By Margo McIntosh:
“On April 22, 2014, the University of Guelph held a Science To Policy Symposium with raw milk as the case study. Approximately 90 people attended. As far as could be determined 90% of these people were from Public Health, CFIA and interested scientists.
The other 10% were raw milk advocates and supporters. For a list of the presenters and other information about the symposium, go to this link http://ennect.com/e2340. Before you read this you might want to read the bios of these speakers.
Since I will be adding my own comments to the sections related to what each speaker said, I will bold type my comments within the areas designated to each speaker so that you know this was not something the speaker said or alluded to but is my interpretation of what was said or my opinion. You can assume the other paragraphs are my own unless I quote someone specifically. I am doing this in order to be clear and to avoid misunderstandings by those of you who were not able to attend or listen in. Not a perfect science obviously but simply my attempt at being transparent in this report.
I am writing this report for the raw milk consumers and will not go through all the data presented although I will go into some. There was a lot of the usual statistics and risk talk that we are very used to hearing from Public Health. I will not talk about all the charts and figures but rather on the themes and positive, to me at least, aspects of these talks. I was the only person from the Canadian Consumer Raw Milk Advocacy Group in the room so as I write this report, know that these are my interpretations of what happened and not “our” interpretations. Both Dr. Chapman and Dr. Lydia Medeiros spoke to consumer perception and I will go into that when I tell you about their presentations, which I thought were awesome by the way, as my interpretation is certainly that of a consumer. I smile as I say this because I realize I could be a poster child for their definition of a raw milk consumer’s profile. :0) Both these doctors did an excellent job of explaining to the scholars in the room where they are going wrong with us in terms of their messaging. I’m sure there will be a lot of discussion about the day by others with similar or different opinions. I’m not a scientist but I know that the scientists who are raw milk or freedom of choice supporters were either in the room or on the webinar. There was some talk of the University doing a written report on the day that might include the slides from the presenters and it sounded like that would happen. I think that the sponsors of this day were as surprised as we were at how well it went. As Michael Schmidt has said many times, we all want the same thing and we just need to talk honestly to come to a common ground that can satisfy everyone.
Before I get into the story about the day, a very interesting dynamic happened within that room. We were asked some specific questions at the beginning of the day and were given little clickers to answer these questions so that they showed up on graphs on the screen in front of us. An amazing thing happened. The first question was if we believed that consumers should have the right to choose raw milk. Then at the end of the day that question was asked again only this time it was worded something like this “after the conversations today, are you more likely to agree that consumers should have the right to choose this food”. The wording was different and unfortunately I didn’t think to write it down but that was the main drift. At the end of the day the graph for yes was MUCH higher than it had been at the beginning of the day. Now remember I just told you that it was estimated that 90% of the people in that room were on what we consider to be the other side. So my question is, did the results of the talks at the symposium sway a few more people towards at least acknowledging that the evidence isn’t quite there to support this food being prohibited completely?
When Lance Schultz came to me to see if I could get he and his friend Dennis Curtis an appointment to speak to Michael Schmidt, I was excited at the prospect of a symposium such as this. They cautioned me that they had to get this past the ethics board and there was no guarantee the proposal would fly with the University. Well they managed to pull this off and we are very grateful to them. I thanked in person Art Hill, one of the professors who helped to organize this as well. His support of this symposium was needed or it would never have happened. An open discussion about raw milk has been sorely needed and without these people of vision it would never have happened.
I have to admit that many of us on the raw milk advocacy side were skeptical that anything good could come of this day. There were those with conspiracy theories about a number of things regarding how the questions would be allowed and the speakers invited being weighted against us. I did my best to stay as positive about it as I could be and as it turned out, the day was better than any of us could have hoped. There was respect and due consideration given to what each of the speakers said from both sides of this debate. Never before has there been this chance for open dialogue with people who can influence policy making in this country when it comes to raw milk. Well perhaps that is not completely true. Back in the early 1990’s when the federal law prohibiting raw milk was passed, there were meetings with various stakeholders and consumers demanding that law be enacted. Dr. Farber told us that, at that time, the farmers didn’t organize well so they had no real say in whether that law was passed or not. Yes I do understand that the University doesn’t develop policy but they do provide information that informs policy makers so in that way they play a large role. All the speakers, even those whose viewpoint is at opposition to ours, were open, honest, respectful and thoughtful in their presentations and interactions.
As advancements in science change from year to year, so do opinions on various things. As we develop better on farm tools, protocols and procedures, we are better able to mitigate risk. At the symposium a number of the speakers talked about statistics and mitigating risk. It was mentioned that prohibition has never worked for anything (including alcohol and marijuana) and is not working for raw milk. The underground market for raw milk is strong and growing. So then, what to do? That question is still to be answered but the lines of communication are at least open and we have a few more ideas about what we need to do to help this along.
One thing I need to point out is that the DFO (Dairy Farmers of Ontario) were invited and they chose to not attend. The DFO is a stakeholder in the raw milk debate. It was telling that they chose not to show up. The only speaker to address this was Dr. Sylvain Charlebois so I will talk about his presentation first….”