IT SEEMS astonishing that people choose to reject the very science that can save their lives, especially when it is to such tragic effect as the recent death of a toddler from consuming unpasteurised cow’s milk.
This must surely qualify as a classic illustration of evolution in action, as - without wishing to sound callous - the tragedy has clearly had an adverse effect on the reproductive effects of the poor child’s parents.
With the advent of new regulations in Victoria following this incident, the key question which now arises for regulators is: to what extent should people who make such poor choices be protected from themselves?
“Consuming raw milk comes near the top of the stupidity scale”
People holding the views which I expect are also held by the child’s parents are not unusual. Many are convinced, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that nature is benevolent and man’s intervention is inherently bad. They abhor modern agriculture with its pesticides, fertilisers and disinfectants. Technology like vaccines and fluoridation are viewed with suspicion, while organic food and remedies such as homeopathy are embraced.
Science obviously conflicts with such weak-mindedness. Pesticides save us from fungal, insect and nematode contamination of our food, which can make us sick. Together with fertilisers they also lower the cost of producing the food, so we are less likely to suffer illness due to nutritional deficiencies.
Relevant to the child who died is the fact that bacteria, which occur naturally just like arsenic, can be extremely dangerous. Controlling them through disinfection, whether by chemicals or pasteurisation, helps more of us to live longer. Indeed, there would be far fewer cases of food poisoning, which can be fatal, if organic food was abandoned and more food irradiated.
Consuming raw milk comes near the top of the stupidity scale as an example of ignoring evidence-based scientific processes. Organisms including campylobacter, leptospira, salmonella, cryptosporidia, E-coli and listeria - any one of which is capable of doing you in - are commonly present in milk despite tuberculosis and brucellosis no longer being a concern. Unless the milk is consumed the moment it leaves the cow, these bugs can multiply very quickly to create a veritable bacterial soup within a matter of hours.
Yet through either a lack of (readily available) information or a wilful decision to ignore it, some people still choose to flaunt science and tempt fate by drinking raw milk, eschewing vaccination and opting for ‘memory water’ over antibiotics.
But should we care if they do?
“The choices we make as adults are none of the government’s business so long as we don’t inflict the consequences on others”
The Darwin effect reigns in some countries, particularly France, and there are quite a few European countries as well as many states of America that allow the sale of raw milk products under certain conditions. The main demand is for the production of particular types of cheese, which advocates say tastes better than cheese made from pasteurised milk. But some drink it amid claims it has health benefits that are lacking in pasteurised milk. The US Food and Drug Administration disputes this.
Of course, those who reject science also tend to reject statistics. Thus when someone consumes raw milk over many years without adverse effects, this is used as proof that it is harmless. Even when someone dies under their nose, it is common for them to deny the cause.
I am among those who believe the choices we make as adults are none of the government’s business so long as we don’t inflict the consequences on others. That includes choices that, by objective standards, are unwise, such as smoking, playing dangerous sports, taking drugs and consuming raw milk.
There may be an argument for the government to warn us of the dangers, but in the end it should not seek to protect us from our poor choices. That is the role of our parents.
But what should the government do when the consequences of poor choices are inflicted on children? While we might agree that parents should be ultimately responsible for the welfare of their children, is it acceptable to allow children to die because their parents make ill-advised decisions? Fairly obviously, the answer is no, especially when government intervention does not seriously infringe other rights. An obvious option – which our regulators had already chosen – would be compelling those who sell raw milk to clearly label it as not suitable for human consumption, for example.
We do not need to allow children to die to be sure that the weak-minded shall not inherit the earth. But we also can’t regulate to enforce common sense – as Forrest Gump would say, stupid is as stupid does, and evolution will surely prevail.