Thanks to Raoul Bedi, BASc, for writing up these detailed summaries of the proceedings from the April 6th “Fresh Milk Food Politics” event in Vancouver.
I – Introduction:
In Part 1 of this report about the recent “Fresh Milk Food Politics” Vancouver 2013 conference (www.freshmilkfoodpolitics.com ), we saw how numerous individuals and organizations, in the Raw Milk and Food Security movement, are independently displaying leadership, vision, and excellence in their work and activism. And that by collaborating together somehow the resultant synergy is exponentially more powerful, productive and effective.
We even used the term “heroic” to describe some of these individuals and their accomplishments. What do we mean by the term “heroic” and how might a better understanding of it apply to the topic of “Science and Fresh Milk”? Why would it be useful to look at that?
Many of us now realize that the crisis of Food Security and farming points to a larger systemic crisis in North American society. Former “Home on the Range“ raw dairy farmer agister Alice Jongerden (http://store.homeontherangefarms.com ) navigated us through some of the symptoms of that crisis in her morning lecture : the 40% loss of small dairy farmers in BC over the past decade , and the overall aging of the average farmer. There is an increasing lack of interest of the farmers’ offspring to take over the farm from “mom and dad”. In reality, it is also a crisis of politics and marketing boards, food and farming, economics and law, and science and health.
Why can’t we also experience “Heroism and Synergy” in the execution of the over-riding systems managing our shared food supply? Sometimes we can find solutions to these macrocosmic challenges just by looking and working more effectively at the local level. Or by looking at the lives of successful people and leaders in the field. If you look at the distinguished speakers, professionals and activists at the conference one can note several interesting things. 1. They are competent in multiple fields of endeavour apart from their official “job” or money-making profession. 2. They strive for excellence in whatever they do and are willing to do whatever it takes. 3. They work all hours on their vision and seven days a week if necessary. 4. They work for reduced pay or no pay, at times, if that is what is required to complete their chosen task. 5. They truly desire the best for their community and put the community’s health, benefit and goals above their own short term benefit or survival. 5. To put it another way , ethics and truth trumps profit , power and prestige at all times.
While scientific reductionism and huge corporate profit-making machines have brought us many incredible advances in terms of living standards in the 20th century, some of its inherent and unseen “compromises” have come back to haunt us. In short “we have hit a wall“.
II – The Birth of an Ethical Science
Using a similar approach we could also analyse reductionistic science’s contribution, and see where it has brought us forward and backward in different areas of the issue of Raw Milk safety, Food Security, Nutrition and Health. Before reporting on the precise and information-packed contents of Independent Health Researcher Nadine Ijaz’s lecture, it is instructive to review some of the underlying factors .
Nadine needed to display exceptional vision and leadership in a number of ways leading up to her landmark study that no one previously in Public Health or Science in Canada, at least, was capable of displaying. As respected farmer, agister and Raw Milk pioneer Michael Schmidt (www.glencoltonfarms.com) commented, ”It is remarkable to see the research that has been tied together by Nadine. Nadine’s kind and quality of research has been needed for years. But the majority of (lawmakers and public health officials) still do not want to hear about it! “
“We need to always be cautious and find out who is doing the funding of the scientific research in question. Who is analyzing the data? If science, or the way science is presented to the public at large, always had integrity, it would look like Nadine Ijaz’s approach” – Mark McAfee, California farmer agister of North America’s largest legal Raw Dairy (www.organicpastures.com ) .
What was so fundamentally different about Nadine Ijaz’s approach? She began with the strong background of a multidisciplinary and integrative approach to food, health and farming issues. Thus when she was not able to get answers from conventional Food Safety or Dairy science she knew when and where to start looking elsewhere for answers. As Nadine commented to me, “Typically scientists and Food Safety experts speak only in their own field of training because everything is so specialized. But for this raw milk issue, I have had to research across many fields of science” to finally understand it .This “kind of holistic integrative work in science – (is something) we all need urgently”.
It is also apparent that Ms.Ijaz has a keen intellect combined with a strong service motivation to further the work of raw milk accessibility and Food Security for the greater community good. In her presentation Nadine skillfully ‘downloaded’ and shared ,with a captive audience, 6 months (or really 10 years?) of her painstaking lifework and research on “Raw Milk Science and Safety” in all of around 45 minutes. To effect this, she also had to simultaneously provide all of us with a crash course on scientific method, reasoning, language and statistical analysis!
In the article “FRESH MILK FOOD POLITICS OVERVIEW” (www.helladelcious.com ), local food blogger and activist Hella D. writes,”This (Nadine’s) was a particularly interesting piece as it stirred up a (at times heated) discussion as to the benefits and shortcomings of our modern scientific studies”. I would like to touch briefly here on some of the debates Nadine’s presentation triggered, both publicly in the open forum and privately, at many of the conference tables.
Why would that be? As we know for certain that Mark McAfee, Alice Jongerden and Michael Schmidt and other Cow Share Canada certified farmers desire and succeed at bringing the highest standards of excellence into their raw dairy farming operations.Mark McAfee www.rawmilkinstitute.net cautioned us several times, ”I do not believe you can separate science from the ethics and motivations of the scientist or researcher or funder”. If that ethics is in any way tainted then “BUYER BEWARE”!
In the transition from the traditional winner-take-all “For-profit science” (GM seed titan Monsanto being the worst example), at the expense of the small local farmer (www.percyschmeiser.com ), to a new and more “Co-creational Science,” tone of communication is also very important. In the “Ethical Science“ (as opposed to ‘Corporate Junk Science’) that Nadine is advocating, and assisting in the birthing of, we can and must include respectful and inclusive terms at all times. And if people do not understand scientific lingo we must make the effort to communicate at their level of understanding. The same might even apply to future laws, statutes and regulations. Thus one might also suggest some milder alternative words be used, like “belief,” “assumptions” or “conventions,” instead of the word “Myth,” which may have had certain polarizing connotations, in Nadine’s presentation.
Many of us agree that there is an urgent need for dialogue – but with a quantitative and qualitative difference from what we have seen in the past . And there were, indeed, some hopeful signs of a beginning of a more fruitful stage of dialog (beyond the courtroom). A representative of the BC Dairy council was present at the ‘Fresh Milk Food Politics’ conference as was a polite and respectful individual representing the Vancouver Public Health authority.
Also just because science has not been able to substantiate certain beliefs about raw milk benefits today does not mean it will never be proven tomorrow. Perhaps our current instrumentation for measurement is simply too inadequate or primitive. For example, in Ayurveda, the ancient healing system of India, they talk about the “Prana” (Sanskrit for Life Force) inherent in all living beings. All things being equal as far as nutritional profiles, it could very well later prove that this, as yet, unmeasurable “Prana” in the unpasteurized organic milk is what gives it enhanced healing or therapeutic properties over and above “Dead Milk”. Nadine’s brilliant proposed concept of “synergy”, or working together, of all of the elements in organic raw milk might even be pointing, all or in part, to this understanding.
None of this is to detract from the excellence of Nadine Ijaz’s presentation on Raw Milk safety and health. I foresee her material being in high demand at major Food Safety and Public Health conferences (www.foodsafetycanada.com ), and even public health organizations around North America, for years to come.
I would like to thank Health Researcher Nadine Ijaz for taking the time and sharing with me all her personal notes and slides to put together the technical portion of this report below. Nadine has only reviewed the contents of Section 3, “Evidence in the Raw: Science and the Fresh Milk Controversy“ , below. Please note that for the purposes of her Scientific Paper reviewed below, Independent Health Researcher Nadine Ijaz does not endorse the contents of Section 1 and 2 of this overall review by Raoul Bedi about the Fresh Milk Food Politics (www.freshmilkfoodpolitics.com ) conference.
III – Nadine Ijaz’s Lecture* : “Evidence in the Raw : Science and the Fresh Milk Controversy “
Nadine Ijaz is an independent health researcher and medical herbalist with an MSc degree from the University of Wales. She has been a faculty member teaching clinical phytotherapeutics, nutrition and research methods at Pacific Rim College since 2009; and taught at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition between 2001 and 2012. She was previously staff nutritionist at Inspire Health, one of Canada’s premier integrative cancer care centres. She has been involved in raw milk issues for many years.
Nadine began by emphasizing that the scientific questions around raw milk are simply one component of the larger movement’s concerns (which include food sovereignty and critiques of industrial food production). But, because government and public health bodies place so much emphasis on the scientific aspect, and since they argue for raw milk being a health hazard based on apparently scientific data, we as advocates can foster dialogue through a scientific, evidence-based response. She emphasized that although many of us may rely on our personal experiences and other peoples’ stories in our decision-making, this type of ‘anecdotal’ reporting is not currently considered of value by contemporary scientists.
With a skillful and even hand, and citing dozens of peer-reviewed studies (many of them very recent), Nadine proceeded to debunk scientific myths about raw milk propagated on all sides of the debate. Noting the importance of honest self-critique (rather than political spin) in an objective scientific approach, she began with myths coming from raw milk advocates ourselves.
*Please note that Health Researcher Nadine Ijaz has reviewed only this portion (Section III - “Evidence in the Raw : Science and the Fresh Milk Controversy “ ) of the report, about her lecture at the April 6, 2013 Fresh Milk Food Politics conference (www.freshmilkfoodpolitics.com ), to ensure that we are getting the science right: very important for the credibility of the organic raw milk accessibility and legalization work in Canada. The youtube link for Nadine Ijaz’s April 6, 2013 Fresh Milk Food Politics (www.freshmilkfoodpolitics.com) interview by Kari Simpson (www.WOWmmcorp.com) is http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=yqk9RdAUQoE .
Myth #1: Raw milk is more digestible for people with lactose intolerance.
To the surprise of some in the crowd, Nadine explained that no lactase enzyme necessary for proper lactose digestion is present in freshly drawn milk, and that the amount of this enzyme later produced by non-harmful bacteria (lactobacilli) in refrigerated storage is not sufficient to make much difference for lactose digestion (unlike in some yogurts and cheeses). She referred to a recent clinical trial affirming these facts, noting that there may be other (as yet scientifically unstudied) reasons to explain why so many raw milk drinkers find raw milk more digestible than industrially processed, pasteurized milk. She emphasized a need for scientific researchers to look into these questions further.
Myth #2: Enzymes and beneficial bacteria in raw milk make it more digestible for humans.
Explaining that raw milk’s enzymes may be beneficial for baby calves’ digestion, Nadine found no evidence to support these enzymes helping human digestion. While acknowledging the presence of non-harmful bacteria in raw milk, and noting that they appear to play a part in preventing foodborne illness from ‘bad bugs’, Nadine reported that the most recent research does not yet demonstrate these non-harmful bacteria to be of clear digestive or preventive benefit to people; she promised to return to this point later.
Myth #3: Raw milk is known to prevent cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis and diabetes.
Citing two recent systematic reviews (where researchers look at many studies to see what the overall evidence says), one of which was a meta-analysis, Nadine reported no evidence to prove raw milk’s preventive action on these degenerative conditions. She noted that from a scientific perspective (distinct from subjective personal experience), it is a very serious thing to make a claim of that kind – and that we don’t have the science to support it.
Nadine now turned to three myths often offered by government and public health bodies to support a prohibition on raw milk access.
Myth #4: Raw milk is an unsafe food
She began by noting that raw milk-borne illnesses have changed in recent decades, becoming largely less life-threatening; the primary ‘bad bugs’ responsible for illness from raw milk these days generally cause distressing gastrointestinal symptoms that usually go away after some time. While acknowledging the contribution of pasteurization in reducing raw milk-borne illness, Nadine cited studies showing that other factors (refrigeration, better hygiene, standards, testing) also make a valuable contribution to safety. Supported by a well-referenced Power Point presentation, Nadine referred to three major technical weaknesses in previous scientific attempts to implicate raw milk consumption as severely risky.
Noting that such weaknesses have been largely acknowledged by food safety scientists, Nadine referred to standards set by the United Nations Codex Alimentarius Commission to use microbial risk assessment as a newer, more objective way to study the riskiness of a given food. Reporting that Health Canada is committed to using such scientific methods for food safety questions, Nadine told us about the ‘gold standard’ scientific method in this field: Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (QMRA). QMRA studies
take many factors into account from farm to table, to make complex mathematical estimates of the likelihood of getting sick from consuming a given food. Researchers then rate foods as low, medium or high risk, and recommend ways to reduce risk to consumers.
Nadine noted that three high-quality QMRAs for raw milk have been published just very recently, and invited government and public health officials to examine these studies so we can together discuss their implications. Given that these QMRAs all describe raw milk as a low risk food, and noting that this contradicts many decades of scientific perspectives on raw milk safety, Nadine asked how we can find out if these new QMRA studies are accurate. She reported that Codex Alimentarius recommends comparing QMRA results with real reports of foodborne outbreaks in order to see if the QMRA estimates represent real life accurately.
Nadine announced that she was prepared to discuss the findings of her own recent study (currently in peer review) using U.S. Center for Disease Control data on raw milk borne illness, the results of which largely confirmed QMRA findings on raw milk being a low risk food overall. In particular, she noted that there is no evidence that Listeria is a bad bug of concern in relation to raw milk, given that the combination results of a related QMRA and analysis of outbreak data from all over the industrialized world. It was clear that time constraints prevented Nadine from going into more detail on all of these critical questions, but encouraging to know that this research is available.
She proceeded to debunk a fifth important myth:
Myth #5: Raw milk has no real health benefits.
Describing how the combination of many studies’ results over a number of years contribute to a body of evidence, Nadine pointed to the recent GABRIELA study http://www.mnhlrp.org/images/RawMilkStudy.pdf to confirm previous research showing raw milk as substantially preventive for allergy and asthma in children, independent of other possible contributing factors. While researchers are not certain how these benefits are taking place, Nadine noted that the most recent scientific explanations for raw milk’s preventive benefits involve a synergistic effect between several types of nutrients. She explained how this view is in line with recent advances in nutritional science, where nutrients are no longer viewed as isolated components but rather as contributing to a whole integrated effect on the eater.
Using this perspective, Nadine explained why high-quality research demonstrating that pasteurization has only a small increase or decrease on the amounts of different nutrients (such as vitamins) present in raw milk, cannot be used to conclude that pasteurized milk is nutritionally equivalent to raw milk. After all, in line with the new synergistic understanding of nutritional scientists, even a small increase or reduction in one or more nutrients (such as vitamins) might have a significant effect on the way the whole food behaves when digested. As such, and in line with the most recent scientific understanding, we cannot properly conclude that pasteurization does not change raw milk’s nutritional effects: we just do not yet know.
Nadine turned to the recent PASTURE study which reported that newborn babies whose mothers consumed raw milk in pregnancy had beneficial changes to immunity; and that babies drinking raw milk before their first birthday had positive changes in immune-related gene expression (which were stronger than the same benefits from breastfeeding). Nadine remarked that the most compelling overall science evidencing benefit from raw milk consumption was for pregnant women, babies and young children – all identified as being most vulnerable to the risk of raw milk borne illness.
Myth #6: Industrial milk processing is harmless to health.
She began by explaining the ‘Precautionary Principle‘, a tool used internationally in recent decades to protect people from potentially harmful effects of technologies that have not been adequately studied. Noting that various Canadian laws use the Precautionary Principle explicitly, Nadine commented that even the current evidence on raw milk’s potential (low) risk of causing foodborne illness, can be fairly used to make a ‘precautionary’ argument by those who don’t wish to consume raw milk on that basis. She then proceeded to present evidence for a precautionary position on three more aspects of modern milk production: homogenization, vitamin D-3 fortification, and contemporary feeding methods.
Homogenization, which uses high pressure to permanently blend in milk’s butterfat (so its lovely cream-line is gone forever), has never been done for nutritional reasons but rather for industrial convenience; where most commercial milk today is homogenized. Although Nadine acknowledged no evidence to demonstrate yet any harmful health impacts for homogenization, researchers also acknowledge that homogenization represents a major restructuring of milk’s fat globule membrane and protein organization. While we do not yet know for certain how these changes may or may not affect human health, several researchers continue to examine these questions, including how it may relate to the loss of raw milk’s beneficial effect on allergy and asthma prevention. As such, and given that homogenization does not appear to nutritionally improve milk, it is scientifically reasonable to avoid non-homogenized milk until more evidence is available. Raw, farm fresh milk is non-homogenized.
All Canadian milk sold in stores must legally be fortified with vitamin D-3. The reduction in sunlight exposure (which causes us to make our own vitamin D), and the many resulting health problems since the industrial revolution (when people began spending more time indoors), account for today’s recommendations to fortify milk with vitamin D as a public health strategy. Nadine cited research discussing the differences between the synthetic vitamin D-3 that fortifies Canadian milk, and the vitamin D that we make ourselves after sun exposure. She then referred to studies describing how little scientists actually know about how much vitamin D children may make themselves, or the right dose and timing of synthetic vitamin D-3 for a beneficial effect on children. Nadine pointed to very recent (2013) studies on vitamin D-3 and preschool children, in which researchers suggest we may be giving them more than they need; and that giving them synthetic Vitamin D-3 through milk appears to lower their iron (ferritin) levels: a potential harm! Seeing as how we are just finding out the effects of D-3 supplementation, and that the effects on little people may not be entirely beneficial, a precautionary approach to (avoid) vitamin D-3 fortified milk for children (and instead emphasize some outdoor playtime) is scientifically reasonable. Notably, the only people in Canada who can legally access milk not fortified with vitamin D-3 at this time, are dairy farmers.
Nadine finally turned to contemporary feeding practices, discussing briefly some evidence demonstrating the nutritional distinctness of milk from cows grazed on pasture (rather than fed primarily silage, grain and soy). In particular, pastured cows’ milk is higher in two types of fatty acids (omega-3 and conjugated linoleic acid) which may play a part in the allergy/asthma effect. Herdshare arrangements are one reliable way for consumers to know what types of nutrients their milk is likely to contain.
Nadine pulled her research together by emphasizing that the scientific perspectives she had presented were not intended to argue that everyone should drink raw milk, that all pregnant women should seek out raw farm milk, nor that all parents should give their babies and children raw milk! Rather, hers is a scientific position to demonstrate two points, and I quote from her Power Point (with permission of Nadine Ijaz):
“A. It is scientifically reasonable for people, especially pregnant women and parents of young children, to choose raw milk over industrially processed milk; and
B. It is not scientifically justifiable to prohibit people, especially pregnant women and parents of young children, from accessing an important food which can effectively prevent allergy and asthma“.
She concluded this detailed and thought-provoking presentation by inviting dialogue between raw milk advocates, government and public health bodies; and by inviting all parties to renew their commitment to accurate information. This, she proposed, could help lead to a food system where people seeking distinct kinds of food (local, farm fresh and/or industrially produced) might more peacefully and equitably co-exist in this country.
About the Writer: Raoul Bedi is a founding member of CCRMAG –The Canadian Consumer Raw Milk Advocacy Group www.rawmilkconsumer.ca. . He has worked in the field of educational seminars and products with a focus on Nutrition and Health for 25 years. Over the past 5 years he has been actively involved in educational and fundraising initiatives and campaigns for Farmer’s Rights and Food Security in Canada and the US. He is also an administrator for the “Support Michael Schmidt!” and “Canadian Raw Dairy Consumer Advocacy“ Facebook research and blog pages. Raoul can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org .His company, Vedic Harmony Centre, sponsors a variety of Health and Wellness events, radio interviews about Conscious Living and Green Solutions. Vedic Harmony Centre’s website for educational materials and products is www.biofield.ca.