“During the raw milk debate at Harvard Law School last Thursday, I criticized our opponents for their failure to present data, as in real understandable numbers.
I had gone to the trouble of analyzing data from official statistics provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control–supposedly the gold standard of foodborne illness data. (Some of what I presented was CDC data extracted by the MarlerClark firm, certainly no friend of raw milk.) I found that, over the last decade, between 25 and 175 individuals have been reported ill each year from raw milk. Moreover, I found that the number of illnesses is generally in the vicinity of .5% of the total number of 23,000-25,000 foodborne illnesses reported each year. That’s a very small percentage, given that 3% of the population has been found, by the CDC, to be drinking raw milk.
Why wouldn’t the opponents comment on the numbers I had compiled from CDC data, or present numbers of their own? For a very good reason. The numbers suggest that because raw milk contributes such a miniscule proportion of all reported foodborne illnesses, it’s nothing approaching a significant public health problem.
So what do you do if it gets embarrassing to ignore the numbers? If you’re a good bureaucratic number cruncher, you raise a lot of dust and say, “He went thataway!” In other words, you distort and distract, you do anything to avoid discussing the truth.
That is what the CDC did yesterday in publishing a study assessing illnesses from raw and pasteurized dairy over the 14 years of 1993-2006. “Nonpasteurized products caused a disproportionate number (≈150× greater/unit of product consumed) of outbreaks and outbreak-associated illnesses,” it concluded in its abstract.
I would be content to ignore these ideologues, except the major media pick up on such pronouncements, coming as they do from the august CDC, the place where all things concerning the science of health are validated. Here’s how USA Today led off its article on the study: “Unpasteurized milk, touted as the ultimate health food by some, is 150 times more likely to cause food-borne illness outbreaks than pasteurized milk…”…”