There have been more than a few shots taken at the Weston A. Price Foundation over the last few days—by Amanda Rose at Ethicurean, by me in my July 14 post, and by various speakers at the American Veterinary Medical Association, not to mention individuals who have commented here.
Sally Fallon, the head of the foundation, produced a detailed response (following my previous post) to the charge raised by a number of people that competitive exclusion doesn’t prevent pathogens from surviving in raw milk from pasture-fed cows.
And I found myself wondering: Why can’t Sally and some of the foundation’s supporters who have also commented (like Miguel and Mark McAfee) simply admit that pathogens occasionally do survive well enough in raw milk to make a few people ill? Given that it’s such a small number—perhaps 2,000 people a year, according to my presentation to the AVMA—why not simply acknowledge that and move on?
Now, in what follows, I’m just speaking for myself, not the Weston A. Price Foundation. What I think a lot of people like me fail to grasp sometimes is just how differently many supporters of the Weston A. Price Foundation tend to view the world. For one thing, there’s a huge trust issue.
Take the issue of competitive exclusion, on which much of the discussion involving Sally and others has focused. From what I can see, this is a slim place to hang your hat, whether you are in favor or against raw milk, simply because there’s such a paucity of research. But my sense is that Sally and others just don’t trust the labs or methodology or researchers involved in the limited studies to date (even though Organic Pastures Dairy Co. sponsored the BSK Lab research).
Beyond that, in the WAPF scheme of things, many if not most of even the 2,000 illnesses from raw milk are mistaken, since the system is out to “get” raw milk. When public health investigators learn that a sick individual consumed raw milk, the investigation seems to end at that point (though public health officials disagree). As a result, the WAPF view doesn’t trust the epidemiological evidence, because it seems so biased against raw milk.
I think this view, this mistrust, and its fast-growing popularity in the consumer world, drives the public health officials bonkers. That’s why so many came down on the WAPF’s huge web presence at the AVMA meeting. They can’t fully comprehend what the WAPF is saying but, amazingly, growing legions of consumers, looking around at all their diabetic and obese friends and relatives, get it immediately.
Even among some raw milk advocates, like Amanda Rose, in her recent Ethicurean article on the WAPF, we see similar frustration. She says at one point: “Another example of problematic content on the WAPF sites is an article ‘Is Raw Milk Safe for Babies?’ that lists contaminated milk outbreaks in California from 1982 to 1996. According to the WAPF article, no sicknesses from raw milk occurred in that time, yet multiple outbreaks were linked to pasteurized milk and other foods. Many Californians however may remember that there were a series of outbreaks linked to raw milk in that timeframe, for example this one, cited in a published article on outbreaks in the early 1980s.”
Yet if you look at that study, you find that it isn’t based on specific reported cases from raw milk, but rather from a mathematical analysis of all salmonella cases, and an assumption that many were from raw milk. The words “estimate” and “estimated” are used a lot. If you don’t trust the public health authorities to begin with, then this study does little to address that mistrust—in fact, it just heightens the mistrust.
All of which leads to the big enchilada around mistrust—chronic illness. In the WAPF scheme of things, it is the epidemic rates of heart disease, asthma, allergies, Crohn’s, obesity, and diabetes that are the biggest public health problems. To see government authorities sending undercover agents to collect evidence against raw milk dairies, and harass them with questionable listeria tests, in that context seems ridiculous.
So, much as I and others might like to see the WAPF just make a few admissions about competitive exclusion and risk of illness to children, so the organization wouldn’t be so susceptible to pot shots from public health authorities, the reality is that it’s more complicated than that. To the WAPF way of thinking, I suspect, if you give up on the seeming little things, you get co-opted on the bigger things as well.
As I’ve said a number of times, the raw milk issue, which seems so narrow, is really a proxy issue for many other public health challenges. When the raw milk proponents and opponents are speaking entirely different languages, simply raising the decibel level on one side or the other won’t resolve the situation. I think it’s going to take many more sessions like the AVMA raw milk symposium, which involve simply hearing out the other side, before there’s any chance of developing common ground. Do enough people have the stomach for that?