Raw Milk is Low Risk

Canadian raw-milk drinker, Ms Nadine Ijaz MSc was given fifteen minutes of fame and spent it very wisely.

Invited to speak a the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control conference she preached heretically that Raw Milk is a Low Risk food. Her presentation quickly became so popular the website had to take it down and replace it with a PDF version of the presentation:

Raw Milk is a low risk food - Ms Nadine Ijaz MSc

Needless to say, the studies she has uncovered make FSANZ claims look very fabricated.

I am now inspired to give my take on the same research:

RAW MILK SAFETY – An Alternative Perspective


In the debate about the rights of consumers to drink the milk from their own cows, the safety of consuming raw milk has been used as an argument for the State to intrude on the rights of the community.

Whether raw milk is safe to drink should not even be the issue for a democratic government that recognises that its citizens are free to make their own choices, however we have grown accustomed now to governments that make choices for us with regard to food safety.

In justification of actions against share-herd farming. The minister has quoted modelling data from the FSANZ report on the safety of raw milk, saying that 2 in every 100 glasses of raw milk will make someone sick (John Crosby – general manager of dairy South Australia – interviewed on 5AA). We have also heard quite contradictory evidence that raw milk is one hundred and fifty times more dangerous than pasteurised milk – meaning by logical extension that 2 in every fifteen thousand glasses of pasteurised milk will someone sick?

It is beyond me to debunk the FSANZ modelling or to prove that its creation was more a work of fitting the science to the policy rather than a true search for objective analysis. However, I can certainly say that the FSANZ modelling is in complete disagreement with all anecdotal observations and the latest peer-reviewed Quantitative Risk Assessments. The FSANZ report also dismissed the possibility that raw-milk has unique health benefits in combating asthma (1) With the numerous population studies that have confirmed the association, the evidence lacking is a double-blind placebo clinical study. To say the medical literature does not support the contention that raw-milk may prevent asthma is a deliberate misrepresentation. Population studies do not prove causation, but consistent results that do not disappear after corrections for known confounding variables, should be acknowledged and not dismissed so easily.

It is quite clear that any illness allegedly caused by raw milk consumption will get notoriety almost akin to injury and deaths from terrorism. In demonstration of how dangerous raw milk is , the South Australian Minister for Agriculture highlights the case of 4 people who were hospitalised in Portland Oregon with the pathogenic strain of E Coli. However according to the US centre for Disease Control there are 265,000 Shiga-toxic E Coli infections per year which are obviously associated with all other foods: (2)

I make no claim that our government Minsters are deliberately fear-mongering, as they most certainly believe the advice that is passed to them without any attempt to contextualise. However, given the availability of new data on this issue, it is time for a more sober appraisal of the supposed dangers of raw milk.

In Italy where raw milk is being legally sold in vending machines, scientists have taken an interest in what the risk to the public is. The peer-reviewed Quantitative Risk Assessments of raw milk for causing illness from Campybolacter, Listeria and E Coli have been calculated and found to be quite low. To state these risks as the number of years of consuming raw milk to encounter an illness, the figures tell us: (3 & 4)

For how many years would one consumer need to drink raw milk before getting an illness from:

Listeria

Best Case Scenario Worst Case Scenarios
150,000 years 10,000 years (elderly consumers)


Campylobacter jejuni

Best Case Scenario Worst Case Scenarios
17,500 years 4,710 years


Escherichia coli O157

Best Case Scenario Worst Case Scenarios
166,600 years 16,900 years


Naturally I expect the FSANZ to discard these figures and suggest the research behind these were flawed or not applicable to Australian conditions. I will point out that the FSANZ modelling used data from outside Australia and certainly made no attempt to quantify the quality of milk from herd- share farms as opposed to common commercial farms. The writers of the study that examined E Coli (HUS cases) stated that “The expected pediatric HUS cases do not differ considerably from those reported in Italy by the Minister of Health.” which would suggest that they compared their modelled data with real population data. The researchers were not pro-raw milk, and in fact seem to support the boiling of raw milk to reduce these small risks that they have quantified.

I am not proposing that our governments leaders and bureaucrats start endorsing the consumption of raw milk. I am not expecting people to change their mind or to displace many decades of ingrained prejudice against unprocessed dairy products. I am not at all interested in a response from the Minister that restates their current position. I am not interested in how an FSANZ food safety expert goes about dismissing the relevance of these peer-reviewed Quantitative Risk Assessment Models. I am no fool, I know that science is 99% of the time a search for the data that will support someone's already held beliefs. I have little hope that a Government Minister who has dug themselves into a stated position is likely to change an opinion because of some new research even if it were to be endorsed by Albert Einstein returned from the grave!

I hope that some officials not bound to long-held prejudices or compromised by a benefit to protecting the current restrictions on dairy products might reconsider their assumptions about raw milk. I would hope that they might consider the risks of illness from drinking raw milk against the common risks that we take each day. I hope that they would not so quickly dismiss strong evidence supporting the value of raw milk to the treatment of asthma, and most of all, would see the value in food networks that bring consumers in closer contact to farmers.

The current statements about the dangers of raw-milk as stated by our food bureaucracy have set a dangerous precedent. The risk calculations from FSANZ modelling are certainly not the final word on raw-milk safety, yet have been used as 'facts' to suit a political purpose. If used as facts, there is no reason why government agencies will not justify the seizing of children from the families of farmers, hobby farmers , alternative life-stylists or parents trying a possible solution for their child's asthma. This is the logical next step in the harassment of raw milk consumers, and Government Ministers may want to consider whether they will publicly support their bureaucratic agencies when this inevitably begins.


References
1. The protective effect of farm milk consumption on childhood asthma and atopy: the
GABRIELA study. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011 Oct ;128(4):766-773.e4. doi:
10.1016/j.jaci.2011.07.048. Epub 2011 Aug 27 . Retrieved from
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21875744

2. http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/general/index.html#how_common

3. Quantitative risk assessment of verocytotoxin-producing Escherichia coli O157 and
Campylobacter jejuni related to consumption of raw milk in a province in Northern
Italy. J Food Prot. 2012 Nov ;75(11):2031-8. doi: 10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-12-163.
Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23127713

4. Quantitative risk assessment of listeriosis due to consumption of raw milk. J Food
Prot. 2011 Aug ;74(8):1268-81. doi: 10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-10-554. Retrieved
from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21819653

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