When last we left the mystery of the disappearing article in an academic newsletter highlighting raw milk’s benefits, it seemed we had been witness to a serious encroachment on academic freedom.
Last month, I described the article’s eye-popping statements affirming European research findings suggesting raw milk help reduce the incidence of asthma and allergies in children. And shortly afterwards, I reported on the article’s disappearance from the academic site operated by the International Milk Genomics Consortium (IMGC) at the University of California, Davis, apparently under orders from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and its dairy chief, John Sheehan.
Now, the article is back. At first glance, it looks like the same article, entitled, “The evidence around raw milk”. And it still contains its startling affirmation of European research data on the destructive impact of pasteurization and on raw milk’s potential health benefits: “To be sure, high heat treatment of milk reduces the odds of a bad belly, but does it also destroy complex proteins and other components that could bolster human health? Apparently so. The best evidence comes from a large cross-sectional study that began in 2005 and followed school-aged children in rural areas of German-speaking Europe, specifically in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The study, called GABRIELA, was led by Erika von Mutius of the University Children’s Hospital in Munich, Germany, and involved more than 8,000 kids…GABRIELA found substantive evidence that raw milk-consuming farm kids were much less likely to develop allergies including asthma and dermatitis during childhood.”
But alas, if you look closer at the re-posted piece, you find a few “adjustments” to the article. First, there’s a “Disclaimer” indicating that the organization providing significant funding to the IMGC doesn’t endorse the Consortium’s articles, such as this one. “DISCLAIMER: The contents of all articles published as part of “SPLASH! milk science update” do not necessarily represent the views of the California Dairy Research Foundation or any other sponsors of the International Milk Genomics Consortium.”
Okay, that seems fair enough, There should be distance between corporate-backed sponsors of any university research organization.
But wait, there’s more. There is a “Clarification” explaining that the article has been “updated…” And wouldn’t you know, this new version of the article provides more information on, of all things, the role of pasteurization. First, a paragraph has been added to the article that the European research on raw milk involved few “children who drank minimally pasteurized milk of the sort typically found in US supermarkets, but not necessarily in European ones.”
Interesting point here, and one that is far from clear. Until a decade ago, that statement about the distinctions between pasteurization in the U.S. and Europe might have been accurate–the Europeans have apparently long been using ultra high temperature pasteurization more widely than the U.S.
However, in recent years, the trend in the U.S. has been toward wider use of ultra high temperature pasteurization, as Organic Valley explains–to help extend shelf life–and the practice has been applied to rapidly expanding amounts of organically-produced milk.
But bottom line, it can be argued we don’t know whether traditionally pasteurized milk would be affected the same way as ultra high temperature (UHT) pasteurized milk. (According to Organic Valley, “traditional pasteurization, heats the milk to at least 165°F for 15 seconds. This is commonly referred to as ‘High Temperature, Short Time,’ or HTST pasteurization…UHT process heats the milk to 280° F for only two seconds, and eliminates a larger percentage of bacteria than [traditional] pasteurization. When coupled with sterile packaging, ultra pasteurized milk has a shelf life of 70 days from the date of processing. UHT is gaining popularity in the United States and Canada.”)
Next, it turns out that that insertion in the Consortium article about pasteurization was just a warm-up to the last adjustment, an “Editor’s Note” that gets to the heart of the matter. It actually begins with a remarkable (additional) admission that “there is now some evidence that uncontaminated raw milk may protect young children from developing allergies and asthma…” It’s remarkable because you have to assume the FDA was instrumental in getting these changes made to the article, and the FDA has never ever said anything to the effect that “raw milk may protect young children.”
But as you might expect, there is a huge qualification. The Editor’s Note asks about raw milk’s protection: “… is that benefit worth the risks?” The answer, of course, is no…unless a mode of processing can be developed that will replicate pasteurization, without altering the important proteins. Here’s what the Editor’s Note says: “More studies are needed to determine the benefits of raw milk consumption and how those benefits can be retained with milk processing techniques that minimize pathogen risk. Until more is known, the researchers interviewed for this article do not recommend the consumption of raw milk.”
So, any further research needs to not only explore further the benefits of raw milk, but also to develop “milk processing techniques that minimize pathogen risk.”
In other words, even if raw milk could be demonstrated to cure cancer, it couldn’t be allowed for consumption if there was any risk of side effects, which are illnesses from pathogens. I don’t think that is the standard for prescription drugs–no matter how effective they are, they aren’t approved until there are absolutely no side effects. Quite the opposite.
What the “adjusted” article now seems to be saying is this: Okay, it’s taken us a hundred years, but we’ll give you the possibility that raw milk substantially reduces allergies and asthma in children. But having given you that, we are raising the bar here. We need to conduct research on the likely destructive aspects of pasteurization. And if we find that traditional pasteurization does destroy the protective proteins, we need to come up with another processing technique that destroys pathogens without affecting the protective proteins.
Is the FDA, which provides huge amount of research funds to universities around the country, ready to abandon its opposition to all research on raw milk’s benefits and pasteurization’s possibly destructive aspects? I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen, but then, stranger things have happened in the raw milk universe.
How will the rejection of California’s Proposition 37 requiring labeling for genetically modified foods affect the issue of food rights? That will be one of the topics we’ll be discussing at half-day panel discussions on food rights thatI’m leading, sponsored by the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association. I’ll be moderating two panel discussions on food rights on Thursday afternoon, which will include farmers Vernon Hershberger and Alvin Schlangen, activists Liz Reitzig and Gayle Loiselle, Cornucopia Institute founder Mark Kastel, and Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund lawyer Elizabeth Rich, among others. There are still places available for this special event, which precedes the 2012 Biodynamic Conference.