Dumb and dumber: the raw facts

The choices we make as adults are none of the government’s business ...

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.

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David Leyonhjelm

David Leyonhjelm

has worked in agribusiness for 30 years and is a Senator for NSW representing the Liberal Democrats.
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READER COMMENTS

Mountain man
12/01/2015 5:08:42 AM

The FDA does not mention raw milk on the top 10 most risky foods in America list. "Pasteurise ice cream and pasteurised cheeses make the top 10 risky foods list… According to the Cornell study performed on CDC (Centre for disease control) data, there were 1100 illnesses caused by raw milk between 1973 and 2009 in America. There were 422,000 illnesses caused by pasteurised milk during the same period. No deaths from raw milk and at least 50 deaths from pasteurised milk or pasteurised cheese---the CDC left out the 29 or more people that died from the pasteurised Jalisco cheese listeria incident
Mountain man
12/01/2015 5:10:53 AM

pasteurising milk destroys enzymes, diminishes vitamins, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys vitamin B12 and vitamin B6, kills beneficial bacteria and actually promotes pathogens. Europeans can actually buy raw milk and dairy products from vending machines in countries such as France, Croatia, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands and the bodies are not piling up as some would believe. In Australia our cows are primarily grass fed so we have some of the healthiest milk in the world. Properly regulated and tested raw milk sales could be another huge boost to dairy farmers .
nswnotill
12/01/2015 5:17:01 AM

There are some reasonable arguments in this piece, with which most of us will agree. Pity the same thing cannot be said about David's policy on guns.
Bushie Bill
12/01/2015 5:20:26 AM

David speaks a great deal of sense, common and otherwise, (as he usually does) but he overlooks a fundamental vital point: the milk consumed by the unfortunate child (presumably at either the approval or direction oh his parents) was not approved or sold for human consumption.
Helen Clark
12/01/2015 5:46:13 AM

Having drunk raw milk for many years I can state I am still alive but then we were meticulously clean with our milking and milk was not kept longer than two days because it went off. Perhaps the real problem is that people do not understand that Raw milk does not contain additives and isn't treated to be kept for long periods. On the farm we milk once or twice a day so the milk is kept for very short periods of time.
Hedgehog
12/01/2015 5:50:47 AM

Is consuming raw milk really so stupid or is it lack of regulations that will allow the milk to be checked and able to be safely consumed? Put your head in the sand, call it bath milk, play silly games but people are still going to consume it after experiencing problems with "safe" milk. After all farmers have drank their own milk for years; long before the factorys started to mess around with this natural product.
Deregul8
12/01/2015 6:04:39 AM

Govt just can't help itself. Grandma and pappy and the 7 kids grew up just fine and dandy on raw milk. Another example of bureaucracy gone mad. Thank god David is a voice of common sense.
love the country
12/01/2015 6:21:23 AM

Hell, it's a miracle I am alive ! I was brought up on raw milk, and what's worse, farm killed meat. Just how we have made it know one knows, it must be the bugs in both ! I am nearly 70, rarely been sick, so it's working ok for me.
Bushie Bill
12/01/2015 6:25:05 AM

Given the brain-dead response from many posters, what hope is there for rational thought in most of RARA? Why is it so hard to get a RARA to actually think?
Gypsys End Farm
12/01/2015 6:32:19 AM

"Indeed, there would be far fewer cases of food poisoning, which can be fatal, if organic food was abandoned and more food irradiated. " - Can David please produce his scientific proof that the majority of food poisoning cases come from consuming organic food over "Conventionally" produced foods- and can he also acknowledge the multiple scientific papers that now have proven the higher nutritional value of some organic produced foods- and those showing the negative effects on health on accumulative assimilation of chemicals and pesticides in childrens' health.
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Agribuzz with David LeyonhjelmCommentary, news and analysis with agribusiness consultant David Leyonhjelm. Email David at reclaimfreedom@gmail.com

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