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About choice

03.dec.06, Douglas Powell and Brae Surgeoner, Commentary from the Food Safety Network

Poop happens, especially in a barn, and when it does people, usually kids, will get sick. That's why drinking water is chlorinated and milk is pasteurized.

03.dec.06, Douglas Powell and Brae Surgeoner, Commentary from the Food Safety Network
Michael Schmidt, Ontario’s raw milk lord along with his evangelical disciples, maintain that their crusade is about choice.
Choice is a Good Thing.
But the 19th century English utilitarian philosopher, John Stuart Mill, noted that absolute choice has limits, stating, "if it [in this case the consumption of raw unpasteurized milk] only directly affects the person undertaking the action, then society has no right to intervene, even if it feels the actor is harming himself." Excused from Mill’s libertarian principle are those people who are incapable of self-government – children.
In September, two children who drank raw milk from a Whatcom County dairy in Washington State became ill with E. coli O157:H7. At the same time, four children, including two eight-year-olds in San Diego County, Calif., were hospitalized with E. coli infection after consuming raw milk products.
In December 2005, 18 people in Washington and Oregon, including six children, were infected with E. coli O157:H7 after drinking an unlicensed dairy's raw milk. Two of the kids almost died.
In April 2005, four cases of E. coli linked to unpasteurized milk were reported to Ontario health officials -- in this case, from an individual who routinely sold raw milk from the back of a vehicle parked in the city of Barrie. Dozens of other outbreaks are listed at: http://www.foodsafety.ksu.edu/en/article-details.php?a=2&c=6&sc=35&id=384
Ontario finance minister Greg Sorbara can obliviously insist that "raw milk is safely distributed in parts of the United States and Europe" but politicians are expected to spin facts.
So are lobbyists. Thus it was that the Toronto contact for an organization strongly advocating raw milk successfully passed himself off in the National Post this morning as a food safety researcher.
Schmidt, celebrity chefs and the wannabe fashionable can devoutly state that grass fed cattle is safer than grain-fed by spinning select scientific data, except cattle raised on diets of grass, hay and other fibrous forage do contain E. coli O157:H7 bacteria in their feces as well as salmonella, campylobacter and others.
Poop happens, especially in a barn, and when it does people, usually kids, will get sick. That's why drinking water is chlorinated and milk is pasteurized.
From Kansas, this looks like an awfully familiar clash of science and faith. But it's not so simple as natural is good, and science -- in this case pasteurization -- is bad. Science can be used to enhance what nature provided; further, society has a responsibility to the many -- philosopher Mill also articulated how the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the one -- to use knowledge to minimize harm.
There are lots of other foods that make people sick. On the one-year anniversary of the Ontario salmonella-in-sprouts outbreak that sickened 650 people, raw sprouts are widely available and no one seems to notice. After being banned for three weeks, raw mung bean sprouts were back on grocery store shelves and being placed ever so gingerly on gourmet, supposedly healthy sandwiches.
This fall, it was spinach, lettuce and tomatoes sickening hundreds across North America. So why aren't Ontario government-types, who treat an outwardly eco-friendly and holistic health product like raw milk as a major biohazard, setting their sights on fresh produce?
Part of the answer is that the risks associated with fresh produce have only been recognized in the past decade; the risks associated with raw milk have been recognized for over a century. Further, unlike fresh produce, there is a relatively simple and benign solution for producing safe milk: pasteurization.
And perhaps that is why health officials are adamant that a ban stay in place: there simply isn't the resources to manage all the microbial food safety outbreaks that strike down 11-13 million Canadians each year, let alone someone proselytizing the virtues of raw milk while flaunting the law.
The only things lacking in pasteurized milk are the bacteria that make people - especially kids - seriously ill. Adults, do whatever you think works to ensure a natural and healthy lifestyle, but please don't impose your dietary regimes on those incapable of protecting themselves … your kids.

Dr. Douglas Powell is scientific director of the Food Safety Network at Kansas State University and Brae Surgeoner is a research assistant at the University of Guelph.
dpowell@ksu.edu
785-317-0560 (cell)
www.foodsafety.ksu.edu