutty way with milk.

— While raw milk isn’t a hot research topic in the U.S., a presenter from the University of California, Davis, Michele Jay-Russell, presented results of an interesting little experiment she said was done by other researchers at the university using California raw milk. They inoculated salmonella into fresh raw milk bought at a store in California, and then some of the milk was refrigerated, and some left at room temperature. The refrigerated milk showed neither growth nor death of the salmonella after seven days. At room temperature, the salmonella grew from hundreds of cells to hundreds of thousands of cells within two days. Her conclusion: “There was no competitive exclusion from those retail raw milk samples.”

–Finally, Sally Fallon, head of the Weston A. Price Foundation, contacted me after my previous post (which included criticisms of the web site) and said she wants not only symposium participants, but other readers of this blog to feel free to request changes in the organization’s reports. “We are constantly updating (our site) based on input from individuals and new information. If there is anything that is wrong or inaccurate on the site (and especially on the raw milk PowerPoint), people need only email us (info and we will fix it.” I wonder if the people at Plant and Dairy at the FDA are willing to make a similar commitment.