I have survived the AVMA raw milk symposium and, more importantly, survived the flying with a seven-month-old baby. Seattle is as wonderful as I remember it and even provided us with two clear, sunny days while we were there.
I may post an analysis on the Ethicurean but until then, I thought I would add here that it was great to meet the food safety professionals who did speak to me. I had lunch with raw milk blogger David Gumpert, California food safety advocates Michele Jay-Russell and Michael Payne, Maryland State Public Health Veterinarian Katherine Feldman, and Claudia Coles from the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Also in attendance at the symposium and at our lunch table was Mary McGonigle-Martin, mother of Chris Martin, a child sickened in the 2006 California E. coli outbreak linked to a raw dairy. (Mary and her son Chris are pictured at right.) We had a fun and energetic discussion at lunch that involved a tennis match of sorts between David Gumpert and Michael Payne. I may be an odd duck but I agreed part of the time with Payne and part of the time with Gumpert. Coles showed us some photos from Washington raw milk dairies and described how dairy practices could be improved to increase raw milk safety.
In my own talk I presented results of the raw milk advocate survey that described views of raw milk advocates. I include the slides and the abstract below the jump. My basic argument is that consumers should have open access to raw milk but that they should also be informed about their choice. “Free choice” of raw milk cannot be made in the presence of misinformation. As I write on the Ethicurean, there is some incorrect information about raw milk that is impeding consumer choice. In that context, I described some of the views held by raw milk consumers during my talk. The audience laughed that “flavor” is one of the reasons for consuming raw milk. A previous speaker had mentioned that they only way they could replicate the flavor of raw milk in a taste test was to add fecal matter to pasteurized milk. When I mentioned “flavor” as a reason, the audience laughed. I said, “Hey, I like the taste.” They laughed at a number of other views as well. I was not particularly surprised. A previous speaker called raw milk consumers “stupid.” One veterinarian interrupted my talk to say, “How can educated people believe this? This is gibberish.”
They would really laugh at some of the things on this blog or in my lifestyle. I do not have a television. I am sure that makes me nutty but it also saves me a lot of time. If I had less time, I might not have the time to hang my sheets on the clothesline and to admire their beauty as they sway in the wind with the Sierra behind them. If I had a TV I also might not have time to heat my food in a skillet or oven and instead heat it in a microwave. That would be a shame but not because I think using a microwave is going to radiate me but because I think it is a good way to ruin the texture of the good food that I do eat. I have my own laying hens and love the flavor of their eggs even though they take more time and money to maintain. Besides, who would babysit Frederick if not for these hens?
Some of us just live in a different world.
Ironically, it was food injury attorney Bill Marler who defended alternative lifestyle choices at the meeting (pictured at right with the very tired Alastair). Recently, commenters on his blog have accused him of being in the pocket of “big ag.” In the symposium, he did imply that he would sue raw milk advocacy group the Weston A. Price Foundation over providing false product safety information to consumers, he also took the heckling group to task on their behavior during my presentation. He asked them how they could expect to understand raw milk consumers if they laugh at them and call them stupid.
A number of people were apologetic to me at the end of the day, apologizing for the behavior of their colleagues. I really didn’t take offense and I was touched that many were so concerned that I was offended. Actually, I would not expect everyone to understand the sheets on the clothesline either. Not everyone has the luxury of sheets dried in fresh mountain air.
Added for clarification:
“he also took the heckling group to task on their behavior during my presentation.”
The whole group didn’t heckle. Most were great. A good number did laugh at the survey responses but there was one participant (and non-presenter) who interrupted with questions that could have offended me. The moderator and conference organizer Michele Jay-Russell shut down her comments and apologized. Later, many people apologized to me. Apparently someone took a good guess at what would boost my mood and complimented me on having beautiful skin.
On the presentation:
Abstract: Raw milk advocates cite the regulatory restrictions across the country as impeding the right of consumers to choose raw milk. However, this limitation on consumer behavior would be better defined as an issue of “free access.” “Choice” is a psychological process whereby consumers decide to consume raw milk over some other food product. This paper makes the distinction between “access” and “choice” where “access” is the structural barrier to the purchase of raw milk, structures typically built by government regulators.
A precondition of “free choice” is that consumers can and do process complex information about raw milk in making their decision. Certainly most consumers do not have the scientific background to examine primary literature on raw milk benefits and risks. As in many other complex decisions consumers make every day, consumers turn to opinion leaders to help them make sense of the complex array of information. Using a raw milk survey of 986 U.S. consumers, this paper examines the information flow in the raw milk movement and the information quality and discusses the implications for free choice.
Slides: Technical difficulties. I’ll post them soon.