One of the benefits to emerge from the trauma of the Michigan “sting” of October 2006–when Richard Hebron was stopped, his raw-milk products confiscated, and his home searched–was an activist community of raw-milk consumers.
Hundreds wrote the Michigan Department of Agriculture, legislators, and county prosecutors to describe the benefits they gained from regularly consuming raw milk. Those letters helped convinced prosecutors and the MDA to back off on their temptation to file felony charges against Richard.
But, of course, as we all know, those stories of improved health don’t really count to health and medical scientists, since the experiences are considered “anecdotal.”
It turns out the Michigan raw-milk community didn’t stop with the letter-writing campaign. Led by a prominent Michigan pathologist, Ted Beals, and with backing from the Weston A. Price Foundation, these individuals decided to survey raw-milk drinkers about their experiences with lactose intolerance. They also engaged international research firm Opinion Research Corp. to conduct a national telephone survey to learn about the national incidence of lactose intolerance.
The results have finally been tabulated, and they provide convincing evidence for the long-stated claim that raw milk can usually be consumed by individuals with lactose intolerance.
Some 2,217 Michigan consumers of “fresh unprocessed milk” (the Michigan study’s term for raw milk) were surveyed, of whom 155, or 6%, said they had been “told by a healthcare professional they had lactose intolerance.” Of those 155, some 127 have no symptoms of lactose intolerance when drinking the fresh unprocessed milk—which is 82% of those with the lactose intolerance diagnosis.
Why is this a big deal? Because lactose intolerance is a major problem in the U.S. In surveying consumers nationally as part of the study, Opinion Research Corp. found that 15% of American households have at least one member who is lactose intolerant. Base on that finding, Opinion Research concluded that about 10% of the U.S. population, or about 29 million Americans, have lactose intolerance. Among children, Opinion Research extrapolated that the rates are even higher—some 18% of households with children, while the rate is 13% in households without children.
It would seem to make sense to make raw milk easily available to people with lactose intolerance—maybe allow them to have it with a doctor’s prescription. Maybe I better shut up before Big Pharma tries to make raw milk a mutibillion dollar prescription item. In any event, congrats to Ted Beals and his cohorts, including Steve Bemis, a Michigan lawyer, who have patiently been accumulating, collating, and assessing this data over the past seven months. Hopefully, they’ll get it published in a scholarly journal of some kind.
While New York’s Department of Agriculture and Markets continues trying out assorted tactics of authoritarian regimes to stamp out raw milk, a few states are moving in the opposite direction. Legislation loosening restrictions on raw milk is under consideration or about to be proposed in at least three states—Vermont, Maryland, and Missouri. In Vermont, legislation has been proposed to lift restrictions on the amount of raw milk dairy farmers can sell to consumers, while in Maryland, which has banned even cow shares, legislation has been introduced to allow direct farm-to-consumer sales; it is being actively promoted by the Maryland Independent Consumers and Farmers Association. And here’s a link to the Missouri legislation.
I should add, of course, that getting legislative permission to sell raw milk from the farm to consumers doesn’t ensure that regulators won’t try to throw their weight around to intimidate consumers, per the NY situation.
I had a reminder today of just how far back my interest in sustainable farming goes (and how long I’ve been in this reporting biz). An article I wrote about homesteading back in the pre-pre-Internet days of the early 1970s, when I was a cub reporter for The Wall Street Journal, has shown up on the Internet. I recall that there was some debate internally at the WSJ to break the then-existing ban on photos by publishing some of this farm…but the idea was turned down, and remained in effect for many more years. The article turned out to be one of the most popular articles the WSJ ever ran to that time, eliciting hundreds of (snail mail) letters.