Joseph Heckman of Rutgers University.Joseph Heckman often feels very lonely in his position as a professor specializing in soil fertility at Rutgers University in New Jersey. That’s because he’s a big believer in the virtues of raw milk, and in what he calls “informed choice” by consumers to have access to raw milk.

He feels most isolated when he schedules individuals to appear at a series of lectures on raw milk he first launched in 2008. Among a number of speakers, he’s had Gary Cox of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy Co. speak in 2008. I just spoke on Friday. 

Each time he organizes one of his lectures, he encounters tension from other professors in the food sciences arena at Rutgers. Sometimes they send emails around to other faculty questioning whether the lectures amount to advocacy of raw milk consumption by the university, which could endanger funding by New Jersey, which doesn’t allow the sale or distribution of raw milk; sometimes they question whether opponents should be invited to attend; and sometimes they simply question the safety of raw milk. He says colleagues have attempted to attract opponents from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to lecture, but, of course, they won’t attend once anyone in favor of raw milk has been at a university lectern.

Initially, Heckman says, the lectures were well attended by Rutgers faculty, but attendance has gradually fallen off to the point where only two Rutgers professors besides Heckman attended my talk on Friday. “I’m not sure what this means, whether it’s moved from hotly contested topic to boredom, or maybe to a boycott.”

My sense is that the hostility isn’t unusual. Academics in public health and agriculture tend to be anti-raw-milk, because that is what they have been taught. More often than not, they don’t have to deal with dissenters like Joseph Heckman in their midst, so raw milk never comes up as a debatable issue.

In any event, we had a good group of about 35 students, farmers, and professionals attending the Friday talk, and afterwards there was animated discussion about what raw milk proponents need to do to encourage wider acceptance. A psychiatrist in attendance, Richard Schwartzman, compared the FDA’s approach to raw milk to its approach to the jailing of psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich during the 1950s for his writings and teachings on psychiatry.

A photo from the Selman Waksman Museum at Rutgers.Afterwards, Heckman gave everyone a tour of the tiny Selman Waksman Museum, which was the soil laboratory at Rutgers where scientist Selman Waksman developed the streptomycin antibiotic and was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1952. The gold Nobel Prize is also in display. Ironically, the exhibit includes the photoabove of tuberculosis patients from the early 1900s, who were treated with raw milk.

I want to personally thank Joseph Heckman and his wife, Joyce, for their gracious hospitality in hosting me Friday and Saturday.