by Nadine Ijaz
It is healthy that we are seeing some vigorous conversation about raw milk safety this week. In an earlier post, I responded to some inaccurate depictions of my work on this front. The discussion continues across social media, with the twitterverse circulating a position paper to reproduce some of the raw milk science myths which I debunked in my recent presentation to the BC Centre for Disease Control here in Canada. That position paper gives some historical context for pasteurization, cites some accurate evidence, and describes one family’s story of raw milk induced illness; it also makes some important errors. While one is entitled to express an opinion online, it is important to differentiate what is scientific evidence.
Of course it is terribly unfortunate that a beautiful young child would and did become severely ill from consuming unpasteurized milk contaminated with E. coli 0157 as the paper’s author reports; and I feel certain that raw milk producers and consumers would agree that it is regrettable. One would certainly wish Ms. McGonigle-Martin, her son Chris, and their entire family well; and wish to do the utmost to prevent any such future occurrence. These stories are absolutely worth telling, to honour the family’s experience.
Regardless, as single case reports, such undeniably tragic accounts cannot be considered a good example of scientific evidence to back up laws prohibiting raw milk access. In fact, raw milk consumers get frequently criticized for sharing ‘anecdotal’ stories as to how they may have personally benefited from consuming raw milk. Please: let us use consistent, high-quality standards of evidence to discuss these issues in a more balanced way.
On the basis of my extensive review of the peer-reviewed literature, I disagree with the post writer’s premise that raw milk is a high-risk food in industrialized nations today. However, I do agree that ‘people need to be properly informed’; which is why we urgently need a more scientific approach to raw milk risk assessment on the continent.
An important, evidenced approach to preventing foodborne illness is to use scientifically-grounded risk mitigation practices. Indeed, peer-reviewed scientists have proposed unpasteurized milk testing as an important 21st century mitigator of such a rare event as the McGonigle-Martin family regrettably experienced. Keeping raw milk in the underground, as it is universally here in Canada, can make it difficult (if not personally dangerous, given the very real threat of a jail sentence) for raw milk farmers to seek out appropriate regular milk pathogen testing. Perhaps a similar case of children becoming severely ill in BC (Canada) twelve years ago from E. coli 0157 in raw goat milk might have been prevented, had such safeguards been in place.