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Consumer Rights

Following on from my post – Social Components to the ‘Raw’ Milk Debate, I am wondering if ‘consumer rights’ plays a large role in the active protest movements of the ‘raw’ milk advocates? And should the government take more notice of individual’s rights along with personal opinions and wishes.

I am intrigued by the health claims that are made about ‘raw’ milk. Claims including -

  • It contains probiotic bacteria
  • It cures asthma
  • It cures allergies
  • It lactose intolerance

But what is the truth in these claims and is there any scientific evidence to back up these claims. Over the last few months of reading and blogging about ‘raw’ milk, I (with my scientific and critical thinking) have wondered whether there are research studies that back up or refute these claims, and perhaps controversially would a study comprehensively ‘proving’ or ‘disproving’ this claims close the debate over ‘raw’ milk. I acknowledge that the debate / controversy is a lot more complex, but perhaps scientific evidence, improved risk communication and a changed communication strategy (moving away from the deficit (‘you know nothing so we have to tell you everything’) way of communicating) may solve this debate /controversy.

But back to the health claims made by ‘raw’ milk advocates (the pro-‘raw’ milk side) and a critical examination and analysis of research study results concerning these claims. Below I have quoted from the Hot Topics page of the Real Raw Milk Facts website (accessed 18th August 2014), a website run by veterinarians, food safety academics and ‘raw’ milk consumers with support from a legal firm that represents victims of food-borne illness.

On probiotics and bacteria in ‘raw’ milk -  “In consumer surveys, raw milk drinkers often cite “good bacteria” or “probiotics” as the most important reason for choosing to drink raw milk. The international definition of probiotics is “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host. While raw milk is widely promoted by producers as a probiotic, there are no studies showing that it meets the definition of a probiotic. In fact, raw milk produced using good hygiene should have hardly any bacteria in it at all. Milk from a healthy animal (or human) is sterile when it leaves the mammary gland. As the milk moves through the skin/teat canal, it may pick up small numbers of bacteria from the skin (not enough to be a probiotic). Once the milk is outside the animal, any other bacteria or viruses that get into the milk would have to come from the environment (faeces, flies, dust, equipment). Bacteria from the environment, especially feces and flies, are not likely to be probiotic, and may even be pathogenic.”

On lactose intolerance and ‘raw’ milk – “A number of consumers have also said that they choose raw milk because they believe it relieves or eliminates lactose intolerance. To study this claim, Stanford University scientists conducted a study to compare lactose intolerance symptoms in people given raw milk with those given pasteurized milk (the study was “blinded” so the participants did not know which one they were drinking). The authors concluded “Claims that raw milk is well-tolerated by lactose intolerant individuals, as examined in this study, are unsupported and misleading for individuals with true lactose malabsorption.” A 2010 study conducted by Stanford University researchers (http://www.marlerclark.com/pdfs/RawMilkPoster14Oct10-1.pdf) explored the effect of raw milk on lactose intolerance symptoms. They concluded, “These results, collected under standardized and controlled conditions, do not support the widespread anecdotal claims by proponents that raw milk has benefits over pasteurized milk regarding the symptoms of lactose intolerance.”

Asthma and other allergic conditions – “Among the various health claims about raw milk, asthma and other allergic conditions are the only diseases that have been studied by scientists. Researchers in Europe suggested that raw milk consumption by children at an early age may have a protective effect against asthma and eczema (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17456213). However, it is not clear if the protection against allergic conditions was due to raw milk consumption, living in a farm environment, or both. The authors still warn that the risk of pathogens in raw milk outweigh its benefits as a food source to prevent allergies. Before trying raw milk in a child with allergies or other conditions, parents should proceed with caution and talk to their pediatrician or health care provider about the possible risks of serious bacterial infection such as E. coli O157:H7.

I think the above information presents a convincing argument. But what about the testimonial or anecdotal ‘evidence’ presented by ‘raw’ milk advocates in support of their claims about the health benefits of ‘raw’ milk is  Can this even be considered ‘evidence?’ But that said, the experience of individuals can’t be wholly discounted. Or maybe there is even psychological or psychosomatic elements at play in individuals claiming to be ‘cured’ or free of the symptoms of allergies, asthma or lactose intolerance. Do they ‘believe’ they have been cured?

Real Raw Milk Facts also discusses testimonials and anecdotes – “Testimonials and anecdotal information can still be helpful in generating “hypotheses” about possible benefits. But until the research is conducted, testimonials are theoretical.” The following is recommended – ‘It is a good idea to be skeptical if something sounds too good to be true (remember, raw milk is still simply milk from an animal).”

Perhaps everyone involved in the debate needs a little skepticism? Perhaps more research is required to produce substantial evidence that ‘raw’ milk does not cure or reduce these ailments or harbour probiotic bacteria.

Listed below is some interesting information from the U.S Food and Drug Administration webpage called – Raw Milk & Pasteurization: Debunking Milk Myths, a not so subtle  ‘jab’ at the ‘raw’ milk advocates and their claims regarding pasteurisation and ‘raw’ milk. The webpage states -

“While pasteurization has helped provide safe, nutrient-rich milk and cheese for over 120 years, some people continue to believe that pasteurization harms milk and that raw milk is a safe healthier alternative.

Here are some common myths and proven facts about milk and pasteurization:

  • Pasteurizing milk DOES NOT cause lactose intolerance and allergic reactions. Both raw milk and pasteurized milk can cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to milk proteins.
  • Raw milk DOES NOT kill dangerous pathogens by itself.
  • Pasteurization DOES NOT reduce milk’s nutritional value.
  • Pasteurization DOES NOT mean that it is safe to leave milk out of the refrigerator for extended time, particularly after it has been opened.
  • Pasteurization DOES kill harmful bacteria.
  • Pasteurization DOES save lives.”

I am hoping to examine the evidence put forward from both sides in this debate, and I would like to explore some of the scientific evidence refuting (and perhaps in support) of these claims.

Following on from my post – Experts & Expertise – continued I wanted to post on an article I read early in my research on the ‘raw’ milk debate / controversy. The article, Those Pathogens, What You Should Know was written by by Ted Beals, MD and is on the pro-‘raw’ milk advocacy website http://www.realmilk.com an interesting example of information presented by individuals that could be perceived to be experts interlaced with personal and biased opinion . The article discusses food-borne pathogenic bacteria (with some poorly written and erroneous scientific information. e.g. the statement ‘Campylobacter jejuni grows only inside living animal cells’ is incorrect. C. jejuni can multiply outside living cells – I studied Campylobacter for my Masters research, but I am not proclaiming to be an expert or know everything there is to know about Campylobacter), an analysis of risk (inducting conducting his own calculations and analysis of statistics) and commentary on the perpetration of myths and failings of government agencies in relation to bacterial and epidemiological knowledge and analysis. A list of references is included at the end of the article, however there is no in text referencing so a reader does not know the sources of the information quoted. The most interesting part of the article is the biography of the author -

“Ted Beals, MS, MD, is a physician and board certified pathologist, who served on the faculty of University of Michigan Medical School. He is now retired after 31 years of clinical and administrative service in the Veterans Health Administration. A pathologist with personal interest in dairy testing and safety of milk, he has been presenting testimony on dairy safety in North America for the last several years. Ted and his wife Peggy, as cow shareholders, have enhanced their diet with over 600 gallons of their own fresh unprocessed milk.”

Based on the information in the biography, the author does not appear to be either an expert in epidemiology, statistics or bacteriology. The author however, has a personal interest in dairy testing and safety, consumes ‘raw’ milk and has testified on food safety.

The article, although presenting scientific information, also contains personal opinion, bias and a clear pr0-‘raw’ milk message. Is this article, written by someone who could be perceived as an ‘expert’ or someone qualified to comment on scientific information (due to being a medical doctor), presented as ‘scientific’ justification for discrediting government information about consuming ‘raw’ milk, risks involved and encouragement to consume ‘raw’ milk? Are the medical qualifications of the author being used to add gravitas and plausibility to pro-‘raw’ milk arguments?

Following on from my post Experts, Expertise and the ‘Raw’ Milk Debate, I wish to discuss in depth experts and expertise in relation to the ‘raw’ milk. In class we learnt that ‘experts’ are individuals widely recognised as being knowledgable on a particular topic. Expertise is the knowledge held by ‘experts’. But as we discussed in class, expertise ideally is not that of a single ‘expert’ but rather that of a collective – many different people with different experience and knowledge working together.

Two things struck me about our in class discussion these were -

  • Expert (and expertise) is conferred (either by others or self-appointed)
  • There is a relationship between knowledge, truth, beliefs and their relevance to each other

And these two points are very relevant to controversial topics. When you look at experts in this way it seems to instantly call into question the nature of expertise and ‘knowing lots about a particular subject matter.’ If someone is a self-appointed ‘expert’ does that then leave room for personal opinion and perspectives to come into play?  And do ‘experts’ have their own agendas they are pushing? How does truth (or non-truths) and beliefs then influence how ‘experts’ communicate about these controversial issues?

I find it interesting that within the context of a topic that has a certain level of controversy or debate around it, there seems to be heightened levels of skepticism and conspiracy theorist thinking. Why is that? Is it because of doubt over the evidence presented by these so called ‘experts?’ Is is due to doubt over their expertise? Or is adherence with and the following of a certain ideology that encourages mistrust and conspiracy theories?

I have many questions……. but I’m not sure I can answer them all.

 

 

 

While reading and researching material for this blogging project on the ‘raw’ milk debate / controversy I have been trying to formulate some thoughts on why this controversy has arisen. I have yet to come up with a succinct answer/s, but I have a few questions that may be influencing and ‘adding fuel to the controversy fire’ -

  • The language (in the style of the deficit model of communication – assuming the public knows nothing and organisations inform the public in authoritative ways and don’t take into account the experiences and knowledge of individuals) in which public health agencies, government departments and scientists state the dangers of consuming ‘raw’ milk, risks involved in consuming ‘raw’ milk and food-borne illness associated with ‘raw’ milk
  • Do members of the public just want to know ‘what is the risk of getting sick if I drink some raw milk?’ and do public health agencies etc clearly present this type of information?
  • Does this language create a negative reaction in members of the public wanting to know more about ‘raw’ milk and spurs them to look elsewhere (other internet sources) for information? And stumble upon webpages and information on the pro-‘raw’ milk side of the debate?
  • Do the numerous webpages and blogs of pro-‘raw’ milk supporters, advocates, lobby groups, charities and organisations capture more readers (due to their high numbers, prominence in google searches, use of everyday language etc)?
  • Do the social issues (government control, conspiracy theories, support for raw, wholesome and natural foods, and support for local farmers) ‘hook’ readers in?
  •  Is the desire in ‘raw’ milk consumers to live healthier lives and help alleviate allergy and asthma symptoms override potential risks of contracting a food-borne infection?

I will continue mulling over these questions and perhaps I can use this for the essay assignment I have to write on my chosen controversy.

A selection of hyperlinks to webpages, fact sheets and documents on ‘raw’ milk produced by public health agencies, food safety agencies and government departments from Australia, the USA and the UK -

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